ATLANTA, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- As many as 16 people may died after eating cantaloupes infected with Listeria and U.S. health officials say more deaths may occur.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said a total of 72 persons infected with the four outbreak-associated strains of Listeria have been reported to CDC from 18 states.
Collaborative investigations indicate the source of the outbreak is whole cantaloupe grown at Jensen Farms' production fields in Granada, Colo.
Thirteen deaths have been reported -- two in Colorado, one in Kansas, one in Maryland, one in Missouri, one in Nebraska, four in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma and two in Texas -- but three additional deaths are believed linked to the cantaloupes as well, CDC officials say.
Jensen Farms issued a voluntary recall of its Rocky Ford brand cantaloupes and consumers who want to reduce their risk of Listeria infection should not eat Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, CDC officials say.
"Even if some of the cantaloupe has been eaten without becoming ill, dispose of the rest of the cantaloupe immediately. Listeria bacteria can grow in the cantaloupe at room and refrigerator temperatures," CDC officials say in a statement.
Listeriosis can be fatal, especially in certain high-risk groups including older adults, people with compromised immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions -- such as cancer -- and unborn babies and newborns. In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and serious illness or death in newborn babies, though the mother herself rarely becomes seriously ill, officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration say.
The cantaloupes are packed in cartons labeled: Frontera Produce, www.fronteraproduce.com, or with Frontera Produce, Rocky Ford Cantaloupes. However, not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker and consumers should consult the retailer if they have questions about the origin of a cantaloupe, FDA officials say.
Caroline Smith DeWaal, the food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, says the contaminated cantaloupe may have left behind the deadly pathogen in consumers' homes and refrigerators, where it may live on for months.
"Wash and sanitize all surfaces touched by the cantaloupe to eliminate Listeria, such as counters, vegetable bins and shelves, sponges and dishcloths," DeWaal said. "In addition, all food that might have touched the cantaloupe or a potentially contaminated surface should be discarded."