Is It Safe To Eat Cantaloupe? What You Need To Know To Protect Yourself From Listeria

September 2011 Listeria Outbreaks Linked to Cantaloupe

Last updated October 26, 2011.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of October 25th, 2011 there have been 133 reported cases of listeriosis in 26 states since July 31, 2011.  Unfortunately, 28 deaths have been reported, and one woman, who was pregnant at the time of illness, had a miscarriage.

Local, state, and federal public health agencies determined that the source of the outbreak  is whole cantaloupe grown at Jensen Farms’ production fields in Granada, Colorado, which are marketed as being grown in the Rocky Ford region in southeastern Colorado.  94% of victims reported consuming cantaloupes in the month before illness onset, and many of them also remembered that they were Rocky Ford cantaloupes.

Laboratory tests found Listeria monocytogenes bacteria on cantaloupes collected from grocery stores and from ill persons’ homes that came from Jensen Farms.  Laboratory tests also found the bacteria on equipment and cantaloupe at the Jensen Farms’ packing facility.

Persons infected with the outbreak-associated strains of Listeria monocytogenes, by state

Can I Eat Cantaloupe?

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the only Rocky Ford- brand Cantaloupe from Jensen have been identified as a risk for listeria infection.

Do not eat whole or pre-cut Rocky Ford-brand Cantaloupe from Jensen Farms.   This is especially important for older adults, persons with a weakened immune system, and pregnant women. Throw away recalled product immediately, even if some of the cantaloupe has been eaten and no one has become ill.

Some, but not all, of the recalled Cantaloupe may have the stickers as seen below.  Consumers can consult the retailer if they have questions about the origin of a cantaloupe, but WHEN IN DOUBT THROW IT OUT.

Jensen Farms voluntarily recalled its whole cantaloupes on Sept. 14, 2011 All accounts that received cantaloupes from Jensen Farms have been contacted, and given the two-week shelf life of Cantaloupe, it is expected that all the recalled whole Jensen Farm cantaloupes have been removed from the market place.

Cantaloupes from other farms have not been linked to this outbreak and the FDA has determined that the following states did not receive direct distribution of the recalled whole cantaloupes from Jensen Farms:  California, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia.

Theoretically cantaloupe, which are not Rocky Ford-brand Cantaloupe from Jensen Farms should be safe to eat, but please read below to further protect yourself from listeria.

Follow this general FDA advice for melon safety:

  • Consumers and food preparers should wash their hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling any whole melon, such as cantaloupe, watermelon, or honeydew.
  • Scrub the surface of melons, such as cantaloupes, with a clean produce brush and dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting.
  • Promptly consume cut melon or refrigerate promptly. Keep your cut melon refrigerated at, or less than 40 degrees F (32-34 degrees F is best), for no more than 7 days.
  • Discard cut melons left at room temperature for more than 4 hours.

Why Is There Listeria On My Cantaloupes?

Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes is commonly found naturally in soil and water. Further animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill and can contaminate foods of animal origin, such as meats and dairy products.  When Listeria bacteria get into a food processing factory, they can live there for years, sometimes contaminating food products.

Listeria is killed by pasteurization and cooking; however, the bacterium has been found in a variety of raw foods, such as uncooked meats and vegetables, as well as in foods that become contaminated after cooking or processing.  In some ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs and deli meats, contamination may occur after factory cooking but before packaging.

The foods that typically cause these outbreaks have been processed meats, such as deli meats and hot dogs (both products in factory-sealed packages and those sold at deli counters), soft cheeses, such as Mexican-style soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, and smoked seafood.  Produce is not often identified as a source, but sprouts caused an outbreak in 2009, celery caused an outbreak in 2010, and we know that cantaloupe caused the outbreak in 2011.

Who Is At Risk of Listeriosis?

