According Federal health officials, listeria in cantaloupe may cause more deaths in coming few weeks. Listeria outbreak has caused at 16 deaths along with 72 illnesses in 18 states, making it the deadliest food outbreak in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed listeriosis linked to whole melons grown by Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo. “If it’s not Jensen Farms, it’s OK to eat. But if you’re in doubt, throw it out,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden said during a Wednesday briefing. The farm, which sells many of its cantaloupes under the Rocky Ford label, has ended its harvest season and is no longer producing melons this year, he said.

“This is the deadliest outbreak of a foodborne disease that we’ve identified in more than a decade,” Frieden said.

Frieden and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said that illnesses are expected for weeks to come because the incubation period for listeria can be a month or even longer. That means that someone who ate contaminated cantaloupe last week may not get sick until next month. Jensen Farms last shipped cantaloupes on Sept. 10. The shelf life is about two weeks.

FDA and Colorado state officials have been investigating the farm for evidence that animals possibly strayed into the fields. They also are examining water quality, growing, harvest and processing practices and how the cantaloupes were stored.

“We will see more cases likely through October,” Hamburg said.

While most healthy adults can consume listeria with no ill effects, it can kill the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. It is also dangerous to pregnant women because it easily passes through to the fetus. The CDC’s Frieden said that two of those sickened were pregnant women but they have since recovered.

The current CDC death toll: Colorado, 2; Kansas, 1; Maryland, 1; Missouri, 1; Nebraska, 1; New Mexico, 4; Oklahoma, 1; and Texas, 2. Tests are pending on three other deaths in Wyoming, New Mexico and Kansas.

Listeria Monocytogenes is one of the deadly pathogens mainly affects the elderly, pregnant women, newborns and those with weakened immune systems. The best way to protect yourself and your food is to fully cook your meat and to make sure you wash your raw veggies and fruit.  It is important for people to remain informed and rational in their approach to dealing with the pathogen. Yes, listeria can kill. But with proper knowledge and the right frame of mind, it shouldn’t pose more of a problem than the common flu.

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