The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers on Thursday not to eat cantaloupe grown in part of Colorado after two deaths from what it said was the first Listeria outbreak traced to the melon.
Jensen Farms, grower of the cantaloupe in the Rocky Ford region of Colorado, voluntarily recalled the melons earlier in the week. The melons were sent to at least 17 states.
A specific strain of Listeria, a bacterium that can lead to a deadly flu-like illness, was found as the cause of 22 listeriosis cases and traced back to the Jensen Farms cantaloupe, the FDA said.
Food-borne Listeria outbreaks are typically associated with deli meats and hot dogs, the FDA said. The only two produce-based outbreaks of Listeria were from sprouts in 2009 and fresh-cut celery in 2010, according to the FDA.
In the current outbreak, people were infected in seven states—12 in Colorado, four in New Mexico, two in Texas, and one in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Indiana and West Virginia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Colorado, a man filed a lawsuit against Jensen Farms and Wal-Mart Stores Inc after falling ill from a cantaloupe he purchased from one of the retail giant’s stores, law firm Montgomery Little & Soran, PC said on Thursday.
CDC is collaborating with public health officials in several states, including Colorado, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate a multistate outbreak of listeriosis. Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Investigators are using DNA analysis of Listeria isolated from patients to identify cases of illness that may be part of this outbreak. The Listeria bacteria are obtained from diagnostic testing; pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) is used to determine DNA fingerprint patterns. Investigators are using data from PulseNet, the national subtyping network made up of state and local public health laboratories and federal food regulatory laboratories that performs molecular surveillance of foodborne infections.
A total of 15 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from 4 states. All illnesses started on or after August 15, 2011. The number of infected persons identified in each state is as follows: Colorado (11), Nebraska (1), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (2). Listeriosis illnesses in several other states are currently being investigated by state and local health departments to determine if these illnesses are part of this outbreak.
Charles Palmer, 71, said in the complaint filed in El Paso County District Court that he has been hospitalized for more than two weeks with listeriosis after eating cantaloupe grown by Jensen Farms in Colorado’s Arkansas Valley.
Palmer was rushed to a hospital on August 31 after his wife said he was unresponsive days after eating a cantaloupe bought at a Colorado Springs Wal-Mart, the lawsuit said.
Greg Rossiter, spokesman for Wal-Mart, said the company wishes Palmer well, and was conducting an investigation.
He said that out of “an abundance of caution,” the retailer pulled all Rocky Ford cantaloupes from its shelves after officials identified the Colorado connection.
A deadly food-borne bacteria linked to cantaloupes in more than a dozen states is suspected of killing one person in Maryland and sickening another in Virginia, health officials confirmed on Thursday.
Officials in Maryland and Virginia declined to identify the two people affected, but they said that each tested positive for a strain of listeria associated with the national outbreak that has killed eight people and sickened 55 in 14 states since early August. Most of the victims were older than 60, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Jensen Farms voluntarily recalled all the cantaloupes it shipped to 17 states between July 29 and September 10, Ryan Jensen, a partner in the farm, said in a statement.
“Jensen Farms continues to stay committed to the highest levels of food safety and maintains many third party safety audits, as we have for many years,” he said. “We continually look for ways to enhance our protocol.”
Palmer’s attorney William Marler said in a statement that the farm and Wal-Mart have “a public responsibility to all consumers to sell and distribute food that is free and clear of all adulterants.”
“In this case, a lapse in food safety assurance has relegated an innocent man to a hospital bed for a long time,” he said.
The FDA specifically cautioned older adults, people with immune system diseases and pregnant women from eating cantaloupe grown in the Rocky Ford region.
The recall was in effect for Illinois, Wyoming, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The FDA said the cantaloupe might be in other states as well.
by Roy Strom