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Health officials: Contaminated cantaloupes off shelves

by Alexia Severson, Zack Aldrich and Bethany Leggett
Sep 29, 2011

Zack Aldrich, Bethany Leggett, Alexia Severson

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Click to view latest update from the Center for Disease Control

Who is at risk?

  • The elderly
  • Pregnant women
  • Newborns
  • Adults with weakened immune systems



What labels to watch out for...

  • A green and white sticker that reads: Product of USA—Frontera Produce—Colorado Fresh—Rocky Ford Cantaloupe
  • A gray, yellow and green sticker that reads: Jensen Farms—Sweet Rocky Fords


  • flu-like symptoms
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headache
  • stiff neck
  • confusion
  • loss of balance
  • convulsions

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Following a national outbreak of listeriosis, including one case in Illinois, major food stores in Illinois confirmed Thursday they have taken extra precautions to make sure cantaloupe sold at their store was not affected.

“We don’t want to create a panic,” Sabrina Miller, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said. “It is safe to eat cantaloupe."

However, she said health officials urge consumers to dispose of the affected fruit, Rocky Ford cantaloupe grown in Colorado.

"We do advise that you throw it out and if you have eaten one and you don’t exhibit any symptoms, you are probably fine," she said.

Concerns about food safety arose here after an 82-year-old suburban Cook County woman was infected. Listeria monocytogenes bacteria was the source of the food-borne infection.

Nationally, 72 illnesses, including 13 deaths, in 18 states have been linked to the contaminated fruit originating from Jensen Farms. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this is the most deadly listeria outbreak in a decade.

People most at risk for becoming infected with listeria are pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, Miller said.

The local case was reported to the CDC on Sept. 7, Miller said. The woman showed gastrointestinal symptoms and was subsequently hospitalized, treated with antibiotics and released. The woman, whose identity was withheld, reported eating a cantaloupe she bought at a Cook County store, but the name of the store was withheld.

People most at risk for becoming infected with listeria are pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, Miller said.

Major Chicago area grocery chains, including Jewel-Osco, Whole Foods and Dominick’s, all confirmed that they did not carry Rocky Ford Cantaloupes.

“The steps that we took was to make sure we did not have any of that product, which we did not because we don’t work with that vendor,” Whole Foods company spokeswoman Kate Klotz said. “We were not involved in the recall at that point, but had we been, we would have pulled the product immediately from the shelf.”

Chester Kluba, the produce manager at Dominck’s, 1340 S. Canal St., Chicago, said the cantaloupe sold at in his store is primarily from California and that there have been no problems with the produce sold at this location so far. But he did say he received several inquiries about the produce within the last few days from concerned customers.

“Today alone I answered about a dozen customer calls to reassure them,” he said.  “Even myself, I work in produce and I’m concerned too, but at this point I haven’t seen anything that tells us to be concerned.”

While listeriosis symptoms can take awhile to manifest and some people don’t show symptoms at all, Miller said, adding that fortunately no other cases or suspected cases have been reported in Illinois.

Consumers were urged to keep fruit refrigerated and wash fruit before consumption.

“Many people tend to think they do not need to wash cantaloupe because it has such a thick rind,” she said. “We recommend people wash their fruit in general.”

While some people have expressed their concern about contracting the infection, others said they are not worried.

Denis Dankin, who lives in the Loop, said he wasn’t aware of the issue, but that he plans to wait to eat cantaloupe until the media confirms the outbreak has been contained.

"[If] you have kids, you don’t want them to get any bacteria that’s going to harmfully affect their digestive systems," he said.

But Andrew Zielinski of the West Loop said he is not deterred from purchasing cantaloupe. “You know, I think they have pretty good standards of checking out the fruit.” 
View Listeria Outbreak in a larger map