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Health officials say that the number of cantaloupe deaths has hit 16 people. The Listeria outbreak has also sickened more than 72 others across 18 states.
And officials only expect these numbers to grow. The outbreak is now the deadliest food outbreak in the U.S. in more than a decade.
The tainted cantaloupe was traced to fruit sold by Jensen Farms of Colorado. The farm said it's shipped cantaloupe to 25 different states. However, illnesses have surfaced in states not on their original shipping list, according to the AP.
Not all of the affected cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker. But those labeled as "Colorado Grown," "Distributed by Frontera Produce," "Jensenfarms.com," or "Sweet Rocky Fords" should be destroyed.
The CDC advises consumers to throw out cantaloupes that are labeled from Jensen Farms. It also encourages consumers to ask grocers about the origin of cantaloupes if they are unlabeled, reports the AP. Cantaloupe fruit suspected to be contaminated should not be eaten.
Listeria is a bacterium that can get into vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products. The bacterium is found in soil and water. Listeria is usually killed if food is cooked or pasteurized. But fruit like cantaloupe is traditionally eaten raw.
The bacteria is also able to grow in refrigerator-like temperatures. Fruit and vegetable shelves that may have contained tainted fruit should be disinfected.
Those most at risk for the infection include pregnant women, the elderly, newborns and those with deficient immune systems. The CDC says that one in five who are infected with the bacteria can die, and the median age of those who have fallen sick is 78.
A real concern is that the cantaloupe outbreak is expected to spread. The bacteria can incubate for up to a month or longer, so some may have already eaten contaminated cantaloupe without even realizing it. The CDC warns that the cantaloupe death toll is only expected to rise.
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