Montana News

Sep 30, 2011 10:04 AM by Jen Hollenbach (KRTV Great Falls)

Montana doctor, farmer address tainted cantaloupe scare

The death toll from cantaloupes tainted with listeriosis has reached 14 across the nation. And in addition to the deaths, authorities report that 72 people have been sickened by the disease, with outbreak-related strains of the disease reported in 18 states.

The 14 deaths have been reported in the following states: 2 in Colorado, 1 in Kansas, 1 in Maryland, 1 in Missouri, 1 in Nebraska, 4 in New Mexico, 1 in Oklahoma, 2 in Texas, and 1 in Wyoming.

The number of infected people identified in each state is as follows: California (1), Colorado (15), Florida (1), Illinois (1), Indiana (2), Kansas (5), Maryland (1), Missouri (1), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), New Mexico (10), North Dakota (1), Oklahoma (8), Texas (14), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (2).

Montana lab results confirmed that a Yellowstone County man in his 70s was infected in late August, and he has since been treated and released.

Investigations by local, state, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate the source of the outbreak is whole cantaloupe grown at Jensen Farms' production fields in Granada, Colorado.

On September 14, the Food & Drug Administration announced that Jensen Farms issued a voluntary recall of its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes after being linked to a multistate outbreak of listeriosis.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends that people at high risk for listeriosis, including older adults, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women, do not eat Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Jensen Farms.

If you are not sure where your cantaloupe came from, take it to the store where you purchased it to find out.

Another option is to simply throw away any cantaloupe in your home; Dr. Brad Fuller in Billings said, "I don't think we ought to risk where it came from or take the time to look into it. I think with what's been going on and how sick people have been getting, I think we just need to get rid of it."

Not everyone is following Dr. Fuller's advice, however, and that's actually good news for one Montana farmer with a solid reputation in the cantaloupe business.

Big Sandy Cantaloupe is doing better than ever and farmer Ron Pearson says even though the season is about two weeks late this year, sales are at their peak.

He planted 16,000 cantaloupe seeds this year, the same as every year.

Once the listeria outbreak was reported, stores began telling him that the sales of some melons have slowed, but Big Sandy Cantaloupe hasn't been affected.

"I think we're doing better than we were last year. The stores are just doing a tremendous amount of business the last two weeks and that's all during the scare too, but like I say, our sales have been really good," Pearson said.

Pearson also says he hasn't had any store refuse carrying his cantaloupe, and every market he's been to, they've sold out. The cantaloupe season will continue until freezing temperatures set in; Pearson is hoping they have a least another week.

ONLINE: learn more at the CDC website.

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