Eighteen people are dead and 100 individuals from 20 states have been diagnosed with listeriosis, according to the latest numbers released today by CDC. Four different strains of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria have been recovered from outbreak patients.

Most (92%) of the outbreak victims reported having eaten cantaloupe in the month before they developed their symptoms.

The outbreak is blamed on cantaloupes supplied by Jensen Farms, Inc., a Colorado grower and packer. Jensen recalled its cantaloupes on September 14th, after they were implicated in the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak.

Outbreak-related deaths occurred in Colorado (5), Kansas (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (5), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (2). The 100 confirmed illnesses were reported from Alabama (1), Arkansas (1) California (1), Colorado (30), Idaho (1), Illinois (1), Indiana (2), Kansas (7), Maryland (1), Missouri (3), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), New Mexico (13), North Dakota (1), Oklahoma (11), Texas (14), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (2).

Geographic Distribution of Outbreak Cases

Additional cases of Listeria monocytogenes infections (i.e., listeriosis) – including additional fatal cases – remain under investigation by CDC and state and local health agencies. We can expect the case count and death toll to increase further.

The recalled cantaloupes were produced from the end of July to September 10th, according to FDA. They were shipped directly to consignees in 24 states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Secondary and tertiary distribution to other states cannot be ruled out. Jensen did not export any of the recalled cantaloupes.

On September 19th, FDA confirmed having found at least one  of the four Listeria monocytogenes outbreak strains in cantaloupes and environmental samples from the Jensen Farms packing facility. As of today, the agency still is conducting its “root-cause” investigation to determine how the cantaloupes became contaminated. FDA will report its findings once its investigation is complete.

During the past several days, more information has become available on the retail distribution of the recalled cantaloupes; most notably, several supermarket chains have posted notices on their websites to assure customers that they had NOT sold recalled cantaloupes.

While the Jensen Farms cantaloupes are nearing – or have reached – the end of their marketable shelf life, some consumers may still have recalled melons in their homes. People who are at high risk of listeriosis – including the elderly, the very young, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems – should be especially careful to avoid eating the compromised cantaloupes.

CDC offers the following advice to those who purchased – or think they purchased – cantaloupes that were implicated in this outbreak:

  • Dispose of cantaloupes in a closed plastic bag placed in a sealed trash can. This will prevent people and animals from eating them. Do not attempt to wash off the Listeria, as it is possible the cantaloupe contains Listeria on the inside as well.
  • Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water;
  • Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
  • Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
  • Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.

For more information on this outbreak and on Listeria monocytogenes, click on the Listeria Outbreak tab on the navigation bar at the top of the eFoodAlert blog.