According to the CDC, some 1,600 cases are reported annually in the United States, resulting in 260 deaths.
Listeria bacteria are also particularly dangerous because they can thrive at both room temperatures and refrigerator temperatures.
And "the incubation period can be quite long, as little as three days but up to two months," said Philip Alcabes, a professor in the School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York City.
The bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, which was first associated with food-borne illness in the 1980s, tends to grow in soil and water.
"The concern would be that the outside of cantaloupe is contaminated [and] when you slice into it, the knife can carry bacteria into the part that you eat," Alcabes explained.
But animals can also carry the organism and pass it on to humans through meats, dairy products and other foods of animal origins. Most listeria outbreaks are from animal products, not produce, the CDC said.
According to the Associated Press, 52 people died from an outbreak of listeria in soft cheese in 1985 and as many as 21 died from contaminated hot dogs and deli meats in 1998.
The current outbreak has been traced to Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupe grown at Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo. The company issued a voluntary recall of the produce earlier this month.
In addition to avoiding Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, health authorities advise washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
"Your grandmother told you to wash fruits and vegetables. It's probably not bad advice," Alcabes said.
The CDC's Frieden said that Jensen Farms has ended its harvest for the season, but he recommended that people throw out any cantaloupe unless they know for sure that the fruit was not grown there.
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