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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Attack of the killer cantaloupes

Sometimes, trying to eat healthy does not always work out in the way intended. It's ironic that the person who decided to eat a candy bar or a bag of cheese doodles wound up faring better than some people who chose to snack on some cantaloupe. What some fans of the rounded green melon did not know is that a large batch of cantaloupes were contaminated with a bacteria known as Listeria monocytogenes. It is rare for this bacteria to infect humans but when it does, it is known as listeriosis. So far, as many as 68 people have been infected and 11 have been killed as from eating cantaloupes infected with this bacteria.

How can this happen, you ask? Many assume that fruits and vegetables are always safe because we are taught to eat them in plentiful amounts and favor them over processed foods. While that general recommendation still holds true, people need to be aware that there will always be a small risk when eating fruits and vegetables just as there are when eating meat. With meat, however, if you cook it enough, you will generally kill the harmful bacteria. With fruits and vegetables, however, it is sometimes impossible to reduce the risk of contamination ahead of time because it is usually eaten raw.

It is important to understand that there are harmful bacteria that live in the soil and one such type of bacteria is Listeria monocytogenes. It lives in the soil because it loves to eat dead plant matter. When the bacteria enter a fruit such as cantaloupe, they can be passed on to someone who consumes the fruit. Once in the body, the bacteria changes, can enter cells, and can even enter the blood if the immune system does not control it. That, in turn, leads to sickness. If it enters the brain, it can lead to death.

Newborns, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems are most likely to contract listeriosis, in addition to pregnant women. If pregnant women become ill, the fetus can also become ill and die. The most common symptoms of listeriosis are fever and muscle aches and vomiting.

Cantaloupe and bacteria are both "all natural." The take home message is that "all natural" does not always mean good for you and safe.To read more, see here.

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