For many of us, sweet cantaloupe is one of the only fruits we enjoy. Unfortunately, now is the worst time to indulge in this normally healthy habit. Right now the Food & Drug Administration is making a mad dash to recall up to 4.5 millions cantaloupes that may be infected with listeria, a rugged bacteria that can cause death in the infirm. So far the current outbreak has led to 72 illnesses and 16 deaths, far outstripping the 9 fatalities caused by the large salmonella outbreak of three years ago. Listeria bacteria can survive at room temperature and thrive despite refrigeration. Thus, more deaths are expected in the coming weeks from the 300,000 cases of cantaloupes that have been shipped from the Colorado company Jensen Farms. Although most people who contract listeria recover, 1 in 5 might perish, because it is deadlier than e. coli. Sadly, the number of deaths from listeria is expected to rise throughout October.
You can carry listeria for two months before exhibiting symptoms, so it is important to be on the lookout for possible infection if you or a loved one are not in good health. Here is what you need to know:
1. Throw away all cantaloupe, unless you are certain it is not from Jensen Farms:
Recalled cantaloupe, according to Time.com, might bear a sticker that says “‘Colorado Grown,’ ‘Distributed by Frontera Produce,’ ‘Jensenfarms.com’ or ‘Sweet Rocky Fords.'” If you don’t know for sure that your cantaloupe did NOT come from Jensen Farms, throw it out. An example would be if you bought it at your local farmers’ market that only sells regional fruit — and you do not live in Colorado. Not all cantaloupe will bear a descriptive label, so beware.
2. Disinfect all surfaces that have come in contact with cantaloupe:
This sounds extreme, but even after the origin of the contaminant has been removed, listeria can persist on surfaces for a long time. Counters, refrigerators, and shopping carts that may have been contaminated will need to be wiped down with a sanitizing agent.
3. It’s not just the elderly who might get infected:
Pregnant women can pass listeria on to their unborn children. Young children are susceptible as well. In addition, diabetics, AIDS patients, people taking immunity suppressing drugs, and those suffering from cancer, alcoholism, liver disease, and other weakening ailments can die. As African-Americans suffer from many of these ailments at a higher rate than the general population, we are at greater risk of death from a listeria infection — so take precautions!
4. Know the symptoms of listeria, and seek treatment if you exhibit them:
Initial listeria symptoms include fever, muscle aches, intestinal disturbances such as diarrhea, and nausea. “However, if the infection reaches your nervous system, additional symptoms can include headache, convulsions, confusion and loss of balance,” according to The Huffington Post. Given the long incubation period of a listeria infection, be sure to remind your doctor about the outbreak should you exhibit similar symptoms.
For the most part, healthy young people can come into contact with listeria and remain well. But this is no reason not to make every move you can to ensure your safety. Stay alert and maintain these precautions until the possible window of listeria infection ends at the end of October. Hopefully we will be able to enjoy cantaloupe again soon without fear.