The growing Listeria poisoning outbreak linked to cantaloupes is expected to continue causing illnesses, hospitalizations, and worse. According to federal health officials, more illnesses and, possibly, more deaths, might be linked to Listeria-tainted cantaloupes, wrote The Associated Press (AP).
To date, the outbreak has led to 72 illnesses, which resulted in 16 deaths, said the AP, noting that this is the deadliest foodborne contamination outbreak in the United States in over 10 years; 18 states are currently involved.
Thomas R. Frieden, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg advise consumers in possession of cantaloupes produced by Colorado’s Jensen Farms to discard the produce, said the AP. Consumers unclear as to the fruit’s origin should discard the fruit. “If it’s not Jensen Farms, it’s OK to eat,” said Frieden. “But if you can’t confirm it’s not Jensen Farms, then it’s best to throw it out,” reported the AP.
On September 14, Jensen Farms recalled 300,000 cases of whole cantaloupes shipped between July 29th and September 10th, 2011 to Illinois, Wyoming, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, said NewsInferno. Five additional distribution states were identified—Arkansas, California, Idaho, Ohio, and Oklahoma, said NewsInferno. Although Jensen Farms confirmed it shipped cantaloupes to these 25 states, the FDA said more states could be involved since illnesses have been discovered in a number of states not on Jensen’s shipping list, said the AP. A Jensen Farms spokesperson said that Jensen’s product is routinely sold and resold, so it’s not always clear on where the product ends up, added the AP.
Meanwhile, Jensen Farms has not supplied a retailer list of the fruits’ potential sellers and neither has the FDA, said the AP. The produce might contain labels such “Colorado Grown,” “Distributed by Frontera Produce,” “Jensenfarms.com,” or “Sweet Rocky Fords”; however, not all of the recalled fruit contains a label, according to the FDA, said AP. Also, of the 300,000 cases involved, each case contained between 5 and 15 melons, which translates into a massive 1.5 to 4.5 cantaloupes, said the FDA.
Because of Listeria’s long incubation period—experts say Listeria can incubate as long as one to two months—Frieden and Hamburg anticipate illnesses can continue to be reported for at least another month, maybe more, said the AP. The cantaloupes last shipped on September 10 and have a two-week shelf life, noted the AP. “We will see more cases likely through October,” Hamburg said.
Earlier this month, the FDA discovered Listeria monocytogenes in samples of Jensen Farms’ Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupe taken from a Denver, Colorado, store and on samples taken from equipment and produce at the farm’s packing facility. Listeria found in the samples matches one of the three different Listeria monocytogenes strains involved in this outbreak, said the FDA.