- Associated Press - Friday, September 16, 2011

DENVER (AP) - A melon farm in Colorado has issued a recall of cantaloupe following a Listeria outbreak that has killed at least two people, sickened 22 and spread to several states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the deaths from the outbreak were reported in Colorado and New Mexico, and state health departments said more deaths could be confirmed once testing comes back.

The CDC said the 22 people infected are in seven states: Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.

Jensen Farms spokeswoman Amy Philpott said Thursday that one of the Colorado 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. The farm provides about 40 percent of the area’s cantaloupes, Philpott said.

In cooperation with the voluntary recall, Safeway Inc. said it was recalling jumbo cantaloupes supplied by Jensen Farms and 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, the grocery chain said.

It is first time the bacteria has been linked to cantaloupe in the U.S. The outbreak apparently originated in Rocky Ford, a fertile melon-growing area of Colorado that is a popular destination for tourists.

Tammie Palmer, of Colorado Springs, said Thursday her 71-year-old husband remains hospitalized after eating contaminated cantaloupe and she filed a lawsuit against Jensen Farms and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., where the family said the cantaloupe was purchased.

Palmer told The Associated Press that Charles Palmer got sick Aug. 31 and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed it as Listeria monocytogenes, the same strain blamed for the outbreak.

“He wasn’t able to talk to me for five days. When I talked to him, his eyes rolled into the back of his head. It’s been a nightmare,” she said.

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

Walmart spokesman Greg Rossiter said Palmer’s illness was the first time the company has heard that somebody might have been sickened by cantaloupe bought at a Walmart.

“We take these concerns very seriously and we wish Mr. Palmer well,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

Rossiter said the company removed cantaloupes on Monday and has been working with suppliers to find melons that come from safe areas.

Rossiter had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment on specific allegations, which include selling a defective product.

Philpott said the company was informed that there was a positive test, “but we don’t know if it was linked to the outbreak.”

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