Health officials say as many as 16 people have died from possible listeria illnesses traced to Colorado cantaloupes. This is the deadliest food outbreak in more than a decade.
Seventy-two illnesses, including 13 deaths, are linked to the tainted fruit according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State and local officials say they are investigating three additional deaths that may be connected.
The death toll released by the CDC Tuesday — including newly confirmed deaths in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas — surpassed the number of deaths linked to an outbreak of salmonella in peanuts almost three years ago where 9 people died.
Listeria is more deadly than well-known pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, though those outbreaks generally cause many more illnesses. Twenty-one people died in an outbreak of listeria poisoning in 1998 traced to contaminated hot dogs and possibly deli meats made by Bil Mar Foods, a subsidiary of Sara Lee Corp. Another large listeria outbreak in 1985 killed 52 people and was linked to Mexican-style soft cheese.
Listeria generally only sickens the elderly, pregnant women and others with compromised immune systems. According to the CDC, one in five who contract the disease can die. Symptoms don't always show immediately. It can take four weeks or more for a person to fall ill after eating contaminated food.
FDA has not released any additional details on how the contamination may have happened (blank stare) but the agency says its investigation is ongoing. The tainted cantaloupes in this situation have been recalled earlier this month.
The Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes from Jensen Farms were shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10 to 25 states.
Hit up our good friend Google for more information about Listeria. And while you're at it, look up Food Inc, an informative documentary about the shady practices in the food industry that can easily lead to situations like this.