A recent listeriosis outbreak due to contaminated cantaloupes has caused numerous human illnesses and deaths, but now some experts are warning of the public health implications for pets, as well.
Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes from Jensen Farm in Granado, CO, are reportedly the source of the potentially lethal bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes. At least 15 people have died and over 18 states have reported Listeria-related cases, according to the CDC, making this the worst outbreak of food borne illness in more than a decade.
Symptoms of Listeria infection are similar to the flu, and may include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and muscle aches. More severe signs include ataxia (loss of balance), seizures, and even death. People with compromised or underdeveloped immune systems, such as those who are juvenile, elderly, pregnant, or have cancer or another immunocompromising illness, are more susceptible to listeriosis. (See more here.)
Listeria is found in soil, water, and sewage, and is carried by some animals (cattle and poultry). Infection typically occurs post-ingestion of a contaminated food source, such as raw milk based foods and processed meats. Cooking and pasteurization kills Listeria, but contamination can occur post-heat processing, and the bacteria can thrive in temperatures associated with refrigeration.
Listeria (or any other harmful bacteria like Salmonella, and E. coli) can be transmitted to other people or pets if your hands are contaminated. Additionally, your face or mouth can harbor transmissible bacteria, so experts recommend against letting your pet lick your face (and vice versa).
The FDA recommends against consuming or giving your pet any Rocky-Ford brand cantaloupe from Jensen Farms, and disposing of any recalled product in a container safe from access to children and animals.
To minimize the likelihood that your animal and human family will be affected by a food borne illness such as listeriosis, the FDA offers helpful tips on produce safety, including purchasing, storage and preparation. Thoroughly washing the outside of any cantaloupe with soap and water can help remove debris and bacteria, but it does not guarantee that it will be bacteria free. Sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) solutions of 0.0314% or greater inactivate Listeria, E. coli and Salmonella, and can be used to disinfect the outside of cantaloupes, other produce, and any household surface — especially those where you prepare food.
Image: FDA / via Flickr