09/23/2011 10:04 am ET | Updated Nov 23, 2011

Cantaloupe Listeria Outbreak: Colo. Cantaloupe Shipped To More States Than Previously Thought, Says FDA

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) increased the number of states that listeria-tainted cantaloupe from Holly, Colo.’s Jensen Farms may have been shipped to from 17 states to 22, The Denver Post reports. The Colorado Department of Health has also increased the number of sick in Colorado to 15. Two Coloradans have already died, according to The Associated Press.

A total of 55 persons have now been infected with listeria nationwide, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report from Thursday.

The new states added to the list are Arkansas, California, Idaho, Ohio and Oklahoma.

The Associated Press reported that Jensen Farms had already issued a recall of the Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10 to Illinois, Wyoming, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Although the vast majority of illness has occurred in the elderly -- the average age is in the 80s for most that have fallen ill from listeria, according to 9News -- one of the two deaths in Colorado was of a 48-year-old mother of three, Fox31 reports.

The 48-year-old Shelly Occhipinti-Krout died on Sept. 20 at Parker Adventist Hospital. Her daughter Tiffany said her mother ate cantaloupe “all the time.” Tiffany told Fox31 that her mother had a “somewhat compromised immune system” and that the listeria caused an infection in her colon which then got into her blood. When the illness set in, Occhipinti-Krout had suffered for more than three weeks before she died.

The FDA is conducting a root-cause investigation and environmental assessment which includes the on-site expertise of FDA and state of Colorado microbiologists, environmental health specialists, veterinarians and investigative officers, according to an FDA press release. The experts conducting the assessment will analyze the evidence, determine the most likely cause of contamination and identify potential controls to help prevent contamination in the future. The FDA will use the findings to help inform agency policy regarding Listeria and produce food safety best practices.

The CDC has said that as a precautionary measure, cantaloupe consumers should not eat any Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Jensen Farms. Even if some of the cantaloupe has been eaten without becoming ill, dispose of the rest of the cantaloupe immediately because listeria bacteria can grow in the cantaloupe at room and refrigerator temperatures. The CDC also recommends that persons at high risk for listeriosis, including the elderly, persons with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women, should not eat Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Jensen Farms.

For more information on listeriosis and recommendations about reducing the risk of contracting the illness from food, visit the CDC’s Listeriosis information website.

Flickr photo via News21-usa