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As Many as 16 Dead in Deadliest Listeia Outbreak Since 1998

Sep 28, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

A Listeria outbreak linked to tainted cantaloupe has sickend at least 13 people, and possibly as many as 16.  Even worse, the Listeria outbreak linked to Jensen Farm's Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupe could claim more victims, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The cantaloupe Listeria outbreak is already the deadliest outbreak of food poisoning recorded in the U.S. in the past decade.  It is surpassed only by a 1998 Listeria outbreak associated with contaminated hot dogs and possibly deli meats made by the Sara Lee Corp. subsidiary,  Bil Mar Foods, that killed 21 people.

So far, deaths from this Listeria outbreak have been reported in eight states, including four in New Mexico, two in Colorado, two in Texas and one each in Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. The  three deaths unde investigation occured in New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming, the  CDC said.

A total of 72 illnesses have been linked to the tainted cantaloupes, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.    The CDC is expecting more illnesses, however, because it can take four weeks or more for symptoms to appear after a person has eaten Listeria-tainted food.

Jensen Farms recalled Rocky Ford-brand canteloupe on September 14.  While the cantaloupe was initially shipped  to  Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming, some  may have been distributed to other states once they reached their destination.  The suspect cantaloupes were shipped from Jensen Farms from  July 29 through September  10, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

Consumers, especially pregnant women, the elderly, or anyone with a weakened immune system, should not eat the recalled cantaloupe.  According to the FDA, consumers should  not try to wash the harmful bacteria off the cantaloupe as contamination may be both on the inside and outside of the cantaloupe. Cutting, slicing and dicing may also transfer harmful bacteria from the fruit’s surface to the fruit’s flesh.

Symptoms of Listeria may include  fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrheal  Symptoms such as headache stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions indicate the infection has reached the central nervous system.  In pregnant women, Listeria may present as  only a mild, flu-like illness. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn. 

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