CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks David Figueroa, store manager of Lowe’s Supermarket in Clovis, stocks California cantaloupes Tuesday in his produce department. California cantaloupe are not being associated with a deadly Listeria outbreak that state and federal health officials say they have traced to fruit from the Rocky Ford region of southeastern Colorado.
One Clovis grocery store has confirmed it was selling the type of cantaloupe health officials say is believed responsible for a deadly Listeria outbreak in New Mexico and Colorado.
Albertsons Supermarket Manager Bill Bargman said Tuesday his store was selling Rocky Ford cantaloupes from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado. Bargman said he believes the last were sold either Friday or Saturday.
The New Mexico Environment Department’s Environmental Health Bureau, in conjunction with the New Mexico Department of Health issued a voluntary recall notice Tuesday to all state produce retailers, requesting that any cantaloupe grown in the Rocky Ford region be temporarily pulled from store shelves.
Four people in Colorado and three in New Mexico, including a 61-year-old Curry County woman, have died from the bacteria state health officials now say is the result of eating cantaloupes from Rocky Ford, a region of southeastern Colorado renown for the fruit. Another nine cases have been confirmed in New Mexico and officials said Tuesday there is a 10th suspected case under investigation.
State health officials declined to identify the Curry County victim, citing federal health privacy laws.
“We have no evidence other than it’s cantaloupe from southeast Colorado … the Rocky Ford area,” said Dr. Chad Smelser, epidemiologist for the New Mexico Department of Health.
State health officials are cautioning anyone who suspects they may have one of the Rocky Ford region melons to seal it in a plastic bag and dispose of it immediately through their trash pickup service.
Cases of the Listeria outbreak have also been confirmed in Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Federal officials said it is the first Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe in the U.S.
Other stores across eastern New Mexico said they are taking steps to ensure they are not selling Rocky Ford cantaloupes.
Walmart in Clovis and Portales voluntarily pulled all cantaloupe from their shelves Tuesday morning, according to Clovis store Manager Mike Hall.
Tim Russell, manager of Super Save Discount Foods in Portales, said he checked with his supplier after hearing news accounts of the outbreak and was assured none of his cantaloupes come from Rocky Ford. Russell said all the cantaloupe on his store shelves is from California.
S&S Supermarket Manager Tommy Firestone said his Clovis store only stocks California cantaloupe.
“I’ve already had about 40 phone calls today from people concerned,” Firestone said. “I get all my cantaloupe out of California. If there is any kind of recall or directive, we will pull them off the shelves.”
David Figueroa, manager of Lowes in Clovis, said customer calls prompted him to check his fruit. “I don’t have the Colorado cantaloupe,” Figueroa said.
Listeriosis is usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.
Smelser said those at high risk include people 60 and older, those with weakened immune systems from transplants or cancer and people with chronic diseases. Symptoms can include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea, headache, stiff neck, confusion and convulsions.
Listeriosis can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths.
“The very first thing that we recommend,” said Smelser, “is that persons who are at high risk … do not eat cantaloupe. Especially those (cantaloupe) from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado. If they have cantaloupes in their home they can check with store to see where it came from.”
Smelser said while Listeria is generally associated with processed meat and unpastuerized milk or milk products, fruits that sit on the ground are susceptible. Cantaloupe is particularly worrisome, he said, because it has a rough skin, making it more difficult to wash the skin thoroughly.
The New Mexico cases have affected people in Bernalillo Chaves, De Baca, Lea and Otero counties. The two other fatal cases were a 93-year-old man and a 63-year-old man, both from Bernalillo County. All became ill from Aug. 20 to early September.
Smelser said since 2006 New Mexico has seen three to eight cases each year of Listeria infection in humans.
“Having nine in a three-week period … now a 10th suspected,” Smelser said, “is obviously a red flag for us, which is what triggered us to do this investigation.”