Colorado Listeria Outbreak Spreads

The listeria contamination that has been traced to a Colorado melon farm has spread. Earlier in the month, Colorado agricultural officials discovered an outbreak of listeria on a Rocky Ford melon farm. The discovery was made after several Colorado residents fell ill. Upon diagnosis of listeriosis, investigators discovered that cantaloupe purchased from Jensen Farms connected several of the patients.

Listeria is a bacteria commonly found in soil, stream water, sewage, plants, and sometimes food.  While rare, ingestion of listeria can lead to an illness known as listeriosis. Commonly found in newborn, the elderly, and individuals with compromised immune systems, listeriosis can be fatal. The most common symptoms are fever, muscle ache, vomiting, and sometimes diarrhea. The infection can also spread to the nervous system, causing meningitis, a deadly swelling of the brain and spinal cord.

The outbreak, which had initially sickened over 22 people and killed 3, has spread. The death toll so far stands at 15, with citizens across the country sickened by the tainted melons. The listeria fear has also taken a toll on local cantaloupe growers across the country, who are reassuring local consumers that their melons are not the cause of the illnesses.

A major cause of the outbreak is the lack of federal or state oversight on melon farms in the U.S. Currently, consumers must rely on third party auditors hired by producers or grocers since there is no federal agency that inspects melon farms. In the wake of the listeria outbreak, many consumer advocate organizations are pushing for increased federal regulation of melon farms and other agricultural products.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer