Listeria Outbreak In 4 states
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Listeria Outbreak In 4 states

Tuesday, September 13, 2011By Richard Alexander
CDC is collaborating with public health officials in several states, including Colorado, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate a multistate outbreak of listeriosis.

Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Investigators are using DNA analysis of Listeria isolated from patients to identify cases of illness that may be part of this outbreak.

A total of 15 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from 4 states. All illnesses started on or after August 15, 2011. The number of infected persons identified in each state is as follows:  Colorado (11), Nebraska (1), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (2). Listeriosis illnesses in several other states are currently being investigated by state and local health departments to determine if these illnesses are part of this outbreak.

About 800 cases of Listeria infection are diagnosed each year in the United States, along with 3 or 4 outbreaks of Listeria-associated foodborne illness. The typical foods that cause these outbreaks have been deli meats, hot dogs, and Mexican-style soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. Produce is not often identified as a source, but sprouts caused an outbreak in 2009, and celery caused an outbreak in 2010.

Signs and Symptoms

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The disease primarily affects older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and newborns.  Rarely, persons without these risk factors can also be affected.

A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, often preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Almost everyone who is diagnosed with listeriosis has "invasive" infection, in which the bacteria spread from the intestines to the blood stream or other body sites.

The symptoms vary with the infected person:

  • Persons other than pregnant women: Symptoms, in addition to fever and muscle aches, can include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.
  • Pregnant women: Pregnant women typically experience only a mild, flu-like illness. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

More general information about Listeriosis can be found at the CDC's Listeriosis webpage.

Advice to Consumers

Contaminated cantaloupes may still be in grocery stores and in consumers' homes.

  • CDC recommends that persons at high risk for listeriosis, including older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women, do not eat cantaloupes marketed as coming from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado.
  • Consumers who have cantaloupes in their homes can check the label or inquire at the store where they purchased it to determine if the fruit was marketed as coming from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado.
  • Listeriosis primarily affects older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and newborns. Persons who think they might have become ill from eating possibly contaminated cantaloupes should consult their doctor immediately.
  • Cantaloupes marketed as coming from the Rocky Ford region should be disposed of in a closed plastic bag placed in a sealed trash can. This will prevent people or animals from eating them.

Food items other than cantaloupes can also carry Listeria bacteria. People at high risk for listeriosis and those who prepare their meals can take steps to lower the risk.

  • Rinse raw produce, such as fruits and vegetables, thoroughly under running tap water before eating. Dry the produce with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting them up.
  • Thoroughly cook raw meat and poultry.
  • Heat hot dogs, deli meats, and cold cuts until they are steaming hot just before serving.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk and do not eat fresh soft cheeses that have unpasteurized milk in them, especially Mexican style cheeses like queso fresco.
  • Be sure that your refrigerator is at or below 40 degrees F, and your freezer at or below 0 degrees F by using a refrigerator thermometer.
  • Follow general food safety guidelines for preparing food, such as those at FoodSafety.govExternal Web Site Icon.

General Melon Safety Advice:

  • Consumers and food preparers should wash their hands before and after handling any whole melon, such as cantaloupe, watermelon, or honeydew.
  • Wash the melons and dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting.
  • Cut melon should be promptly consumed or refrigerated at or less than 40 degrees F (32-34 degrees F is optimal for storage of cut melon).
  • Cut melons left at room temperature for more than 4 hours should be discarded.

More information about Listeriosis and recommendations to reduce risk of getting Listeriosis from food can be found at the CDC's Listeriosis webpage.

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