For the latest news on the cantaloupe listeria outbreak, including updated statistics from Oct. 7, go here.

Death toll rises as cantaloupe outbreak spreads(UPDATED COVERAGE, Oct. 4, 3:42 p.m.) The number of people whose deaths are linked to Colorado cantaloupes contaminated with listeria has risen to 18, surpassing the 9 deaths attributed to salmonella-tainted peanut products several years ago.

According to an Oct. 4 update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 100 people in 20 states have been sickened in the outbreak. The contaminated cantaloupes were shipped by Granada, Colo.-based Jensen Farms.

Five people have died in Colorado, five in New Mexico, two in Texas, two in Kansas and one each in Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

It’s the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in the U.S. in more than a decade, said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Frieden said Sept. 28 that it’s likely more illnesses will be reported.

Frieden was one of several leading U.S. health officials to speak in a phone conference Sept. 28 on the listeria outbreak. Officials speaking in the conference said they had no leads on how the pathogen showed up at Jensen Farms.

Frieden said two pregnant women were among those sickened by contaminated fruit. Both are recovering and their fetuses are not thought to be endangered, he said.

The elderly, pregnant women and those with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to listeriosis, the illness caused by listeria.

Listeriosis can strike as much as two months after people eat infected foods, Frieden said. That’s why he and others are certain the number of cases will rise. Officials also said there are a number of suspicious cases that are being investigated for possible links to the Jensen Farms contamination.

Frieden and Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said the outbreak demonstrates the importance of Congress fully funding the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010.

“It’s important that we have the resources to fully implement this law,” Hamburg said.  

Seventeen of the listeria infections are in Colorado, 14 in Texas, 13 in New Mexico and 11 in Oklahoma, according to CDC. People from 15 other states have been infected.

No other farms in Colorado’s Rocky Ford growing region have been linked to the outbreak.

FDA investigators collected cantaloupes and environmental samples from a Denver-area retailer and from Jensen Farms after Colorado health officials identified the farm as the source of cantaloupes eaten by several people suffering from listeriosis, the illness caused by listeria.

Listeria was found on cantaloupes at the retailer and on cantaloupes and equipment at Jensen Farms.

Jensen Farms recalled cantaloupes Sept. 14, though the company’s distributor, Edinburg, Texas-based Frontera Produce, said recall efforts began Sept. 12.

The recalled cantaloupes were shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10.

Most Rocky Ford cantaloupe shippers were at or near the end of their season when retailers began removing product from shelves.