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Listeria Update – What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

October 7, 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa - The recent multi-state outbreak of listeriosis linked to cantaloupes is responsible for more than 15 deaths and 84 illnesses - including a case in Iowa. Jensen Farms in Colorado issued a voluntary recall of its cantaloupes in mid-September, and more states have been added to the recall list over the past week.

Iowa Health Department Epidemiologist Doctor Patricia Quinlisk says the case reported in Iowa was a tragedy for a mother-to-be.

"Pregnant women are much more susceptible to this infection than women who are not pregnant, and unfortunately, she did become ill, and suffered one of the known complications — which unfortunately was a miscarriage."

She says those at greatest risk of becoming ill are the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. Most recalled cantaloupes should be off store shelves at this point, but if you aren't sure, ask the grocer where the fruit came from. Symptoms can include fever, muscle aches and nausea, and can take up to 70 days to appear after eating contaminated food.

A spokesman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Doug Karas, says this is the first time whole cantaloupes have been contaminated with the bacteria. Most recalled cantaloupes should be off store shelves at this point, but if you aren't sure, ask the grocer where the fruit came from. 'When in doubt - throw it out,' is good advice, says Karas.

"You don't want to try and do any sort of washing or anything like that. If you think you have bad produce, then please throw it out - and throw it away in a way that nobody else can eat it - to include animals. So, it might be best to bag it and throw it out."

The FDA is investigating the cause of the listeria outbreak.

Dick Layman/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - IA