Oct 172011
Authors: Erin Udell

More than a month after Jensen Farms issued a voluntary recall of their Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes, Coloradans are still seeing fatal effects of the multistage listeriosis outbreak.

According to an Oct. 11 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 116 people from 25 different states became infected, with 34 in Colorado alone.

So far, 23 people have died — 5 from Colorado.

Jensen Farms, located in Holly, Colo., issued the recall on Sept. 14, and while the cantaloupes were taken off shelves almost immediately, the CDC recommends consumers not eat whole or pre-cut Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupe from the farm.

This is especially important for older adults, pregnant women, newborns or people with weakened immune systems, said Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson for the CDC.

“In the United States, an estimated 1,600 persons become seriously ill with listeriosis each year. Of these, 260 die,” Nordlund said in an email to the Collegian. “Listeriosis is a serious infection.”

According to Nordlund, this listeriosis outbreak is unusually large, with only two other cases infecting more people — a frankfurter outbreak in 1998 and a Mexican-style cheese incident in 1985.

Listeriosis is usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes.

“We know that ruminant animals shed listeria,” said Mary Schroeder, an extension specialist in food safety at CSU in an Oct. 5 Collegian article. “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.”

Characterized by flu-like symptoms of a high fever, muscle aches and diarrhea, listeriosis can develop in consumers up to two months after they eat the contaminated food, according to the CDC.

“When listeria bacteria get into a food-processing factory, they can live there for years, sometimes contaminating food products,” Nordlund said. “The bacterium has been found in a variety of raw foods, such as uncooked meats and vegetables, as well as in foods that become contaminated after cooking or processing, such as soft cheeses, processed meats, such as hot dogs and deli meat.”

“Unlike most bacteria, listeria can grow and multiply in some foods in the refrigerator,” she added.

According to Kelli McGannon, a spokesperson for King Soopers stores, the grocery chain removed Rocky Ford cantaloupes from locations in the Fort Collins area on Sept. 8. The outbreak classified as a class one recall because of its possible fatal effects.

“We do take the items off the shelves, and if it’s a class one recall we immediately notify our customers and make phone calls to their homes,” McGannon said.

After hearing about the outbreak, CSU dining halls, which usually offer Rocky Ford cantaloupe, stopped serving the melons.

“We pulled the cantaloupe as soon as the recall came out,” said Tonie Miyamoto, the director of Housing and Dining Services Administration. “We’ve had no reports (of listeriosis) through housing and dining services.”

“Obviously we can never predict outbreaks, but what we can do is keep a close eye on the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration),” Miyamoto added. “As soon as we get a warning, we try to take the most precautionary steps possible.”

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

 Posted by at 3:29 pm

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