Listeria Outbreak in Cantaloupes

October 05, 2011

Following the recent cantaloupe and lettuce recalls – what you need to know about Listeria

There have been two large recalls in the produce world – lettuce (specifically chopped romaine for restaurants) and cantaloupe – due to a possible listeria outbreak. As you know, the cantaloupe recall/ listeria outbreak has made national headlines in recent days. 100 people have confirmed cases of listeria to date, occurring across 20 states; 18 of those cases have proved to be fatal – making it the deadliest food outbreak in a decade.

Those most at risk are the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems, (for example, transplant recipients and people undergoing chemotherapy).

The source of the outbreak has been traced back to Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado. Neither the FDA or Jensen Farms have released a list of all the states where the contaminated cantaloupes have been shipped at this point due, to the complexity of the produce distribution food chain which makes it nearly impossible to identify which supermarkets carry these products, however the brand on the label is Rocky Ford; and if you have this product in your home the CDC and FDA are telling consumers to discard these or any cantaloupes they have if they are unsure of where they came from.

What can we do to protect ourselves from food-borne outbreaks?
Wash – everything! And don’t forget - it’s easier to clean a smooth surfaced item like a honey dew or watermelon than a roughly textured cantaloupe – there are more nooks and crannies for bacteria to hide out in!

Always wash your produce before you slice it – once a knife goes through the skin into the meat it is already infected and won’t wash off – water removes the dirt, but not bacteria. Always use a fruit/ vegetable spray or wash – they are citric acid, not soap based, and will effectively clean your produce.

So far the lettuce outbreak is on a much smaller scale – at this point no one has become sick from the lettuces – the listeria was discovered during a random test on bagged lettuce by the FDA. An as yet un-named California farm is voluntarily recalling 90 cartons of lettuce that were shipped to a distributor in Oregon. From there it may have gone to Washington and Idaho – and was mostly likely sold to restaurants and cafeterias, but there may be some in retail locations. Consumers have been reassured that lettuce being picked at the farm is now safe to eat.

Symptoms of listeria include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions. Pregnant women typically experience mild flu-like symptoms, but infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, still birth, premature delivery or life threatening infection to the newborn. 
Remember - do not take chances when it comes to food safety - seek medical attention if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.