(CBS/AP) A Listeria illness outbreak has spread to six states, prompting health officials to warn some high-risk consumers to stay clear of cantaloupes produced from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado.
The CDC said this marks the first Listeria outbreak in the U.S. linked to cantaloupe. The outbreak has caused one death in Colorado - where the cantaloupes are farmed - and three deaths in New Mexico. At least 11 cases of Listeria illness - or listeriosis - have been reported in Colorado, with 10 in New Mexico, two in Texas, and one each in Indiana, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
The fatal cases in New Mexico included a 93-year-old man, a 61-year-old woman, and a 63-year-old man. The person who died in Colorado was not identified.
Colorado health director Chris Urbina said people age 60 and older are more likely to develop listeriosis, along with people with chronic diseases, and people with weakened immune systems from transplants.
The cantaloupes in question - from the Rocky Ford region between Colorado and New Mexico - are noted for their high sugar content. Comedienne Lucile Ball used to have the cantaloupes specially delivered to her dressing room.
Local farmers who depend on the cantaloupe's sales aren't convinced their product is the source of the outbreak.
"This is really silly," said Kent Lusk, a fifth-generation cantaloupe farmer from Rocky Ford. "I eat those melons every day. You can get Listeria anyplace."
John Salazar, Colorado agriculture commissioner, said the contamination might not come from the Rocky Ford crops, but a truck or an unknown source. But several Colorado grocery chains have pulled the cantaloupes from shelves, and New Mexico issued a voluntary recall.
The FDA has not issued a recall while it works to locate the outbreak's source.
The agency's warning advised people with cantaloupes at home to check if they're from the Rocky Ford region and if so, to not eat the melons if they are in a high-risk group. People can check the label, or contact the store where they purchased the cantaloupe. The agency also recommended putting cantaloupes in a sealed plastic bag before placing them in the trash.
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