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Death Toll Rises To 15 In Listeria Cantaloupe Outbreak

Illnesses linked to tainted cantaloupes continue to mount.

Updated figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 84 people in 19 states have been sickened by listeria bacteria from an outbreak linked to cantaloupes, and 15 have died.

Jensen Farms recalled its Rocky Ford cantaloupes two weeks ago. That recall was just expanded to three more states: Indiana, Louisiana and Wisconsin.

Even with melons off store shelves, more illnesses and deaths are likely. That's mainly because listeriosis illness has a long incubation period (up to 70 days) and it takes time to confirm reports of sickness. And listeria can grow well even in the cold, meaning it can colonize refrigerators, too.

The CDC says people shouldn't eat cantaloupes from Jensen Farms — especially older people, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems. Not every recalled cantaloupe is labeled Jensen Farms, so check with the seller. If you're unsure or can't find out, throw the cantaloupe out, CDC says.

For the longform on the story so far, see CDC's report.

Our pals at The Salt, NPR's new food blog, have some helpful hints for minimizing your risks.

It looks like listeria in produce isn't going away fast. The FDA announced a small and unrelated recall of lettuce today by True Leaf Farms. No illnesses have been reported. The lettuce may have reached Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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