DENVER (AP) - Health officials have issued a warning for cantaloupes from a revered melon-producing area of Colorado amid a bacteria outbreak blamed for four deaths in the state and New Mexico, troubling farmers who depend on sales of the fruit.
The warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came after 15 cases of a strain of Listeria were reported from four states, including 11 from Colorado, two from Texas, and one each from Nebraska and Oklahoma. Suspected cases were being investigated in other states.
The agency said it was the first Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe in the United States.
Rocky Ford cantaloupes are famous throughout the country, drawing travelers to roadside stands. Piles of the coveted melons are featured on postcards. W.C. Fields reportedly said bald guys have "a head shaped like a Rocky Ford cantaloupe," and Lucile Ball had the melons delivered to her dressing room.
"This is really silly. You can get Listeria any place. I eat those melons every day," said Kent Lusk, a fifth-generation cantaloupe farmer from Rocky Ford.
Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar said it might not be the cantaloupes, but a contaminated truck or other source. He said no recalls have been issued, but several Colorado grocery chains pulled their supplies as a precaution.
Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.