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Colorado cantaloupe recall: What is listeriosis?

BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
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September 16, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • A listeriosis outbreak has been linked to whole cantaloupes from Colorado.
A listeriosis outbreak has been linked to whole cantaloupes from Colorado. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

Cantaloupes grown in Colorado have been linked to an outbreak of listeriosis that, as of Sept. 14, had infected 22 people in seven states, killing two.

What is listeriosis?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listeriosis is an illness caused by eating food that is contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.  The ailment causes gastrointestinal symptoms and fever and muscle aches -- and in severe cases can lead to headache, stiff neck, confusion and convulsion.  

It occurs in about 1,600 Americans each year and is most dangerous in older adults, people with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women, who are at elevated risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery if they get infected. Newborns with infected mothers may also be sickened by listeria.  The infection is treated with antibiotics.

Listeria has been found in raw foods, including meats and vegetables, and in cooked foods like cheeses, hot dogs and deli meat.  According to this news release from the FDA, the current outbreak is the first to be linked to whole cantaloupes.

As for those cantaloupes: On Sept. 14, Jensen Farms voluntarily recalled melons shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10. The CDC advises that consumers at high risk (such as pregnant women and older people) and others who wish to avoid infection not eat the fruit.  If you have one of the cantaloupes, you should toss it out -- even if it's in your fridge and you've already eaten some of it without getting sick.  Unlike many bacteria, listeria can grow in your refrigerator.

Visit the CDC's listeriosis page for more details on reducing your risk of infection.  Precautions are similar to those taken to prevent salmonella infection.

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