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Listeria Outbreak Deadliest Illness In A Decade

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BALTIMORE (WJZ)– The family of a Maryland man killed by contaminated cantaloupe is going to sue the farm where it came from. Now federal health officials say the listeria outbreak is only going to get worse.

Mary Bubala has more.

The listeria outbreak has now made at least 72 people sick and caused 16 deaths in 18 states, including in central Maryland, where a man died after eating a tainted cantaloupe. That makes it the deadliest outbreak of a food-borne illness in this country in more than a decade.

The source of the outbreak is Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo. The cantaloupes were labeled Sweet Rocky Fords.

William Beach,87, died after eating a tainted cantaloupe.

“We received a call from the health department, and I answered the phone and I asked them what this was about. And they said they had been contacted by the hospital that our father had died of listeria,” said Gayla Graham, daughter of the victim.

At the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Michael Donnenberg says listeria is most harmful to the very young and the very old, and those with fragile immune systems.

And he says new cases are popping up because listeria can live in the body for a while.

“Symptoms can develop weeks or months after the exposure,” he said.

The FDA is looking for the root of the outbreak: if it happened in the fields, in the processing phase, or while cantaloupe was being stored before it went to market.

And unlike most bacteria, listeria multiplies in the cold. If you put contaminated food in your refrigerator, listeria will grow.

“If you have some contaminated food and you put it your refrigerator for a while, it will actually be more contaminated by the time you take it out and eat it,” Donnenberg said.

The FDA thinks the tainted cantaloupes are out of all grocery stores and that people at home have thrown them away. But as far as protecting yourself in the future, experts agree the FDA has to continue to require more testing at farms.

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