Listeria Cantaloupe Outbreak Infects 72

Listeria linked to cantaloupes from Colorado has infected 72 people in the United States and killed 13, according to U.S. health officials. The food borne outbreak is the deadliest in the United States in more than a decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, 18 states have reported infections from one of the four strains of the virus, the CDC said.

Of the 13 deaths, four were in New Mexico, two were in Colorado, two were in Texas, and there was one each in Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. All of the illnesses started on or after July 31, 2011. The CDC has traced the source of the outbreak to cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms in Granada, Colorado.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed that it found Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterial strain found in the tainted cantaloupes, in samples of melons from Jensen Farms.

The company issued a recall on September 14 of its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes in response to the outbreak. The fruit was shipped to at least 17 states from July 29 through September 10, 2011. The FDA has advised a recall on the melons. Listeria bacteria thrive in low temperatures.

Outbreaks are usually associated with deli meats, unpasteurized cheeses and smoked refrigerated seafood products. The outbreak in cantaloupes is the deadliest in the United States since the listeria contaminated hot dogs and deli meats that killed 32 people and sickened 101 in 1998. According to the CDC, some 1,600 people become sick associated with listeriosis.