Up to 16 people have died in a listeria outbreak traced to Colorado cantaloupes, U.S. health officials say.
So far, 13 deaths and 72 illnesses have been confirmed as linked to the listeria outbreak, and three more deaths could be related to the contaminated cantaloupe melons, the BBC reports.
Most of the people who have died were over age 60, and at least two were in their 90s, The New York Times reports. The elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to falling ill from listeria.
Listeria symptoms include fever and severe muscle aches, CBS reports.
"That long incubation period is a real problem," Dr. Robert Tauxe of the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention said, according to the BBC.
"People who ate a contaminated food two weeks ago or even a week ago could still be falling sick weeks later."
The source of the outbreak has been traced to Rocky Ford cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms in Granada, Colorado. Eighteen states have reported infections from one of the four strains of listeria involved in the outbreak.
Jensen Farms said in a statement that it was fully co-operating with efforts to contain the outbreak. The FDA is continuing to investigate how the contamination could have happened.
Records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show it has become the deadliest outbreak of a food-borne illness since 1998, when 21 people died from eating tainted hot dogs.
USA Today reports that while in the past, listeria was usually linked to deli meats and soft cheeses, food safety experts are worried that the bacteria may be moving into produce.