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Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupes could worsen

September 28, 2011 |  4:03 pm

Cantaloupe
If in doubt, throw it out. Unless you can be sure of the source of that cantaloupe in your kitchen, it's best to toss it. That's the word from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is trying to put a lid on one of the worst listeria outbreaks in U.S. history.

So far, there are 72 reported cases of listeria linked to tainted cantaloupes, and 13 deaths. State and local officials say they are investigating three additional deaths that may be connected and the toll could rise, according to the Associated Press.  

The tainted melons that triggered the multi-state listeriosis outbreak have been traced to Jensen Farms in Granada, Colo.

"If it's not Jensen farms, it's okay to eat," Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, said in a media conference call today. "But if you can't confirm that it's not Jensen farms, then it's best to throw it out."

Some of the cantaloupes were exported out of the country, and the CDC has been issuing recalls both inside and outside the U.S. for all the affected melons.

This outbreak is the largest in a decade and could grow worse, said the CDC's food-borne illness specialist, Dr. Barbara Mahon, who also participated in the media alert. "To date there's 72 cases and 13 deaths...We do expect that the number of cases will increase."

The single largest listeria outbreak occurred in 1985, and was traced to soft Mexican-style cheese manufactured by Jalisco Mexican Products Inc. of Artesia. It killed at least 40 people, and also ranks as one of the biggest food-contamination cases in California history.

Cantaloupes can rot within two weeks or so, and go bad even faster once they've been sliced open. The cantaloupes at the center of this outbreak -- first flagged on Sept. 12 -- are nearing the outer edge of their shelf life, making it less likely they will be eaten with each passing day. 

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Konrad Fiedler / Bloomberg

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