This story was originally published Sept. 13, 2011.
Several Colorado supermarket chains have pulled Rocky Ford cantaloupe from their stores one day after state health officials linked a listeria outbreak to cantaloupe grown in the southeastern Colorado region.
King Soopers, Safeway and Whole Foods have removed the cantaloupes and are offering refunds to customers who return the fruit to stores.
King Soopers removed the cantaloupe from its 142 Colorado locations on Monday night, spokeswoman Kelli McGannon said Tuesday.
Health officials haven't issued an official recall yet, but McGannon said King Soopers voluntarily pulled the fruit "out of caution and concern for our customers."
Safeway said Tuesday it had pulled Rocky Ford cantaloupe from 118 supermarkets in the state.
As a precaution, Whole Foods Market pulled the cantaloupe from all 27 in the Rocky Mountain region, which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Utah, said spokesman Ben Friedland.
A Jefferson County Public Schools spokeswoman said Rocky Ford cantaloupe has been removed from school menus.
Rocky Ford cantaloupes are famous throughout the country, drawing travelers to roadside stands. Piles of the coveted melons are featured on postcards. W.C. Fields reportedly said bald guys have "a head shaped like a Rocky Ford cantaloupe," and Lucile Ball had the melons delivered to her dressing room.
"This is really silly. You can get Listeria any place. I eat those melons every day," said Kent Lusk, a fifth-generation cantaloupe farmer from Rocky Ford.
Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar said it might not be the cantaloupes, but a contaminated truck or other source. He said no recalls have been issued, but several Colorado grocery chains pulled their supplies as a precaution.
Salazar wants to see an increased focus on technology that's in the works, that can precisely track where produce is grown, transported, and sold.
It's already being used to monitor beef production.
"It's expensive technology and it has to be developed in stages," said Salazar.
"Do you feel comfortable eating Colorado cantaloupe today?" asked 7NEWS Reporter Marc Stewart. "I'll be eating Colorado cantaloupe any day of the week," said Salazar.
Health officials said Monday they were focusing on Rocky Ford cantaloupe growers in southeastern Colorado as the likely source of cantaloupe contaminated with listeria.
On Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that so far, 16 people in five states have been infected with listeria. All illnesses started on or after Aug. 15, the CDC said.
The number of infected persons identified in each state is as follows: Colorado (11), Indiana (1), Nebraska (1), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (2).
Four people in New Mexico have died from listeria infections but it's not clear if those deaths are linked to contaminated cantaloupe, health officials said.
Suspected cases are being investigated in several other states.
"People at high risk for listeria infection should not eat cantaloupe from the Rocky Ford growing region," said Dr. Chris Urbina, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health.
Urbina said the department expects additional test results later this week that may help identify the specific source of the cantaloupe linked to the multistate outbreak.
Confirmed cases of listeriosis have occurred in the following Colorado counties: Larimer, Boulder, Adams, Douglas, Arapahoe, Denver, El Paso, Jefferson and Weld.
Colorado usually has about 10 reported listeriosis cases annually.
The CDC has said this is the first listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe.
The onset of the New Mexico cases range from Aug. 20 through early September.
The fatal cases include a 93-year-old man from Bernalillo County, a 61-year-old woman from Curry County and a 63-year-old man from Bernalillo County. The other cases in New Mexico come from Bernalillo, Chaves, Otero, De Baca and Lea counties. All of the ill people in New Mexico have been hospitalized. They range in age from 43 to 96 and include two men and four women.
"We extend our sympathy to the families and friends of those who have died from this infection," said state Health Secretary Dr. Catherine Torres. "At this time, based on the preliminary findings in Colorado, we are cautioning people who are at high risk for Listeria infection to avoid eating cantaloupe."
Eating food contaminated with listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal infection. Symptoms of listeriosis can include fever and muscle aches, as well as diarrhea, headache, stiff neck, confusion and convulsions. Listeriosis also can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.
Antibiotics given promptly can cure the illness and prevent infection of a fetus. Even with prompt treatment, some Listeria infections result in death. This is particularly likely in older adults and in people with other serious medical problems.
The average age of the patients affected is 84. Most of them are female. Healthy adults rarely develop listeriosis, according to public health officials.