When reaching for your fruit, avoid cantaloupes this week as they might be infected with the bacteria Listeria. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning for consumers to avoid cantaloupes grown in the Rocky Ford region of Colorado, a well-known melon producing area. Cantaloupes grown in this area are renowned for their unusually high sugar content and have filled the bellies of greats such as Lucille Ball.
So far, four deaths in the state of Colorado have been linked to the infected fruit. Additionally cases of infection from the Listeria strain have been reported in six states, including 10 in New Mexico, two in Texas, and one each in Indiana, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. The illnesses began after August 15th and later cases have not been reported.
This is the first Listeria outbreak to be linked to cantaloupes in the U.S. and the melons have not been recalled. The CDC is still trying to identify the specific source of the contamination. Cantaloupe farmers in the area have had mixed reactions to the outbreak due to both the economic impact and the uncertainty of the actual source of contamination.
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John Salazar of the Colorado Agriculture Commissioner stated that the contamination might not be from the cantaloupes but possibly from a truck or warehouse.
However, several grocery stores in Colorado have pulled their cantaloupes and New Mexico has called a voluntary recall of the fruit as State Environmental Health Bureau inspectors collect samples for laboratory analysis.
The bacteria listeria monocytogenes causes a disease called Listeriosis. This disease causes 260 deaths per year and exposure is most dangerous to older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea, headache, stiff neck, confusion and convulsions. Listeriosis can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths.
So avoid the cantaloupe and reach for the grapes!