Cantaloupes contaminated with listeria cause 16 deaths

The Takeaway

Cantaloupes from Colorado are responsible for an outbreak of listeria. (Flickr user News21-usa)

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As many as 72 people have fallen ill and 16 have died, after eating cantaloupes from Colorado that were contaminated with listeria, a dangerous bacteria. This makes the outbreak the country's deadliest of food related illness in more than a decade, according to public health officials.

Listeria doesn't affect everyone who eats it, according to food safety expert Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. The majority of the outbreak's victims have been elderly since they're more susceptible to listeria's effects.

"It's more likely to affect the older population, those who are pregnant -- who have a fetus who can become infected -- or those who have immune competent system problems where they basically can't fight the bacteria off," Osterholm said.

This is the first time a melon outbreak associated with listeria has been reported and health officials are investigating possible causes. "Because this comes from an animal source, it's unclear how the contamination might have gotten on the melons, on the equipment," said Osterholm. "And this investigation is looking directly at that theory right now."

The cantaloupes, sold around the country, came from Jensen Farms, which issued a recall earlier this month. The deaths were reporeted in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma, according to The New York Times.

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