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Listeria Contamination in U.S.-Grown Cantaloupes Claims at Least 23 Lives

U.S. health officials in Washington, D.C., announced in early October 2011 that more 20 people had died due to a listeria outbreak. In fact, the death toll has mounted to 23 victims, spanning a tragic 12-state region. In total, more 116 people have fallen ill because of the bacteria-contaminated cantaloupe. Sadly, one miscarriage has even been attributed to an infection, which was caused by a pregnant woman's consumption of the contaminated fruit.

The Most Deadly Listeria Outbreak in the United States Yet

The deadly listeria outbreak has been tracked to cantaloupe consumption. The contaminated fruit at issue is believed to have originated from Jensen Farms in Colorado. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that this is the very first outbreak of a listeria epidemic that has been connected to cantaloupe fruit in the United States. In addition to this being the first such outbreak linked to cantaloupe, the epidemic is the country's most deadly to date, according to the CDC. In the late 1990s, prior listeria outbreaks of less deadly proportions were localized to meat food products, such as hot dogs and deli turkey.

Massive Recalls of Possibly Contaminated Cantaloupe Span the Country

In New York, one fruit vendor has had to recall 5,000 packs of cut fruit due to the potential presence of the life-threatening listeria bacteria in fresh cantaloupe pieces. Jensen Farms, a Holly, Colo. farming operation, has voluntarily recalled cantaloupes after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) connected disease strains from its packing facility equipment with those in grocery stores and homes where illnesses were known to have occurred. That Jensen Farms recall occurred in the middle of September 2011. The Jensen Farms cantaloupes at issue in the listeria-related recall were part of the Rocky-Ford brand.

What Is Listeria and What Harm Can It Cause?

Listeriosis is a rare but serious illness. It is brought about by eating food that has been contaminated with the listeria bacteria. A person can get so sick from consuming food contaminated with this particular bacteria strain that hospitalization may be required. Death can result, too. Pregnant women, young children, and the elderly are particularly at risk because of their more vulnerable immune systems and inability to take certain treatment medications. Unfortunately, an illness can manifest as late as two months after initial consumption of the food contaminated with the listeria bacteria. Additionally, listeria germs can grow and spread even in colder temperatures, such as those inside of a refrigerator.

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