October 19, 2011 / 4:55 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. listeria death toll from tainted cantaloupes rises to 25

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Two more people in the United States have died from a listeria outbreak caused by tainted cantaloupes linked to a Colorado farm, bringing the death toll to 25 across 12 states, health officials said on Wednesday.

The additional deaths from the largest U.S. food-borne listeria outbreak in more than two decades occurred in Colorado and New York, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Deaths also have been reported in Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming, the CDC said.

The number of people sickened by the tainted cantaloupes has reached 123 in 26 states, with Pennsylvania reporting its first case. One of the ill patients, a pregnant woman, suffered a miscarriage, the CDC said.

The death toll from the outbreak exceeds the number of people who died from a multi-state listeria outbreak linked to hot dogs and deli turkey from a Michigan processor that started in 1998 and stretched into 1999.

Prior to that in 1985, listeriosis killed 48 people in a California outbreak linked to inadequately pasteurized soft cheese in the largest outbreak on record.

Since listeria can cause illness as long as two months after a person has consumed contaminated food, health officials have warned that the cases of illness related to the cantaloupes likely will rise through October.

Jensen Farms in Colorado issued a voluntary recall of its Rocky Ford brand cantaloupes in mid-September.

“Cantaloupes that are known to not have come from Jensen Farms are safe to eat,” the CDC said.

Consumers should ask the grocery store if they have doubt about a cantaloupe’s source, the agency said. Listeria monocytogenes is a frequent cause of U.S. food recalls in processed meats and cheeses, but contamination in fresh produce is a new and worrisome development.

People most at risk are the elderly, pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system, such as those who have had organ transplants or cancer. Symptoms include fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems.

Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton

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