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Listeria Outbreak Expected to Continue

posted on September 30, 2011

Listeria Outbreak Expected to Continue

Federal health officials said this week more illnesses and potentially more deaths blamed on listeria in cantaloupe may turn up in the near future. 

Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director, CDC: “Listeria is quite unusual as a bacteria for a couple of reasons.  One is once you eat it, it may be 1 to 3 weeks or even 1 to 2 months before you become ill. And that's the main reason we expect, unfortunately, case numbers rising in the coming weeks. The second, it’s one of those rare bacteria that grow even when it's refrigerated.”

So far, the tainted fruit is blamed for more than 70 illnesses and 16 deaths in 18 states, making it the deadliest outbreak in the U.S. in more than a decade.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have linked the source of the contamination to Jensen Farms in Colorado. 

Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director, CDC: “If the cantelope in your refridgerator has this label on it, that's the Jensen's Farms label. Throw it out.  If it has another label from any other company, we think at this point there's no evidence of any problem, it is okay to eat.  If it has no label on it, you can contact the supermarket or other place you bought it and ask them if it came from Jensen Farms. When in doubt, throw it out.”

The FDA says state health officials found listeria in Jensen Farms cantaloupes taken from Colorado grocery stores and from a victim’s home.  Matching strains of the disease were found on equipment and in samples at the Farm’s packing facility.  Jensen Farms says it shipped cantaloupes to 25 states, involving 1.5 to 4.5 million pieces of fruit.  The Farm last shipped cantaloupes on September 10. 

Health officials say this is the first known outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe.  The bacteria is generally found in processed meats and unpasteurized milk and cheese.

While most healthy adults can consume listeria with no ill effects, it can be deadly for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Meanwhile, USDA reports Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. is recalling more than 13,000 pounds of ground beef.  An Ohio family fell ill after eating meat produced by the company that was contaminated with E. coli.  The recall involves beef sold as Kroger brands and a spokesperson for the company says the ground beef in question would have been taken off store shelves September 12.  South Dakota-based Tyson Fresh Meats is a subsidiary of Tyson Foods Inc., of Springdale, Arkansas.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director, CDC: “In 2011 to date, we’ve already documented 12 multi-state outbreaks of food-borne illness.  This is partly a reflection of the complexity to our food supply.  It’s also because we’re doing a better job.  We’re tracking the genetic pattern of an increasing proportion of food-borne illnesses when they occur.  We’re working with states that have these to identify rapidly when there are contaminations so we can stop them before they spread even further.”


Tags: cantaloupe Centers for Disease Control Colorado FDA illness Jensen Farms listeria outbreak