Deadliest food outbreak in a decade

We’ve all heard of E. coli and salmonella but listeria is a little less common.  Unlike many pathogens, listeria bacteria can grow at room temperatures and even refrigerator temperatures. 

Now federal health officials say cantaloupes from a Colorado farm are carrying this food-borne illness.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the 72 illnesses and 13 deaths in 18 states connected to this outbreak.

Bad cantaloupe traced to one farm
According to an AP story, “the outbreak has been traced to Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado, which recalled the tainted cantaloupes earlier this month. The Food and Drug Administration said state health officials had found listeria in cantaloupes taken from grocery stores in the state and from a victim’s home that were grown at Jensen Farms.”  No word yet on how this outbreak started.

Listeria sickens elderly
Most people are able to battle against listeria but those with weak immune systems, like the elderly, are more susceptible to illness.

Health experts like Dr. Robert Tauxe believe more people will get sick from this outbreak mainly because the symptoms of listeria can sometimes take up to a month to appear.

“That long incubation period is a real problem,” Tauxe said. “People who ate a contaminated food two weeks ago or even a week ago could still be falling sick weeks later.”

The CDC reports one in six people are sickened by food borne illness each year.

Worst in a decade
The CDC says this is the deadliest food outbreak in a decade.  The last big outbreak of listeria was in 1998 when 21 people died of listeria poisoning traced to contaminated hot dogs and possibly deli meats made by Bil Mar Foods, a subsidiary of Sara Lee Corp.  Some people believe food regulations need to be overhauled to protect against outbreaks like these.

What to do with contaminated cantaloupe
The cantaloupes, sold under the Rocky Ford-brand from Jensen Farms were shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10 to Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.

If you believe you have a contaminated cantaloupe put it in the garbage and wash all surfaces the fruit came in contact with.

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