As many as 16 people have died from possible listeria illnesses traced to cantaloupes in Colorado, according to health officials, making this the deadliest food outbreak in more than ten years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that 72 sicknesses, including 13 deaths, are connected to the contaminated fruit. At least three additional deaths are being investigated for possible connection to the cantaloupe, said government authorities .
Deaths connected to the outbreak have been confirmed by the CDC in Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, Maryland and New Mexico.
Health officials are warning consumers not to eat Rocky Ford Cantaloupe shipped by Colorado-based Jensen Farms because of possible listeriosis contamination.
The Food and Drug Administration is telling consumers to throw away any of the recalled product they may still have in their homes.
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. Another large listeria outbreak in 1985 killed 52 people and was linked to Mexican-style soft cheese.
The outbreak has been traced to Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo., which recalled the tainted cantaloupes earlier this month. The Food and Drug Administration said state health officials had found listeria in cantaloupes taken from grocery stores in the state and from a victim’s home that were grown at Jensen Farms. Matching strains of the disease were found on equipment and cantaloupe samples at Jensen Farms’ packing facility in Granada, Colo.
The FDA, which investigates the cause of foodborne outbreaks, has not released any additional details on how the contamination may have happened. The agency says its investigation is ongoing.