The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed Friday more deaths have been linked to strains of listeria bacteria in whole cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado.
The CDC reported that as of Thursday, 84 persons in 19 states have been infected with one of the four strains of Listeria monocytogenes associated with this outbreak and at least 15 of those infected have died.
Two weeks ago the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the voluntary recall of Rocky Ford Cantaloupe from Jensen Farms shipped between July 29 and September 10.
The Associated Press reported:
This outbreak -- that experts are calling the worst of its kind in a decade, though tainted melons have caused at least 19 disease outbreaks (including salmonella and E. coli) since 1984 -- has led to research into contaminated California grown romaine lettuce as a potential source, and True Leaf Farms, based in Salinas, has recalled nearly 2,500 bags of lettuce shipped between September 12 and 13 to 19 states and Alberta, Canada as a precautionary measure, though no illnesses had been linked to those crops.
Listeria outbreaks are especially hard to contain because the incubation period for listeria -- the period before symptoms start after ingesting the bacteria -- is a month to several weeks, and those stricken can appear to recover, then suffer sudden devastating setbacks.
Also, cantaloupes and lettuce, and most produce these days, travel long distances from "farms to forks," often being sold and re-sold repeatedly, making effective alerts and recalls more challenging, and rendering food safety tips beyond "when in doubt throw it out" iffy (though experts continue to advise such prevention measures as scrubbing fruit thoroughly, keeping the refrigerator below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and consuming produce soon after purchasing).
The Christian Science Monitor reported that, according to legal experts, the wrongful-death and personal injury lawsuits being filed -- against Jensen Farms and Wal-Mart (as a food seller) so far -- may not be as successful in winning the damages plaintiffs their lawyers consider fair compensation, because Jensen Farms is a local family business with limited assets.