Listeria Outbreak: Another Day, Another Death

Colorado has registered a second death in the lethal outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes that was traced to contaminated cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Holly, CO. The state now confirms 14 outbreak cases of the bacterial illness, up from 12 cases just two days ago.

In all, sixteen states report confirmed or suspect outbreak cases. In additional to the basic information available in the CDC Investigation Update, several of these states have released more details about the victims in their states, either on their websites, in news media articles, or in response to my email enquiries.

Here is what we know, as of today:

  • California:- 1 confirmed outbreak case; none of the recalled cantaloupes were shipped to California.
  • Colorado:- 14 confirmed outbreak cases, including 2 deaths.
  • Illinois:- 1 confirmed outbreak case; no additional cases under investigation at this time. The infected individual is an 82-year-old woman from suburban Cook County. She became ill on September 7th, and was subsequently hospitalized.
  • Indiana:- 1 confirmed outbreak case. None of the recalled cantaloupes were shipped directly to Indiana.
  • Kansas:- 8 cases under investigation, including 2 deaths. Additional lab testing is pending.
  • Maryland:- 1 fatal confirmed outbreak case. None if the recalled cantaloupes were shipped directly to Maryland.
  • Missouri:- 2 cases under investigation. One death.
  • Montana:- 1 confirmed outbreak case in Yellowstone County; 1 suspect case from Gallatin County. Recalled cantaloupes were not shipped directly to Montana.
  • Nebraska:- 4 confirmed outbreak cases, all 70+ years old; two victims are 90+ years old. All four victims were hospitalized. There were no deaths.
  • New Mexico:- 10 confirmed outbreak cases, including 4 deaths. All 10 individuals were hospitalized. Victims’ ages range from 43 to 96 years, and include 6 women and 4 men. Patients are from seven different New Mexico counties.
  • Oklahoma:-  8 confirmed outbreak cases, including one death. Two additional cases are under investigation. Outbreak-related illnesses have been reported from Oklahoma, Canadian, Cleveland, Love and McCurtain counties. Victims range from 61 to 96 years old; two-thirds are male.
  • Texas:- 9 confirmed outbreak cases.
  • Virginia:- 1 confirmed outbreak case. Recalled cantaloupes were not shipped directly to Virginia.
  • West Virginia:- 1 confirmed outbreak case. Recalled cantaloupes were not shipped directly to West Virginia.
  • Wisconsin:- 2 confirmed outbreak cases. Recalled cantaloupes were not shipped directly to Wisconsin.
  • Wyoming:- 1 confirmed outbreak case.

In total, 16 states have reported at least one confirmed or suspect Listeria monocytogenes illness. Fifty-five cases of Listeria monocytogenes are confirmed to be part of this outbreak; 8 out of 55 (14.5%) confirmed outbreak victims have died. Of the 13 illnesses under investigation, 3 were fatal.

The totals are tragic.

  • Eleven people dead.
  • 68 infected in 16 states.
  • Overall death rate of 16.2%.

One of the frightening – and frustrating – aspects of this outbreak for US consumers is that no one in authority is releasing information on where the contaminated cantaloupes were sold. FDA has said nothing. Jensen has said nothing. Colorado has said nothing. Only a few supermarket chains have posted recall information.

In my email request for information, which I sent to all 50 states, I specifically asked the question, “Can you provide any information on which retailers in your state sold the implicated melons?” Not a single state responded to that question substantively.

Food recalls rarely are 100% effective. Some supermarket chains are better than others at passing the word to individual store managers. Some stores never act on the recall notice, whether through overwork, ignorance or inertia.

Consumers have the right to know where a recalled food was sold, so that they can act to protect themselves. The  refusal of FDA and most state agencies to provide this information is unconscionable. And it puts the health of the general public at risk unnecessarily.

In the absence of an official retail distribution list, a consolidated list of the limited recall information that is available can be found at “Did Your Supermarket Sell Colorado Cantaloupes?

Finally, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) has the following recommendation for consumers:

“The OSDH recommends individuals to be aware that recalled cantaloupes may still be in consumers’ homes. The OSDH recommends that persons at high risk for listeriosis, including older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women, not eat cantaloupes shipped by Jensen Farms. A label on the cantaloupe will have the Jensen Farm brand. Consumers who have cantaloupes in their homes can check the label or inquire at the store where they purchased it to determine if the fruit was marketed as coming from Jensen Farms. Cantaloupes marketed as coming from Jensen Farms should be not be consumed and should be discarded.”

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