Cantaloupe Food Poisoning Death Toll Rises to Eight, May Go Higher: CDC

At least eight people are dead and 55 have become ill after eating cantaloupes contaminated with listeria, according to federal investigators who are monitoring cases of food poisoning caused by more than 600 pounds of recalled cantaloupe.

The U.S. Centers for DIsease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the number of listeria illnesses from cantaloups may continue to rise and there may be more deaths, despite on-going efforts to track down the potentially contaminated.

Listeria infections can live in the gut for up to two months before the carrier gets ill, and diagnosed cases of listeriosis are typically associated with a death rate of about 25%.

The cantaloupe food poisoning outbreak has already hit people in 14 states, with 43 of the 55 sickened requiring hospitalization. Most of the victims are over the age of 60 or have a compromised immune system due to health issues, the CDC reported. Of the eight deaths, two were in Colorado, one in Maryland, four in New Mexico and one in Oklahoma.

A Jensen Farms cantaloupe recall was issued on September 14, and subsequent inspections have found listeria strains associated with the illnesses on machinery and cantaloupes at Jensen Farms’ packing facility. The company already faces at least three listeria food poisoning lawsuits over the outbreak; two in Colorado and one in Texas.

The recall was expanded on September 23 to include 594 pounds of Carol’s Cuts fresh cut cantaloupe. The recalled cantaloupe, supplied to Carol’s Cuts, LLC by Jensen Farms, was sold in 8-ounce clamshell containers labeled Fruit Medley and in 5-pound bulk trays. The cantaloupe was shipped to institutional food customers and restaurants in Overland Park, Kansas, Kansas City and Maryland Heights, Missouri, and Omaha, Nebraska. All of the recipients of the recalled cantaloupe have been notified.

The recalled Carol’s Cuts cantaloupe was sold in clamshell containers with an oval label sticker with the words “Fruit Medley” and a “Best If Used By” date of September 3, 2011 or September 19, 2011. The 5-pound bulk trays have lot numbers of 72361 and a Best If Used By date of September 3, 2011, and 72700 with a Best If Used By date of September 19, 2011.

Listeria infections, also known as listeriosis, pose a particular risk for children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. For pregnant women, illness from Listeria bacteria can cause miscarriages and still births.

Blood tests are usually required to diagnose listeriosis, which can be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms of listeriosis include muscle aches, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, severe headaches and fever. If the bacteria spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream and nervous system, it could cause meningitis and other complications.

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