Listeria Death Toll May Reach 10 Sooner Than Later, CDC Urges Safe Eating

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Farm workers harvest cantaloupe in Arizona
Summer is the harvest season for cantaloupe and watermelons. Federal health officials are urging consumers to buy cantaloupes with caution because possibly a whole crop from southern Colorado could be behind a deadly listeria outbreak.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 55 people in 14 states have now been confirmed as sickened from eating contaminated cantaloupe, while eight have died.

On Friday, Kansas authorities reported that there were two deaths among the eight known cases of listeriosis in the state so far, occurring from Sept. 17 and Sept. 18.

Five of those eight have been confirmed as linked to the national outbreak tied to the Listeria-infected cantaloupe.

A multi-state outbreak of food-borne bacteria, listeria, that arose in early September took another life in Maryland after a person died from eating contaminated produce, leaving the death toll at eight.

The death toll has risen to eight in an outbreak of listeria traced to Colorado-grown cantaloupes, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday.

CDC announced last week that the death toll reached two after eating cantaloupe that reportedly carries listeria, or listeriosis, a rare yet serious illness caused by eating contaminated food.

On Monday, the CDC reported four deaths in New Mexico and 35 illnesses in 10 states, two deaths were reported in Colorado, and one person has died in Oklahoma.

As of Wednesday, the agency said 55 people in 14 states have now been confirmed as sickened from eating the contaminated cantaloupes.

Jensen Farms said the recalled Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes were shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10 to Illinois, Wyoming, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

The recalled cantaloupe may be labeled “Colorado Grown,” ‘’Distributed by Frontera Produce,” ‘’Jensenfarms.com” or “Sweet Rocky Fords.” Not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker, the FDA said.

“We are deeply saddened to learn that cantaloupes grown on our farm have been linked to the current listeria outbreak. Our hearts go out to those individuals and their families who have been affected by this terrible situation,” said Jensen Farms in a statement.

Health officials fear that the death count — the highest in a known food outbreak since tainted peanuts were linked to nine deaths almost three years ago — could go even higher.

Illnesses have been reported in California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The CDC said illnesses in several other states potentially connected to the outbreak were under investigation.

Colorado has the most illnesses with 14 sickened, followed by New Mexico with 10, Texas with nine and Oklahoma with eight.

Listeria infection can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, people over the age of 60 and those with compromised immune systems, health officials said.

Symptoms of the infection include fever and muscle aches, diarrhea, headaches, stiff neck and confusion, according to the CDC. Antibiotics are effective in treating the infection in most cases.

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