Cantaloupes harvested in the Rocky Ford region of Colorado are responsible for an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes that has sickened at least 16 people in Colorado (11), Indiana (1), Nebraska (1), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (2). CDC reports that 15 people have been hospitalized (that information is unavailable for the 16th victim). One death in Colorado has been attributed to this outbreak.

The number of illnesses – and the death toll – could rise significantly in the next few days; state and local health departments in several more states are investigating Listeria illnesses to determine whether they match the genetic profile of the cantaloupe outbreak strain. One of those states is New Mexico, which reports that it is investigating nine cases of Listeria infections, including three deaths. Oklahoma is investigating an additional 6 cases; Nebraska is awaiting genetic profiling on isolates from two additional Listeria patients. If all of these cases under investigation are confirmed to be due to a single strain, the total number of cases will more than double, to a total of 23 cases.

According to CDC, the outbreak strain has been found “…on cantaloupe collected from grocery stores and from an ill person’s home.” The report does not name the grocery stores where contaminated cantaloupes were procured. CDC adds that these cantaloupes were marketed as having been harvested in the Rocky Ford region of Colorado. FDA, CDC, state and local health departments, and the firms involved are cooperating to determine the exact source of the contamination.

The cantaloupes may have been distributed nationwide; however, no recall has been announced, as investigators still don’t know exactly which cantaloupes are behind the outbreak. FDA has released a short statement on its role in the investigation, but has not issued a Health Alert.

Listeria monocytogenes infections usually cause otherwise healthy adults to experience a mild form of gastroenteritis. But the infections can be serious – sometimes fatal – in susceptible individuals. Groups at high risk for serious complications include the elderly, the very young, pregnant women, cancer patients and anyone with compromised immune systems. Members of any of these high risk groups should avoid eating cantaloupe until this outbreak is over, unless the origin of the melon is clearly identifiable.

CDC offers the following Advice to Consumers:

Contaminated cantaloupes may still be in grocery stores and in consumers’ homes.

  • CDC recommends that persons at high risk for listeriosis, including older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women, do not eat cantaloupes marketed as coming from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado.
  • Consumers who have cantaloupes in their homes can check the label or inquire at the store where they purchased it to determine if the fruit was marketed as coming from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado.
  • Listeriosis primarily affects older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and newborns. Persons who think they might have become ill from eating possibly contaminated cantaloupes should consult their doctor immediately.
  • Cantaloupes marketed as coming from the Rocky Ford region should be disposed of in a closed plastic bag placed in a sealed trash can. This will prevent people or animals from eating them.