Rocky Ford cantaloupe is being blamed for the recent outbreak of Listeria that has caused four deaths in six states, Health officials warn.
The warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came after numerous cases of a strain of bacteria were reported in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Indiana, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Rocky Ford cantaloupes, named for a region along the old Santa Fe Trail about 130 miles southeast of Denver, are prized for their above-average sugar content. W.C. Fields reportedly said bald guys have “a head shaped like a Rocky Ford cantaloupe,” and Lucile Ball had the melons delivered to her dressing room.
Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar said the contamination might not be the cantaloupes, but a truck or other source. However, several Colorado grocery chains pulled their supplies as a precaution, and New Mexico issued a voluntary recall. State Environmental Health Bureau inspectors were collecting melon samples from grocery stores and distributors across New Mexico for laboratory analysis.
“This is really silly. You can get Listeria any place. I eat those melons every day,” said Kent Lusk, a fifth-generation cantaloupe farmer from Rocky Ford. Lusk added that this year’s growing season was almost over and that he doesn’t believe the outbreak will have a lasting impact.
The fatal cases in New Mexico included a 93-year-old man from Bernalillo County, a 61-year-old woman from Curry County and a 63-year-old man from Bernalillo County. Mark Salley, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the person who died in Colorado was not being identified.
“We extend our sympathy to the families and friends of those who have died from this infection,” said Colorado Health Secretary Dr. Catherine Torres. “At this time, based on the preliminary findings in Colorado, we are cautioning people who are at high risk for Listeria infection to avoid eating cantaloupe.”