Death By Cantaloupe: Will Listeria Get You?

Listeria monocytogenes
Image by AJC1 via Flickr

So I just read in the LA Times that, despite people getting sick from Listeria probably due to Rocky Ford Cantaloupes, they won’t be issuing a recall anytime soon.

So how do we protect ourselves?  Alcohol will kill the critter, and a Z-pack of antibiotics should do the trick if it gets a foot-hold.  For those of a more natural mindset, cloves and four other spices have been shown to block Listeria growth (see study abstract below).

Wikipedia has a wonderful description of Listeria’s ability to move around the body, sneaking into the cell and using it like a tank to cruise around.  Listeria typically invades soft cheeses, leading to the somewhat confusingly titled recent report:  “Multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes associated with Mexican-style cheese made from pasteurized milk among pregnant, Hispanic women.”  (Were the women making the cheese and passing it among them?)

For those of you who need much, much more information on this outbreak, I refer you to the CDC page on the subject.  Short answer:  It’s a diarrhea, and you’ll feel terrible.  If you develop a stiff neck during any type of high fever, always get help whether or not you think it’s listeria.

J Med Food. 2011 Mar;14(3):284-90. Epub  2010 Dec 13.

Potential application of spice and herb extracts as natural preservatives in cheese.


School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.


This study investigated the antibacterial efficiency of five spice and herb extracts (cinnamon stick, oregano, clove, pomegranate peel, and grape seed) against Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella enterica in cheese at room temperature (∼23°C). The lipid oxidation (thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances) of cheese was periodically tested by oxidative analyses. The results showed that all five plant extracts were effective against three foodborne pathogens in cheese. Treatments with these extracts increased the stability of cheese against lipid oxidation. Clove showed the highest antibacterial and antioxidant activity. The reduction of foodborne pathogen numbers and the inhibition of lipid oxidation in cheese indicated that the extracts of these plants (especially clove) have potential as natural food preservatives.




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