Jensen Farms (Holly, CO) has recalled all Rocky Ford whole cantaloupes shipped between July 29, 2011 and September 10, 2011, because these melons “…have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria,” according to a recall notice posted earlier today on the FDA website.

The recalled cantaloupes were distributed to Illinois, Wyoming, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The recalled cantaloupes bear a green and white sticker that reads: Product of USA- Frontera Produce-Colorado Fresh-Rocky Ford-Cantaloupe or a gray, yellow, and green sticker that reads: Jensen Farms-Sweet Rocky Fords.

Investigations carried out by FDA, CDC and state and local health agencies earlier fingered whole cantaloupes from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado as the source for a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes. Confirmed and suspect cases have been reported in the following states, according to information released by CDC and various state health agencies:

  • Colorado:- 11 confirmed; 1 death
  • Indiana:- 1 confirmed
  • Montana:- 1 confirmed; 1 under investigation
  • Nebraska:- 1 confirmed; 2 under investigation
  • New Mexico:- 9 probable (all ate cantaloupe), including 3 deaths
  • Oklahoma:- 1 confirmed; 6 under investigation
  • Texas:- 2 confirmed

In all, six states are reporting a total of 17 confirmed illnesses, including one death. An additional 18 cases are still under investigation, including 9 probable cases in New Mexico. If the New Mexico cases are confirmed to be due to the outbreak strain, the contaminated cantaloupes will have claimed four lives.

Listeria monocytogenes has a very long incubation period – as long as three weeks in some cases. Therefore, it will be a long time before the full human cost of this outbreak can be determined.

It’s unclear from the Jensen Farms recall notice whether or not the outbreak strain has been linked ONLY to cantaloupes from this supplier, or whether other growers in the Rocky Ford region may also be affected. The Jensen melons were not distributed to either Indiana or Montana, according to the recall notice. Yet both of these states are reporting at least one confirmed outbreak case.

Listeria monocytogenes is a common soil microbe. It also is often found as a contaminant in floor drains in food production facilities. The Jensen Farms recall may not be the entire story.