All News / Case News /

Two More Deaths in Listeria Cantaloupe Outbreak

Food Safety News

by Dan Flynn | Oct 19, 2011

In its 11th update on the multistate outbreak of listeriosis linked to contaminated cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta Tuesday reported that 25 of the 123 people infected have lost their lives.

The fatality rate is just under 21 percent.

Colorado and New York state reported the 24th and 25th victims to die in the deadliest foodborne illness outbreak experienced in the U.S. in 25 years. Only one other U.S. outbreak has killed more people -- in 1985 soft cheese contaminated with Listeria caused 29 deaths out of 142 illnesses.

Listeria outbreaks are known for their high fatality rates. Three years ago in Canada, 40 percent of those infected from eating ready-to-eat meats contaminated with Listeria did not survive.

In addition to reporting two more deaths, CDC added seven confirmed cases to the outbreak toll. A woman from suburban Philadelphia hospitalized in early September was the first confirmed listeriosis patient in Pennsylvania, making it the 26th state to report an outbreak-related case.

Twelve states have reported one or more of the 25 deaths recorded to date, and a pregnant northwest Iowa woman miscarried as a result of her Listeria infection.

The confirmed cases so far since July 31:

Alabama: 1 illness

Arkansas: 1 illness

California: 2 illnesses

Colorado: 36 illnesses, 6 deaths

Idaho: 1 illness

Illinois: 2 illnesses

Indiana: 3 illnesses, 1 death

Iowa: 1 illness

Kansas: 7 illnesses, 2 deaths

Louisiana: 2 illnesses, 2 deaths

Maryland: 1 illness, 1 death

Missouri: 4 illnesses, 1 death

Montana: 1 illness

Nebraska: 6 illnesses, 1 death

New Mexico: 13 illnesses, 5 deaths

New York: 2 illnesses, 2 deaths

North Dakota: 1 illness

Oklahoma: 11 illnesses, 1 death

Oregon: 1 illness

Pennsylvania: 1 illness

South Dakota: 1 illness

Texas: 18 illnesses, 2 deaths

Virginia: 1 illness

West Virginia: 1 illness

Wisconsin: 2 illnesses

Wyoming: 3 illnesses, 1 death

This is the first time that cantaloupes have been implicated in an outbreak of Listeria illnesses. Deli meats, hot dogs and Mexican style soft cheeses are the more common carriers of Listeria. But Listeria-tainted fresh produce has turned up before. A 2009 Listeria involved sprouts and a 2010 Listeria outbreak was linked to celery.

Jensen Farms recalled at least 1.5 million cantaloupes --- all that it shipped to 24 states between July 29 and Sept. 10 -- after source tracing pointed to their products. Strains of Listeria from the outbreak were found on the equipment and cantaloupes at the Jensen Farms packing facility in Granada, CO.

CDC says the outbreak victims range in age from one to 96 years of age, but most are over 60 and the median age is 78. CDC has collected information on 120 victims and said of those, 118 required hospitalization. It did not report the number who remain under hospital care.

Tuesday's update was current as of 9 a.m. Eastern time on Oct. 17. Illnesses with onsets after Sept. 23 might not be included because of the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the case is reported to state health officials.

CDC continues to warn the public not to eat "Rocky Ford" brand cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, but it is unlikely any of the melons remain in homes at this point.

However, microbiologist Phyllis Entis, author of eFoodAlert, notes that even though the recalled cantaloupes are no longer in household refrigerators, the Listeria monocytogenes they carried may still be lingering. Juice from a cut cantaloupe may have dripped onto a refrigerator shelf and contaminated the refrigerator. Listeria easily grows in the cold and could then cross-contaminate other ready-to-eat items.

Also, CDC notes that because Listeria can have an incubation period lasting just over two months, there may be additional cases of illness. Incubation is the time between exposure to the pathogen and when one begins experiencing symptoms.

The CDC once again said cantaloupes that are known to not have come from Jensen Farms are safe to eat.

Get Help

Affected by an outbreak or recall?

The team at Marler Clark is here to answer all your questions. Find out if you’re eligible for a lawsuit, what questions to ask your doctor, and more.

Get a free consultation
Related Resources
Listeria Food Poisoning

What is Listeria and how does it cause food poisoning? Listeria is a gram-positive, rod-shaped bacterium that is ubiquitous and can grow under either anaerobic (without oxygen) or aerobic (with...

The Incidence of Listeria Infections

How common are Listeria infections? Listeria bacteria are found widely in the environment in soil, including in decaying vegetation and water, and may be part of the fecal flora of...

The Prevalence of Listeria in Food and the Environment

Listeria bacteria are common in nature. Listeria monocytogenes is omnipresent in nature; it is found widely in such places as water, soil, infected animals, human and animal feces, raw and...

Transmission of and Infection with Listeria

Listeria typically spreads to people through contaminated food or water, but can also be transmitted from mother to fetus. Except for the transmission of mother to fetus, human-to-human transmission of...

Who is Most at Risk of Becoming Ill with Listeria?

The elderly, pregnant women, and anyone immunocompromised is most at risk for contracting Listeria. Several segments of the population are at increased risk and need to be informed so that...

Outbreak Database

Looking for a comprehensive list of outbreaks?

The team at Marler Clark is here to answer all your questions. Find out if you’re eligible for a lawsuit, what questions to ask your doctor, and more.

View Outbreak Database