by Amy McCarthy
Earlier this month, a Colorado cantaloupe producer began
recalling thousands of melons that were linked to the deaths of at least 15 people in Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. The culprit? An outbreak of the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.
Listeria infection causes listeriosis, a potentially life threatening illness. According to the National Institutes of Health, listeria is often transmitted by the droppings of wild or domesticated animals and contaminates fruits and vegetables that are grown on the ground. It can also develop in raw milk or cheese, and most commonly in soft cheeses, cold salads (like pasta or chicken salad) from a salad bar, or deli meats.
While listeriosis is largely controlled in the United States, occasional outbreaks do occur, and this particular outbreak has prompted one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has provided the following tips for preventing listeria infection in your home:
Listeria can grow at refrigerator temperatures, about 40◦ Fahrenheit (4◦ Celsius). The longer ready-to-eat refrigerated foods are stored in the refrigerator, the more opportunity Listeria has to grow.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
- Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
- Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.
The FDA advises consumers not to eat the recalled cantaloupes and to throw them away. Do not try to wash the harmful bacteria off the cantaloupe as contamination may be both on the inside and outside of the cantaloupe. Cutting, slicing and dicing may also transfer harmful bacteria from the fruit’s surface to the fruit’s flesh.
Listeriosis is rare but can be fatal, especially in certain high-risk groups. These groups include older adults, people with compromised immune systems and unborn babies and newborns. Listeriosis can cause miscarriage and stillbirth in pregnant women and serious illness or death in their newborns, though the mother herself rarely becomes ill. A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches. Persons who think they might have become ill should consult their doctor.
You can read more on keeping your kitchen safe here.