Deaths from tainted cantaloupes rise to 15

Updated 5:31 PM EDT, Fri September 30, 2011

Story highlights

Contaminated cantaloupes have caused illnesses in 19 states, the CDC says

In addition to the deaths, a total of 84 people have fallen ill, the agency says

The fruits are thought to be tainted by listeria monocytogenes bacteria

Colorado-based Jensen Farms has recalled its cantaloupes

(CNN) —  

Fifteen people have now died after consuming cantaloupe contaminated with the listeria monocytogenes bacteria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

At least 84 people in 19 states have become ill with the bacteria, the agency said. And the number of illnesses could still grow, added the CDC, citing reporting lags and how the disease can develop slowly in some people.

On Tuesday, the CDC was reporting 13 deaths and 72 illnesses in what was already then the deadliest food-borne illness outbreak in the United States since 1998.

Five people have died in New Mexico from eating the tainted cantaloupes, the CDC said. Three people died in Colorado, two in Texas and one each in Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Illnesses have also been reported in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

What you need to know about Listeria

Most of those who fell ill are more than 60 years old, the CDC said. Doctors also are closely monitoring the pregnancies of two women who ate contaminated cantaloupe, with the agency noting that listeriosis can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.

Older adults and people with compromised immune systems are also especially susceptible.

Public health investigators have traced the source of the bacteria to a farm in Granada, Colorado.

Food Poisoning 101

The grower, Jensen Farms, issued a recall for its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes on September 14. By now, the cantaloupes should all be off store shelves, the CDC said.

The agency warned that people should not eat Rocky Ford cantaloupes, even if they have eaten part of one and have not yet fallen ill. It also said that consumers should be wary of eating any cantaloupes if they don’t know where they came from.

How to keep your food safe