Health Buzz: 16 Dead From Tainted Cantaloupe

By Kurtis Hiatt
U.S.News & World Report LP

Food Outbreak Hits 18 States, Sickening Dozens

The deadliest food outbreak in a decade is upon us, say health officials. The culprit: Listeria-tainted cantaloupe, which have killed as many as 16 people and sickened dozens more in 18 states. What's worse: The numbers will likely keep climbing, since it can take at least a month for symptoms to show, said Robert Tauxe, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in an interview with the Associated Press. Health officials have traced the outbreak to a Colorado farm, whose tainted cantaloupes--sold under the Rocky Ford brand--have been shipped to 25 states since July. States reporting the highest number of sicknesses and deaths include Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Listeria most commonly sickens the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems. Symptoms include fever, muscle ache, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal problems.

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Riskiest Foods: 3 Tips for Protecting Your Family From Illness

With a few precautions, food-borne illnesses can be avoided. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends the following tips:

1. Don't change your diet. "Continue eating a balanced and nutritious diet," says Sarah Klein, staff attorney with the food safety program at CSPI. "We do not recommend that consumers change their eating habits."

2. Practice defensive eating. "Choose and handle your food carefully," Klein advises. Don't eat homemade ice cream containing raw eggs, for instance. Bypass the raw oysters. Washing produce, while helpful, doesn't completely eliminate the risk of contamination, but it's always a smart precaution to avoid using the same cutting board for your greens as you use for raw meat. One suggestion offered during last year's salmonella outbreak: Cook your tomatoes. [Read more: Riskiest Foods: 3 Tips for Protecting Your Family From Illness.]

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Would Your Kitchen Pass a Restaurant Inspection?

If a restaurant inspector barged into your kitchen tomorrow, would it pass the test--or would he threaten to shut you down? Clipboard in hand, he'd check the temperature inside the refrigerator. Warmer than 40 degrees? Violation. Raw meat stored above ready-to-eat food? More points off. Same goes for dirty, cracked eggs, and swollen, leaking, or rusted cans of food. And don't even think about smoking while you're cooking.

At least one in seven home kitchens would flunk a restaurant-type health inspection, a recent study by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health suggests, and only three out of five would earn an A or B, U.S. News reported in 2010. Since food consumed at home is the source of roughly half of the nation's annual 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses, that's worrisome. "Sometimes we get a little sloppy in our own kitchens," says Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian and nutrition professor at Boston University. "Whether you're bringing raw food into your home to prepare or leftovers from a restaurant, you have to do your part to help reduce the risk of coming down with a food-borne illness." [Read more: Would Your Kitchen Pass a Restaurant Inspection?]

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