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Experts blame contaminated cantaloupes for the deaths of at least 13 people

by nickj on September 28, 2011

Contaminated cantaloupes are being blamed for the deaths of at least 13 people across the United States, making it one of the deadliest food outbreaks in more than 10 years. The deaths are related to a listeria illness that experts believe originated from a group of the popular melons from Colorado, The Associated Press reports.

The death toll could be as high as 16, as officials in three more states confirmed cases of the sickness. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have reported that in addition to the 13 deaths, 72 others have reported coming down with the illness while they are investigating the three most recent cases. The contaminated cantaloupes have sprung up throughout the Midwest, with cases occurring in Texas, Kansas, Missouri and New Mexico.

Though less common than other sicknesses like e. coli and salmonella, listeria is far more deadly. The most recent outbreak occurred in 1998, the news source reports, when 21 people in the U.S. died after consuming contaminated hot dogs and other deli meats. The danger with the disease is that symptoms are generally not instantly recognizable.

"That long incubation period is a real problem," The CDC's Dr. Robert Tauxe told the AP. "People who ate a contaminated food two weeks ago or even a week ago could still be falling sick weeks later."

The company that is believed to be responsible for the tainted melons, Jensen Farms, recalled all of its Rocky Ford brand cantaloupes about two weeks ago, but because of the long incubation period, some experts think that the death toll is expected to rise, The Denver Post reports.

Still, it may be a far cry from the worst listeria outbreak in U.S. history when 52 people died in 1985 after eating contaminated cheese.

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