By Keith Robinson
August 23, 2012
Purdue Extension has created a guide to help consumers best protect themselves from the recent outbreak of salmonellosis from cantaloupe.
The guide, in a question-and-answer format, explains the Salmonella bacterium that causes foodborne illness, and it offers steps that people can take to help safeguard against it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Aug. 17 issued an alert about the salmonellosis outbreak linked to two deaths and many illnesses across the country. On Wednesday (Aug. 22), the Food and Drug Administration announced a recall of cantaloupe from Chamberlain Farms in the southwest Indiana community of Owensville in Gibson County because it may be contaminated with Salmonella associated with the outbreak. The CDC continues to work with the FDA and local health officials in the affected states to investigate the outbreak and determine if there are additional sources.
"Since the announcement of the outbreak last week, we know consumers, growers and marketers have questions about their particular situation, and it can be hard to find answers," said Extension horticultural specialist Liz Maynard. "We wanted to pull together information together and provide it in a single place.
"There are cantaloupes, watermelons and specialty melons grown across Indiana; sold at farm stands, farmers markets, produce auctions and grocery stores; and enjoyed by many as part of a healthy diet. We want to make it easy for individuals and businesses to get the latest information that will help everyone stay healthy and continue to enjoy Indiana melons."
Below are excerpts from the Q&A guide, which is available online at https://ag.purdue.edu/hla/fruitveg/Documents/outbreak2012/SalmonellaQA.pdf (PDF: 154 KB). It is based on current information, which will be updated as needed.
Question: Where did the Salmonella come from? How did it get on the cantaloupes?
Answer: We don't yet know where the particular Salmonella that caused this outbreak came from. However, there are some basic things we do know about how Salmonella can get on produce. Salmonella is common in the environment. A cantaloupe could become contaminated in the field if it came in contact with animal feces or soil, or it could be contaminated during or after harvest through contact with a person, equipment or water that was contaminated with Salmonella. Good agricultural and sanitation practices, such as applying manure fertilizer long before crops are planted, ensuring all employees wash hands, and using clean water for irrigation and for washing produce, can minimize the possibility of contamination.
Question: How do I know if a cantaloupe is from Chamberlain Farms?
Answer: Ask the retailer or wholesale distributor if the cantaloupe came from Chamberlain Farms. If it did, do not eat the cantaloupe and do not feed it to animals. Put the cantaloupe in a plastic bag and put it in a sealed trashcan so that animals cannot eat it. More information is available from the CDC.
Question: I have a cantaloupe that isn't from Chamberlain Farms. What should I do with it?
Answer: Cantaloupes from other farms have not been recalled. Follow recommended practices for washing, handling and storing cantaloupe before eating it. As with any fresh produce, cut away any damaged or bruised areas and wash cantaloupe thoroughly under running water before eating or cutting. Washing with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended. Although you will remove the rind before eating, it is still important to wash it first so dirt and bacteria aren't transferred from the knife onto the flesh of the melon. Scrub the rind with a clean produce brush before cutting. Dry the cantaloupe with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
Question: Is the cantaloupe I bought from my local farmers market safe to eat?
Answer: When you purchase cantaloupe from a farmers market, fruit stand or other outlet, ask the vendor where the cantaloupe came from. Unless the cantaloupe was grown on the farm involved in the recall, there is no specific concern.