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Preventing Future Listeria Outbreaks

If you have watched any news over the past week you know there is a listeria outbreak from contaminated cantaloupes that has been traced to Jensen Farms in Colorado. The CDC has confirmed 72 illnesses, including 13 deaths linked to the melons and three other deaths may be involved.  By now most of the cantaloupes should be gone as they usually last only a couple of weeks.  The recalled cantaloupes were shipped between July 29 and Sept 10.

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. It causes fever, muscle aching and sometimes diarrhea.  It feels like a bad flu with headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and in severe cases, convulsions.  As with many infections; babies, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and older adults are more likely to have severe illness.  There are about 1,600 cases annually reported in the United States.  The largest outbreak occurred in 2002 and the culprit was contaminated turkey deli meat.

It can take several weeks for symptoms to appear so even though the contaminated melons are probably gone, we may see more cases crop up.  Listeria bacteria can grow at room and refrigerator temperatures. The illness can be diagnosed with stool or blood cultures for confirmation.

The best way to prevent Listeria infection is to thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources.  Rinse raw fruits and vegetables under running tap water before eating and avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk.  Opened package lunch meats, deli meats, cold cuts and meat spreads are risky, as are soft cheeses such as feta, queso blanco, brie, and camembert,  unless the label says “Made with Pasteurized Milk”.

The CDC say that “cantaloupes that are known to NOT have come from Jensen Farms are safe to eat. If consumers are uncertain about the source of a cantaloupe for purchase, they should ask the grocery store. A cantaloupe purchased from an unknown source should be discarded: “when in doubt, throw it out.”

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*


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