DENVER (The/BlazeAP) —Have you ever been told that you should wash -- and dry -- your melons before slicing into them? If so, did you do that?
If you hadn’t or you didn’t, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is saying there’s a pretty good reason now why you should.
AP reports four deaths, other sources say at least two deaths, have been caused by listeriosis -- a disease caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes that than can result in fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions -- in New Mexico and Colorado, which are reportedly linked to cantaloupes.
The warning came after numerous cases of a strain of Listeria were reported in six states, including at least 11 from Colorado, 10 from New Mexico, two from Texas, and one each from Indiana, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
The agency said it was the first Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe in the United States.
Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar said the contamination might not be the cantaloupes, but a truck or other source. But several Colorado grocery chains pulled their supplies as a precaution, and New Mexico issued a voluntary recall. State Environmental Health Bureau inspectors were collecting cantaloupe samples from grocery stores and distributors across New Mexico for laboratory analysis.
The CDC warning advised people with cantaloupes at home to see if they came from the Rocky Ford region, and if so, not to eat the melons if they're in a vulnerable group. Health authorities asked people throwing out Rocky Ford cantaloupes to put them in a sealed plastic bag before putting them in the trash.
The CDC says pregnant women, infants and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to the bacteria.
NPR reported a few years ago in a fact vs. fiction story about washing fruits and vegetables that the grooved surface of cantaloupes is a breeding ground for pathogens.
"When you cut open the cantaloupe, you can transfer bacteria to the fleshy part inside." said Luke LaBorde, associate professor in Penn State University's Department of Food Science. And because a cantaloupe is not an acidic fruit — unlike, say, a tart apple — bacteria can grow more easily on the fleshy part.
Will you be washing this fruit now?
This story has been updated for clarity.