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Should my family eat cantaloupe?

October 12, 2011

On September 14, 2011, the FDA announced that Jensen Farms issued a voluntary recall of its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes after being linked to an outbreak of listeriosis. Although Jensen Farms is located in Colorado, their cantaloupes have been shipped to multiple states, and many reports of listeriosis have been linked to these cantaloupes. As of October 6, 2011, a total of 109 cases of listeriosis associated with these cantaloupes have been reported to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), and 21 deaths have been reported. One pregnant woman was affected and had a miscarriage as a result of infection. Cases have been reported in 24 states, and all symptoms have been reported on or after July 31, 2011. This outbreak has been one of the largest outbreaks of listeriosis in the United States since 1989. So far, no cases of listeriosis associated with the Jensen Farms cantaloupe have been reported in the state of Florida.

Even though the recall was issued on September 14, 2011, and all of the recalled cantaloupe should not be available in grocery stores, we still may see an increase in the number of reported cases of listeriosis because it can take up to two months for symptoms to develop if a person has been infected. It may also take a long time to confirm a diagnosis of listeriosis from laboratory testing.

What is Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is an infection that can develop after you eat food that has been contaminated by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. This infection is severe, but relatively uncommon. People who are at higher risk of developing listeriosis include older adults, newborns, pregnant women, or immunocompromised people. In rare cases, healthy people can also be affected.

What are the symptoms of Listeriosis?

Symptoms of listeriosis can be different among people. Typical symptoms include fever, muscle aches, vomiting and diarrhea. Some people may present with headache, stiff neck and confusion. Pregnant women may have a flu-like illness: fever, headache, stomach problems or back pain. Even though pregnant women may experience only mild symptoms, unfortunately the infection can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or life-threatening sepsis for her baby. People with healthy immune systems who become infected with listeriosis can possibly have mild stomach issues or even no symptoms at all.

What if I think I have Listeriosis?

Talk to your doctor immediately if you are pregnant and develop fever and chills. If you have fever, muscle aches, or stiff neck, you should also talk to your doctor immediately. They can evaluate you with a blood test or spinal fluid test to look for the Listeria bacteria. Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics. If you are at high-risk for infection, are experiencing flu-like symptoms and think you have eaten contaminated food within the last two months, please tell your doctor.

How do I reduce my risk of Listeriosis if I am at high-risk for infection?

Since listeriosis infection develops after eating contaminated food, you can reduce your risk of listeriosis by preparing food carefully.

  • Cook leftover foods or ready-to-eat foods (such as hot dogs, deli meats, and cold cuts) until steaming hot before eating
  • Rinse raw produce, such as fruits and vegetables, thoroughly under running tap water before eating. Dry the produce with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting them up
  • Avoid soft cheeses, such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican queso fresco cheese
  • Avoid food from deli counters, such as prepared salads, meats or cheeses. If you choose to eat these foods, heat them until they steam before eating
  • Avoid raw or unpasteurized milk
  • Thoroughly cook raw meat and poultry
  • Be sure that your refrigerator is at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and your freezer is at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit

So after all of that information, should my family eat cantaloupe today?

After reading about the multi-state outbreak of listeriosis, I was concerned about feeding cantaloupe to my kids. I contacted our local grocery store, and they told me that their cantaloupe was locally grown in Florida. Since the cantaloupe that I was buying for my family did not come from the same place (Jensen Farms) that had recalled their cantaloupe, we have been eating local Florida cantaloupe in our house. The CDC states that cantaloupes that have NOT come from Jensen Farms are safe to eat. If you are concerned about where your cantaloupe came from, ask your grocery store. If they are unsure and cannot tell you, then my advice would be, “when it doubt, throw it out!”  If you have any further questions or concerns about food-borne illnesses or outbreaks, please talk to your pediatrician or family physician.

Links for more information:

CDC website - http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/outbreaks/

General food safety guidelines for preparing food - http://www.foodsafety.gov/

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