Sep 192011
 
Authors: Erin Udell

A deadly listeria outbreak linked to Jensen Farms near Rocky Ford has prompted a recall of cantaloupe across the state, leading all CSU dining centers to toss their melons.

“We pulled our cantaloupe the minute it hit the news,” said Cynthia Lategan, the executive chef for CSU’s residential dining services.

And while officials in Housing and Dining Services aren’t sure if their cantaloupes were purchased at Jensen Farms, they were from the Rocky Ford area, said Tonie Miyamoto, director of HDS administration.

“We’ve had no reports of students who have felt ill,” Miyamoto said. “But we ask that any students who have health issues speak to a health professional and report it to the dining center.”

“We also follow a rigorous food safety protocol, so we keep samples of food for testing (if any reports of food poisoning or other problems arise),” she added.

The outbreak has left 22 people ill and seven dead.

“We know that ruminant animals shed listeria,” said Mary Schroeder, an extension specialist in food safety at CSU. “So they’re thinking it could have come from sheep that had access to the fields.”

Despite good manufacturing practices and food handling by the farm, Schroeder added that sometimes, in these cases, fault can also land on consumers who aren’t scrubbing the rind properly.

“It (listeria) can be in soil and water, in the intestines of animals,” Schroeder said. “It’s hard to say that we can absolutely keep it out of our environment.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listeria is a bacteria that, when consumed, can cause lesteriosis, an infection primarily affecting pregnant women, older adults and people with weak immune systems.

Symptoms for most people with listeriosis are similar to the flu, with high fever, muscle aches and diarrhea. For pregnant women, however, flu-like symptoms are mild, with the infection often leading to miscarriages, stillbirths or infections in the newborn.

“It’s not a very common disease, but it does have a very high mortality rate,” Schroeder added. “That’s why there’s a sort of no-tolerance policy (for food items infected with listeria).”

As for Housing and Dining Services handling of the situation, Lategan said the dining halls won’t start serving cantaloupe until the outbreak has been taken care of.

“We can’t take chances,” she said.

News Editor Erin Udell can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Food safety

Since cantaloupe grow in close contact with the ground, bacterial contaminations can easily be introduced through soil, water or animals. Here are a few tips from CSU’s extension office to help protect yourself against illness and infection:

Always wash your hands and utensils before and after handling melons.

Scrub the melon rind with a clean vegetable brush under cool running water before patting dry with clean paper towels.

Using a clean knife and cutting board, cut one inch off each melon end, wash the knife, slice melon vertically, wash knife again, scoop out the seeds and continue slicing the melon.

Make sure to refrigerate the cut melon and discard it if it was kept at room temperature for more than four hours.

For more food safety tips, visit www.ext.colostate.edu.

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