Sep 15, 2011 3:26 PM by AP
DENVER - The Food and Drug Administration has issued a recall for cantaloupes from a Colorado farm after investigators probing a deadly Listeria outbreak found a contaminated melon in a store, the first time the bacteria has been linked to cantaloupe in the U.S.
Jensen Farms spokeswoman Amy Philpott said Thursday one of the farm's Rocky Ford cantaloupes tested positive for the bacteria, but more tests are needed to determine if it's the same strain linked to the outbreak.
"We were informed that there was a positive test, but we don't know if it was linked to the outbreak," Philpott said. She said she did not know the state or the store, or the agency that found it, and the recall was voluntary.
Philpott said the company shipped more than 300,000 cases across the country during the period covered by the recall, but the company has recalled the entire harvest as a precaution.
The tests were first reported by KMGH-TV ( http://bit.ly/rsksgM).
The farm stopped harvesting on Monday when Colorado health officials issued an alert and notified retailers to remove the cantaloupes from shelves, Philpott said.
The farm provides about 40 percent of the area's cantaloupes, she said.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention said one person died in Colorado and one in New Mexico. New Mexico has blamed three deaths on the outbreak, but epidemiologist Chad Smelser said Thursday that one death has been confirmed and the other two are pending results from the CDC.
The agency said it was the first Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe in the United States.
State and federal authorities linked the illnesses to cantaloupes harvested in the Rocky Ford region of Colorado in August and September, and the cantaloupes might still be available in grocery stores. The CDC said almost all of the victims interviewed remember eating cantaloupe and several remembered that they were from the region.
The CDC said about 800 cases of listeria are diagnosed in the United States each year and there are three or four outbreaks of it a year. Deli meats, hot dogs and cheese are the most frequent carriers, and outbreaks in produce are rare. Sprouts caused an outbreak in 2009, however, and celery caused an outbreak in 2010.
Cantaloupe is often a culprit in foodborne illness outbreaks, but not listeriosis. Earlier this year, state and federal authorities linked 22 salmonella illnesses, many of them in the West, to cantaloupes imported from Mexico.
Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar said the contamination might not be the cantaloupes but a truck or other source. Still, several Colorado grocery chains pulled their supplies as a precaution, and New Mexico issued a voluntary recall.
The cantaloupes were shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10 and distributed throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems. Symptoms can include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea, headache, stiff neck, confusion and convulsions.