U.S. Death Toll From Bacteria-Contaminated Cantaloupe Rises

Sept. 27 (Bloomberg) -- At least 13 people have died in the U.S. from listeria infections linked to cantaloupes grown in Colorado, making it the most deadly U.S. outbreak of food-borne infection since 1998, authorities said.

Seventy-two people in 18 states have become ill with listeriosis traced to contaminated cantaloupe, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today in a statement posted on its website.

The Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 14 warned consumers not to eat cantaloupes from Colorado’s Rocky Ford region shipped by Jensen Farms. The cantaloupes with the brand name Rocky Ford were distributed from July 29 to Sept. 10 in at least 17 states.

In 1998, 21 people died from listeria linked to tainted hot dogs, according to a CDC online database.

The CDC last week said eight people had died in connection with the recent outbreak in Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Since then, Texas reported two deaths from the infections, Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said today in a telephone interview. Nebraska reported a death from the listeria outbreak on Sept. 23. Kansas had one death linked to the tainted fruit and is investigating a second death for a possible connection, said Barbara Hersh, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

One death attributed to the contaminated cantaloupes also was reported in Missouri, the CDC said today.

Laboratory Tests

Most affected people have been older than 60 or have weak immune systems, the CDC said in its statement. Lab tests have found Listeria monocytogenes bacteria in equipment and cantaloupes at a packing facility in Granada, Colorado, as well as cantaloupe in an ill patient’s home, the agency said last week. Infections with the bacteria can cause diarrhea, muscle aches and fever.

The death total from the listeria-tainted cantaloupes has now surpassed the nine people killed in a salmonella outbreak involving peanuts that sickened more than 700 in 2008 and 2009.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Langreth in New York at rlangreth@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.