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Listeria outbreak tied to cantaloupes triggers more recalls, lawsuit

jensen farms, frontera produce, rocky ford cantaloupes, recall, fda
Jensen Farms crate of Rocky Ford Cantaloupes AP

(CBS/AP) A deadly Listeria illness outbreak linked to cantaloupes has prompted a recall by Colorado-based cantaloupe producer Jensen Farms - and also a lawsuit.

Pictures: Listeria: 7 key questions answered

Tammie Palmer, of Colorado Springs, filed suit against Jensen Farms and Wal-Mart on Thursday, after her 71-year-old husband got sick from eating a contaminated melon on August 31. He's been hospitalized ever since.

"He wasn't able to talk to me for five days," she said. "When I talked to him, his eyes rolled into the back of his head. It's been a nightmare." Doctors diagnosed Charles with listeriosis, caused by Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, the same strain linked to the outbreak.

Jensen Farms issued the recall after one of the farm's Rocky Ford cantaloupes tested positive for the bacteria, but more tests are needed to determine if it's the same strain linked to the outbreak, spokeswoman Amy Philpott said.

Palmer was contacted by the Colorado health department after Listeria was confirmed, which wanted to know what groceries they bought and ate, and where they stored the food. Philpott said she had not seen the lawsuit filed Thursday had no comment.

Palmer's illness was the first time Wal-Mart has heard that somebody might have been sickened by cantaloupe purchased at a store, spokesman Greg Rossiter said.

"We take these concerns very seriously and we wish Mr. Palmer well," he said, adding that the company removed cantaloupes on Monday and has been working with suppliers to find melons from safer areas.

In cooperation with the voluntary recall, Safeway said it was recalling Jensen Farms' jumbo cantaloupes sold in Colorado; Nebraska; Aztec and Farmington, N.M.; South Dakota and Wyoming between Aug. 30 and Sept. 6. Cantaloupes currently in Safeway stores are not from the Rocky Ford region, Safeway said.

Jensen Farms shipped more than 300,000 cases of cantaloupes between July 29 and Sept. 10, and distributed them throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. In addition to the recall, the farm stopped harvesting cantaloupes on Monday after Colorado health officials issued an alert.

The CDC said two Listeria-related deaths were reported in Colorado and New Mexico, and state health departments said more deaths could be confirmed following additional tests. New Mexico has blamed three deaths on the outbreak, but CDC epidemiologist Chad Smelser said Thursday that one death has been confirmed and the other two are pending results.

Twenty-two infected people live in seven states: Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.

Almost all of the victims interviewed by the CDC remember eating cantaloupe and several recalled that they were from the Rocky Ford region.

There are three to four Listeria outbreaks, and 800 cases of listeria diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Deli meats, hot dogs and cheese are the most frequent carriers, while outbreaks from produce are rare. Sprouts caused an outbreak in 2009, and celery caused an outbreak in 2010.

Click here to find answers for 7 key questions on Listeria.

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