Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Fatal Cantaloupe?

"Acting in 'Star Wars' I felt like a raisin in a giant fruit salad, and I didn't even know who the cantaloupes were."
- Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker)
Who knew that cantaloupes could be deadly? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says 72 people across 18 states have fallen ill with listeriosis, traced back to contaminated cantaloupes. The fruits come from Colorado's Rocky Ford region and were shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10. Thirteen people have died.

The illness and death were caused by the bacteria listeria which causes diarrhea, muscle aches and fever. The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. Listeria monocytogenes is found in soil and water. Animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill and can contaminate meats and dairy products. When Listeria bacteria get into a food processing factory (like the cantaloupe factory), they can live there for years.

Listeria is killed by pasteurization and cooking so you're most likely to catch it from ready-to-eat foods like hot dogs and deli meats which were contaminated after factory cooking but before packaging. Unlike most bacteria, Listeria bacteria can grow and multiply in some foods in the refrigerator so it's recommended that you eat your sliced deli meats within a few days of purchasing - old meat could make you sick.

Bottom Line

How can you protect yourself from listeria?
  • Thoroughly cook raw food, such as beef, pork, or poultry to a safe internal temperature. See http://perpetualpreparedness.blogspot.com/2011/09/is-it-done-yet.html
  • Rinse raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running tap water before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods. Avoid cross-contamination by washing hands, knives, counter tops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk.
  • Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible. Don't assume the fridge will keep it safe for weeks.

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