Beware the killer cantaloupes! It sounds like a horror-flick spoof, but for Jensen Farms in Holly, it's all too real. In September, the Colorado farm recalled all of its potential globes of death, approximately 300,000 cases. Nonetheless, the case of the listeria-carrying melons already ranks as the second-most-deadly food-borne outbreak in the United States since the government started keeping track in 1970, with at least fifteen people dead, including three from Colorado. Another 84 people have gotten sick, according to the September 30 Centers for Disease Control update -- and others won't show symptoms for up to two months.
The cantaloupe scare is so big, it could get Congress to actually do something. Representative Diana DeGette, who's made food safety a focus of her tenure in Washington, D.C., has called for a full investigation.
But cantaloupes aren't the first food with Colorado ties that have spooked the bejeezus out of America. Here are the state's six biggest food scares:
6. Bologna isn't the only mystery meat Gold Star Sausage Co. of Denver recalled 15,514 pounds of beef and buffalo franks after the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service tested links positive for listeria in January 2007. No one got sick, but Gold Star's bad run continued in February of this year, when it had to recall some of its Johnson's Chili because the labels read "lecithin" and not "soy lecithin" -- a common allergen.
5. Bison, the other E.coli-afflicted meat Bison meat has less fat, fewer calories and less cholesterol than beef, pork or chicken, according to the National Bison Association (the NBA for short). But that doesn't preclude the stuff from also having good old E.coli. In July 2010, Rocky Mountain Natural Meats, based in Henderson, recalled 66,776 pounds of ground and tenderized bison after five people in Colorado and one person in New York got ill. No one died, however.
4. It happened one night... at Sizzler One little girl died, and more than sixty other people got sick after eating at their neighborhood Milwaukee Sizzler in 2000. Turns out that two restaurants had served meat from the Excel Beef Plant owned by Fort Morgan-based Cargill that was tainted with E.coli. The incident was the subject of heavy litigation between Cargill, Sizzler, its franchisee in Milwaukee and victims of the food-poisoning incident.
3. Fresh fruits and veggies aren't always so healthy These days, California-based Odwalla pasteurizes all of its juices, but it took the 1996 death of a Denver baby to cause the change. The unpasteurized apple juice that sixteen-month-old Anna Gimmestad drank probably had E.coli in it; the juice also made another forty-plus people sick, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
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2. Epic beef recall in 2002 ConAgra's plant in Greeley had to recall 18.6 million pounds of beef products in July 2002 after 28 people in seven states (including Colorado) got sick with E.coli, according to the CDC. Nobody died, but seven people were hospitalized. It was one of the largest recalls ever, and the incident led to an investigation by the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which created pamphlets on how meat processors can better avoid E.coli.
1. Colorado's Killer Cantaloupes...fifteen victims and counting.