Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Listeriosis – This Time It’s Cantaloupes

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North American "cantaloupes"

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From the CDC:

Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Whole Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Colorado.

As of 5 p.m. on Sept. 20, 2011, a total of 55 persons infected with four strains of Listeria have been reported from 14 states. The states affected are California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.  Eight deaths have been reported. On September 14, FDA issued a press release to announce the Jensen Farms issued a voluntary recall of its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes.  However, contaminated cantaloupes may still be in grocery stores and consumer’s homes.

Listeria species can grow at room and refrigerator temperatures.  Food items other than cantaloupes can also carry Listeria bacteria.  People at high risk for listeriosis (elderly, pregnant women, people with suppressed immune systems, and infants) and those who prepare meals can take steps to lower risk.

  • Rinse raw produce, such as fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running tap water before eating.  Dry the produce with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting them.
  • Heat hot dogs, deli meats and cold cuts until they are steaming hot just before serving.
  • Do not drink raw milk (unpasteurized) milk, and do not eat fresh soft cheeses that have unpasteurized milk in them, especially Mexican soft cheeses like queso fresco.
  • Consumers and food preparers should wash their hands before and after handling any whole melon including cantaloupe, watermelon, or honeydew.
  • Cut melons left at room temperature for more than 4 hours should be discarded.

What is Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is caused by species of Listeria bacteria and it is estimated that there are 2500 cases in the U.S. every year.  Twenty percent of these cases result in death.

The bacteria are commonly found in the soil and intestines of many animals, including birds, fish, barnyard animals, and pets. Soft cheeses (Brie, Camembert, feta, and blue-veined cheeses) have been associated with a significant number of cases. Previous outbreaks have been found in sprouts (2009) and in celery (2010).

The incubation period can be anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. Healthy adults experience few symptoms but is very dangerous for pregnant women and if contracted, can cause miscarriage or mental damage of the fetus.

Food-borne illness is incredibly common.  One in six Americans (30 million people) will be affected this year. Of them, 3,000 will die from complications.  The best treatment is prevention.

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