The Colorado-grown cantaloupes death toll has risen to eight in an outbreak of Listeria, officials said Wednesday.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said that a person in Maryland died from eating the tainted produce. Four other deaths have been reported in New Mexico and two in Colorado, and one person has died in Oklahoma.
According to the CDC, 55 people in 14 states have now been confirmed as sickened from eating the cantaloupes.
At the beginning of this week, the CDC reported 4 deaths and 35 illnesses in 10 states due to Listeria infection.
The death count due to Listeria infection is the highest in a known food outbreak since tainted peanuts were linked to nine deaths almost three years ago and could go even higher.
CDC said illnesses in several other states potentially connected to Listeria outbreak were under investigation, the Associated Press reports.
Listeria infections have been reported in California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Colorado has the most illnesses with 14 sickened, followed by New Mexico with 10, Texas with nine and Oklahoma with eight.
Listeria outbreak has been traced to cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado, which recalled the tainted produce last week.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) said Monday that it had found Listeria in samples of Jensen Farms’ cantaloupes taken from a Denver-area store and on samples taken from equipment and cantaloupes at the farm’s packing facility.
The FDA tests confirmed that the samples matched strains of the disease found in those sickened.
According to Jensen Farms, the recalled Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes were shipped from July 29 through September 10 to Illinois, Wyoming, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
But the FDA said it is possible the company distributed to other states as well.
The recalled cantaloupe may be labelled “Colorado Grown,” “Distributed by Frontera Produce,” “Jensenfarms.com” or “Sweet Rocky Fords.”
But not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labelled with a sticker, the FDA said.
In a statement, Jensen Farms said:
“We are deeply saddened to learn that cantaloupes grown on our farm have been linked to the current listeria outbreak. Our hearts go out to those individuals and their families who have been affected by this terrible situation.”
Jensen Farms said it has hired an independent food safety expert to help determine the cause of the problem and how to address it.
According to health officials, the number of illnesses and deaths could continue to grow because the incubation period for Listeria can be up to a month.
Unlike many pathogens, Listeria bacteria can grow at room and refrigerator temperatures.
The FDA and CDC recommend anyone who may have one of the contaminated cantaloupes throw it out immediately.
About 800 cases of Listeria are found in the United States each year, according to CDC, and there usually are three or four outbreaks.
Most of outbreaks are traced to deli meat and soft cheeses, where Listeria is most common.
Produce has rarely been the culprit, but federal investigators say they have seen more produce-related listeria illnesses in the past two years.
It was found in sprouts in 2009 and celery in 2010.
While most healthy adults can consume Listeria with no ill effects, it can kill the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
Listeria is also dangerous to pregnant women because it easily passes through to the fetus.
In the current Listeria outbreak, the median age of those sickened is 78, according to the CDC.
Symptoms of Listeria infection include fever and muscle aches, often with other gastrointestinal symptoms.