The Center for Disease Control says the listeria outbreak spread by tainted cantaloupes from Colorado represents the most wide-spread food poisoning event of its type. Illnesses from the current outbreak have been reported in 28 states and the MidSouth is the most affected region of the US.
Reports from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Kansas alone account for 54 of the 139 total reported cases of Listeria poisoning. Colorado – where the tainted cantaloupes were produced – leads all states in reported illnesses, with 39.
While not receiving the attention given e-Coli outbreaks, there are some 800 confirmed cases of Listeria infection in the US every year. Most are associated with deli meats, hot dogs, and cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. Produce cases are less common, but an outbreak in 2009 was attributed to bean sprouts and another in 2010 was linked to tainted celery.
The top five states affected by the Jenson Farms outbreak are Colorado (39), Texas (18), New Mexico (15), Oklahoma (11), and Kansas (10). The illnesses were reported from the end of July 2011 to October 21, 2011 and of the 134 cases during that date-range, all but two persons required hospitalization.
There are 29 confirmed deaths, including cases in Colorado (8), New Mexico (5), and Kansas (3). Two deaths were reported in New York, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, and a single patient died as a result of food poisoning in Oklahoma, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, and Wyoming.
The source of the tainted cantaloupes was Jenson Farms in Granada, Colorado, where investigators discovered poorly cleaned machinery and pooled water that contained the Listeria bacteria that came into contact with harvested melons. Several persons who became ill recalled that the cantaloupes had been marketed as Rocky Ford brand, which allowed CDC tracking to zero in on the suspected farm.