The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning for cantaloupes from the Rocky Ford melon producing area in Colorado and Jensen Farm has issued a voluntary recall of their cantaloupes.
A total of 22 persons infected with the outbreak-associated strains of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from seven states, the CDC reported Sept. 14.
The number of infected persons identified in each state is as follows: Colorado (12), Indiana (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (4), Oklahoma (1), Texas (2), and West Virginia (1). Two deaths have been reported, one in Colorado and one in New Mexico.
Collaborative investigative efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies have linked this outbreak to eating whole cantaloupe from Jensen Farms, of Granada, Colo., according to the CDC.
Jensen Farms, is voluntarily recalling cantaloupe it shipped to Illinois, Wyoming, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania between July 29 and Sept. 10, according to Time.com.
“What we’re not sure about it how it got onto the melons, if it came through slicing it through the core onto the surface or whether it was in shipment. No one knows at this point specifically,” said Dr. Pat Kendall, Associate Dean for Research for the College of Applied Human Sciences, Professor and Extension Specialist at Colorado State University. “My heart goes out to the farmer because I’m sure they had no idea that the melons were contaminated and they don’t know where in the source that they were contaminated. I do know there is an active investigation but don’t know how much evidence there is at this point.”
The Time report also said the Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar said the contamination might not be the cantaloupes, but a truck or other source. Several Colorado grocery chains pulled their supplies as a precaution, and New Mexico issued a voluntary recall.
“Listeria is a food borne pathogen, it is the bacteria that is what I would call an opportunistic bacteria and it is mostly was found in soil and water, not potable water, ground water that is in sewage and places like that. In the past is has most commonly associated with ready-to-eat meat products,” Kendall said. “It has also been associated with raw milk and raw milk cheeses. It’s not been associated with produce in the past, although one of the first outbreaks of Listeria was associated with sauerkraut that the cabbage came from a farm in Canada.”
The CDC recommends that persons at high risk for listeriosis, including older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women, do not eat Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Jensen Farms.
“It’s not a pathogen that impacts everyone, it only impacts people that have reduced immune systems,” said Kendall, who added that there are simple ways to protect yourself from Listeria. “You can simply reduce your risk by simply washing the surface of the melon and we recommend scrubbing it under clear, cool running water with a vegetable brush with a clean knife.”
This outbreak comes on the heels of a cantaloupe recall in March of Del Monte cantaloupes from a single farm in Guatemala that were suspected to be tainted with Salmonella Panama. Del Monte sued the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and most recently the state of Oregon after the recall.