Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Today's media attention has been on widening of controls for E.coli bacteria in U.S. meat. The food safety advocates have finally got the government to agree to checking for six other deadly strains in addition to the common E.coli 0157:H7. But, like it or not, there is evidence that these bacteria - and many others - are more likely to be present in our "healthy" fruit and vegetables. Besides, we cook the meat - or, at least we are supposed to cook it - whereas we often eat fruit and vegetables raw. Raw is more risky, because there is no "kill" step.

Take that wonderful cataloupe (which I currently have in my refrigerator). When it is good, it is totally delicious (I always test them in the store by pushing the ends and smelling). And you can do so many things with it - raw, of course. And today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a scary announcement about cantaloupes.

There is an ongoing outbreak of Listeriosis (caused byListeria monocytogenes bacteria) in Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. This is probably a partial list, as research continues. Reportedly, 3 people in New Mexico have died, and at least 15 are seriously ill.

And the culprit food may be whole cantaloupes, most likely marketed from the Rocky Ford growing region of Colorado. This is fairly unusual, since this bacteria is usually associated with ready-to-eat food - for instance, cantaloupe that has been peeled and sliced up as well as a myriad of other popular convenience foods. But, it is occasionally found in soil, which probably happened in this case.

So beware - especially if you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system, cancer, or are an older adult. Listeria monocytogenes can be fatal. I have talked about this bacteria often in the past, but in case you haven't read those posts, here are the basics. Listeriosis symptoms can be easily confused with the flu - muscle aches and fever. Onset of symptoms after eating Listeria-contaminated food can vary tremendously from a few hours (which is rare) to as long as 70 or 90 days. Usually it is about 12 days.

If you are in a high risk group - skip the cantaloupe for now. I am on my way down to the refrigerator to toss it out.

To your good health,

UPDATE: An alert and a recall have now been announced.

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