The disease primarily affects older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and newborns.  In fact most of the recent reported cantaloupe cases were reported in older people, above the age of 60.  Below is more details about who are have an increased risk for contracting listeriosis:

  • Pregnant women: Pregnant women are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. About one in six (17%) cases of listeriosis occurs during pregnancy.
  • Newborn babies, especially when infected during pregnancy
  • Persons with weakened immune systems from transplants or certain diseases, therapies, or medications.
  • Persons with cancer, diabetes, alcoholism, liver or kidney disease.
  • Persons with AIDS: They are almost 300 times more likely to get listeriosis than people with normal immune systems.
  • Older adults
  • Healthy children and adults occasionally get infected with Listeria, but they rarely become seriously ill.

What Are The Symptoms of Listeriosis?

A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms.   Additional symptoms can include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions. The symptoms vary with the infected person.

Pregnant women typically experience only a mild, flu-like illness. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection resulting in bacteremia/septicemia  (bacteria in the blood) and meningitis (nflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord) of the newborn.

In older adults and persons with immunocompromising conditions, septicemia and meningitis are the most common clinical presentations.

Immunocompetent persons may experience acute febrile gastroenteritis (diarrhea and vomiting) or no symptoms.

How Can I Protect Me and My Family From Listeriosis?

Even after the cantaloupe outbreak is under control, there is still always a risk of listeriosis.

About 1600 cases of Listeria infection are reported each year in the United States, and of those cases approximately 260 people will die from listeriosis.  Typically 3 or 4 outbreaks are identified each year in the United States.

Beware, unlike other bacteria, Listeria can grow and multiply in some foods at room temperature and in the refridgerator.

Here are the recommendations from the CDC and FDA for preventing listeriosis:

Clean your produce

  • Rinse raw produce, such as fruits and vegetables, thoroughly under running tap water before eating, cutting, or cooking. Even if the produce will be peeled, it should still be washed first.
  • Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
  • Dry the produce with a clean cloth or paper towel.
  • Separate uncooked meats and poultry from vegetables, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods.

Keep your kitchen and environment cleaner and safer.

  • Wash hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
  • Be aware that Listeria monocytogenes can grow in foods in the refrigerator. Use an appliance thermometer, such as a refrigerator thermometer, to check the temperature inside your refrigerator. The refrigerator should be 40°F or lower and the freezer 0°F or lower.
  • Clean up all spills in your refrigerator right away–especially juices from hot dog and lunch meat packages, raw meat, and raw poultry.
  • Clean the inside walls and shelves of your refrigerator with hot water and liquid soap, then rinse.

Cook meat and poultry thoroughly.

Store foods safely.

  • Use precooked or ready-to-eat food as soon as you can. Do not store the product in the refrigerator beyond the use-by date; follow USDA refrigerator storage time guidelines:
    • Hot Dogs – store opened package no longer than 1 week and unopened package no longer than 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
    • Luncheon and Deli Meat – store factory-sealed, unopened package no longer than 2 weeks. Store opened packages and meat sliced at a local deli no longer than 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator.
  • Divide leftovers into shallow containers to promote rapid, even cooling. Cover with airtight lids or enclose in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Use leftovers within 3 to 4 days.

Choose safer foods.

Additional recommendations for persons at higher risk (such as pregnant women, persons with weakened immune systems, and older adults):


  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, other deli meats (e.g., bologna), or fermented or dry sausages unless they are heated to an internal temperature of 165°F or until steaming hot just before serving.
  • Avoid getting fluid from hot dog and lunch meat packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
  • Pay attention to labels. Do not eat refrigerated pâté or meat spreads from a deli or meat counter or from the refrigerated section of a store. Foods that do not need refrigeration, like canned or shelf-stable pâté and meat spreads, are safe to eat. Refrigerate after opening.


  • Do not eat soft cheese such as feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, brie, Camembert, blue-veined, or panela (queso panela) unless it is labeled as made with pasteurized milk. Make sure the label says, “MADE WITH PASTEURIZED MILK.”


  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole, or unless it is a canned or shelf-stable product.
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, and mackerel, is most often labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.”
    • These fish are typically found in the refrigerator section or sold at seafood and deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens.
  • Canned and shelf stable tuna, salmon, and other fish products are safe to eat.