Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Meat loses its monopoly on listeria

If you had asked Dr. Luke F. LaBorde a few weeks ago, he would have told you that listeria is a food-borne disease contracted from meat, not fruits and vegetables.

But on Wednesday, LaBorde, an associate professor of food science at Penn State, said that common assumption is no longer true.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said that 18 people are dead and 100 sickened in 20 states in the current outbreak of listeriosis tied to contaminated cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado.

It is the deadliest food-borne disease outbreak in the United States in more than a decade.

"We thought we didn't see listeria in fruits and vegetables, but maybe it was there and we just missed it," LaBorde said.

No cases have been reported yet in Pennsylvania, but cantaloupes from the contaminated Colorado crop have been shipped here and the bacteria can take from one to three weeks to incubate and as long as three months for symptoms to appear.

Listeria mostly sickens older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems, or healthy people who consume a large amount of tainted food.

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