The CDC as of September 21 listed eight deaths linked to Jensen Farms and Frontera Listeria-tainted Cantaloupe: 2 in Colorado, 1 in Maryland, 4 in New Mexico, and 1 in Oklahoma.  What I expect the CDC to confirm today is at least 11 deaths: Colorado: 2 deaths, Kansas: 2 deaths, Maryland: 1 death, Missouri: 1 death, New Mexico: 4 deaths and Oklahoma: 1 death.

And, here is a bit of history about deaths in foodborne illness outbreaks:

Jalisco’s Listeria Outbreak

  • January 1985
  • Vehicle: cheese
  • Number ill: 86
  • Deaths: 29

Bil Mar Foods Ready-to-eat Meats Listeria Outbreak

  • January 1998
  • Vehicle: deli and cured meats
  • Number ill: 108
  • Deaths: 14

Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) Salmonella Outbreak

  • September 2008
  • Vehicle:  Peanuts and peanut butter
  • Number ill: 716
  • Deaths: 9

Pilgrim’s Pride Listeria Outbreak

  • July 2002
  • Vehicle: deli meats
  • Number ill: 54
  • Deaths: 8

Dole Brand Natural Selections Bagged Spinach E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak

  • August 2006
  • Vehicle: spinach
  • Number ill: 238
  • Deaths: 5

SanGar Produce Listeria Outbreak

  • January 2010
  • Vehicle: celery
  • Number ill: 10
  • Deaths: 5

Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak

  • November 1992
  • Vehicle: ground beef
  • Number ill: 708
  • Deaths: 4

Chi Chi’s Hepatitis A Outbreak

  • October 2003
  • Vehicle: green onions
  • Number ill: 660
  • Deaths: 4

There are 6 species of Listeria but only monocytogenes (LM) is pathogenic for humans.  There are at least 13 serovars of LM based on cellular O and flagellar H antigens.  Both PFGE and MLVA can separate LM serovars into unique types and have proved useful in investigating outbreaks.  LM was added to Pulsenet in 1998.

LM is widespread in nature, commonly found in soil, decaying vegetation and water.  The organism has been isolated from the stool of approximately 5% of health adults.  Many foods are contaminated with LM and recovery rates of 15% to 70% are common from raw vegetables, raw milk, cheese, and meats.  Two CDC studies found that 11% of refrigerator food samples were contaminated with LM and 64% of patients had at least one contaminated food in their refrigerator. 

Listeriosis was not made a nationally reportable disease until 2000.  Data from two active surveillance studies performed from 1980 to 1982 and in 1986 by the CDC indicated annual infection rates of 7.4 cases/million population accounting for approximately 1850 cases and 425 deaths.  By 1993 the annual incidence had decreased to 4.4 case/million population.  The highest infection rates are seen in infants younger than 1 month and in adults older than 60 years.  Pregnant women account for about 30% of all cases.  Almost 70% of the nonperinatal infections occur in those with hematologic malignancy, AIDS, transplant patients, and those receiving corticosteroid therapy. 

Thanks to Patti Waller, Marler Clark Epidemiologist for and Phyllis Entis, the Foodbuglady.