As many as 16 people are now dead -- in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas -- as a result of possible listeria illnesses traced to Colorado cantaloupes containing listeria monocytogenes, and health officials are calling this the deadliest food outbreak in more than a decade. The last time the death toll got even close was almost three years ago, due to salmonella in peanuts, when nine people died.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported yesterday that 72 illnesses, including 13 deaths, have been linked to the tainted melons, while state and local officials are investigating three deaths that may have been connected. And as if that weren't bad enough, the number of illnesses and deaths will probably go up in the next few weeks, because the symptoms of listeria don't always show up right away. It can take a month or longer before a person gets sick after eating listeria-contaminated food. Totally freaky!
What really galls me is that although we now know the source of the contaminated melons was Jensen Farms -- where matching strains of the disease were found on equipment and cantaloupe samples at their packing facility in Granada, Colorado -- the two brothers who run the farm still have no clue how the melons were tainted. And no one else seems to either! Several weeks and people's lives lost later, it's STILL a mystery! Really?! We can figure out how to make cats glow in the dark, but we can't understand how a killer pathogen infiltrated a crop of cantaloupes?
What's more, it seems that produce never really used to be a main source of concern when it comes to listeria, but it's become more prevalent over the past couple of years (remember the problem with sprouts and celery?). So what the heck is going on here?
These state investigators better get to the bottom of it, because knowing what happened here with the melons could help us prevent it from happening again and again! Not only should we be able to trust that the fruit and veggies we're eating aren't going to make us sick, but there are also lives at stake! In the meantime, the FDA and CDC recommend anyone who may have one of the contaminated cantaloupes throw it out immediately and clean and sanitize any surfaces it may have touched.
Are you frustrated that they have yet to figure out what caused this listeria outbreak?
Image via News21-usa/Flickr
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