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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Deadliest Listeria Outbreak in Decades

Chart shows the number of cases of listeria by state

Updated: September 28, 2011 6:14AM

WASHINGTON — Health officials say as many as 16 people have died from possible listeria illnesses traced to Colorado cantaloupes, the deadliest food outbreak in more than a decade.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that 72 illnesses, including 13 deaths, are linked to the tainted fruit. State and local officials say they are investigating three additional deaths that may be connected.
The death toll released by the CDC Tuesday — including newly confirmed deaths in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas — surpassed the number of deaths linked to an outbreak of salmonella in peanuts almost three years ago. Nine people died in that outbreak.
The CDC said Tuesday that they have confirmed two deaths in Texas and one death each in in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Last week the CDC reported two deaths in Colorado, four deaths in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma and one in Maryland.
New Mexico officials said Tuesday they are investigating a fifth death, while health authorities in Kansas and Wyoming said they too are investigating additional deaths possibly linked to the tainted fruit.
Listeria is more deadly than well-known pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, though those outbreaks generally cause many more illnesses. Twenty-one people died in an outbreak of listeria poisoning in 1998 traced to contaminated hot dogs and possibly deli meats made by Bil Mar Foods, a subsidiary of Sara Lee Corp. Another large listeria outbreak in 1985 killed 52 people and was linked to Mexican-style soft cheese. 
By MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press September 28, 2011 6:12AM

Long road from farm to fork worsens food outbreaks
 - Yahoo! News:

"WASHINGTON (AP) — The recent listeria outbreak from cantaloupe shows that large-scale occurrences of serious illnesses linked to tainted food have grown more common over the years, partly because much of what we eat takes a long and winding road from farm to fork.

A cantaloupe grown on a Colorado field may make four or five stops before it reaches the dinner table. There's the packing house where it is cleaned and packaged, then the distributor who contracts with retailers to sell the melons in large quantities. A processor may cut or bag the fruit. The retail distribution center is where the melons are sent out to various stores. Finally it's stacked on display at the grocery store."

Imported fruits and vegetables, which make up almost two-thirds of the produce consumed in the United States, have an even longer journey.
"Increasingly with agribusiness you have limited producers of any given food, so a breakdown in a facility or plant or in a large field crop operation exposes thousands because of the way the food is distributed," says Dr. Brian Currie, an infectious disease specialist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
The Colorado cantaloupe crop that's linked to 84 illnesses and as many as 17 deaths in 19 states has traveled so far and wide that producer Jensen Farms doesn't even know exactly where their fruit ended up.
The company said last week that it can't provide a list of retailers that sold the tainted fruit because the melons were sold and resold. It named the 28 states where the fruit was shipped, but people in other states have reported getting sick. 

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