South Dakota is surrounded by states suffering infections from an unusual bacteria outbreak in cantaloupe, but so far the state is untouched and the fruit at area stores is safe, officials said Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified the first signs of an outbreak of listeriosis in Colorado Sept. 2 and has since declared it the deadliest food-borne disease outbreak in a decade. Over the following weeks, the Food and Drug Administration linked the outbreak to cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Rocky Ford, Colo., contaminated with listeria bacteria. Jensen Farms recalled its cantaloupe crop Sept. 14.
As of Thursday afternoon, 72 people had been infected and 13 had died from the outbreak of listeria. People in North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado were infected. Two people in Colorado and one in Nebraska had died.
There are no identified listeriosis cases in South Dakota, according to Barb Buhler, public information officer for the South Dakota Department of Health.
Store managers said cantaloupes at area stores are safe, though Safeway’s Denver division stocked one shipment from Jensen Farms a few weeks ago.
The Safeway division, which oversees stores in South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico, recalled all its cantaloupes Sept. 13, said Kris Staaf, director of public affairs for the division. For proprietary reasons, Staaf would not say how many cantaloupes the stores had thrown away or how much money they lost.
Area Safeway stores now stock California cantaloupes, Staaf said, but if anyone is concerned about a cantaloupe, Safeway will refund the purchase.
“Jensen Farms is not a main supplier for Safeway, but we did receive some of their product,” she said. “We procure cantaloupe from several different vendors at any given time.”
A representative from Family Thrift on Mountain View Drive said the stores in Rapid City do not carry the brand of cantaloupe involved in the outbreak.
Tina Cadotte, produce manager at Prairie Market in Rapid City, said it also does not carry the cantaloupe that has caused the health concerns.
“I’ve had a few people that have asked, but we put up a notice right away that we weren’t affected,” Cadotte said. “The ones we sell all come from California and are safe.”
There are a few cases of listeriosis in South Dakota every year, said Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist. The state sees hundreds of cases of other food-borne diseases, such as salmonella, annually, but listeria is more deadly to high-risk patients. Of the three people affected by the disease last year, one person died, Kightlinger said.
Listeriosis is a disease caused by the bacterium listeria monocytogenes. People with weak immune systems and pregnant women are at risk; the disease can cause stillbirths and miscarriages. The disease has flu-like symptoms, typically without a cough, Kightlinger said.
It can be treated with antibiotics.
The bacterium is unusual because it can take three weeks or longer to show up after someone becomes infected and cold temperatures don’t kill it, according to the CDC. So FDA and CDC officials expect to see more cases as people who have eaten infected cantaloupe start to show symptoms. This is the first time the FDA has seen listeria in whole cantaloupes, and the agency isn’t sure how that happened, FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said.
The FDA recommends washing refrigerator and food preparation surfaces and sanitizing them with a bleach and water solution, and throwing out any cantaloupe from Jensen Farms. If you aren’t sure where your melon came from, toss it.
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