With the death toll from a multi-state listeria outbreak climbing, Virginia health officials are urging food-handling caution. The federal government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now say 23 people have died in the listeria outbreak that has been tied to cantaloupes.
None of these deaths are in the four-state Carolina-Virginia region (North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia), and an Oct. 6 press release from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services noted that at that time there was no evidence that tainted cantaloupes had entered the state. However, an Oct. 12 press release from the CDC attributed the illness of one Virginian and one West Virginian to the listeria outbreak. Altogether, a total of 116 people have become ill from listeria attributed to cantaloupes.
Colorado based Jensen Farms issued a voluntary recall of its Rocky Ford Cantaloupes, which are believed to be responsible for the outbreak-associated strains of Listeria monocytogenes.
VDACS notes Listeria has been previously linked to a variety of ready-to-eat foods, including unpasteurized milk and dairy products, Mexican-style or soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, processed deli meats, hot dogs, smoked seafood and store-prepared deli-salads.
The agency suggests a number of ways to keep the likelihood of getting listeria low. Consumers should keep refrigerated foods cold, at a temperature of 40 degrees F or less, says the agency. Frozen foods should be kept at 0 degrees F or less. It is wise to keep your refrigerator clean.
Use precooked and ready-to-eat foods as soon as you can. The longer they are stored in the refrigerator, the more chance Listeria has to grow. Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS Commissioner, says, "If you have leftovers in your refrigerator, it's best to throw them out after five days, just to be sure. I'm a big believer in the better safe than sorry motto."
VDACS also suggests keeping your hands and kitchen surfaces as clean as possible.
For more VDACS tips on preventing listeria, visit www.vdacs.virginia.gov/news/releases-b/100611listeria.shtml.
To find the latest information on the outbreak, follow links from the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/listeria/outbreaks/.