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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

What is it with Cantaloupes?

Cantaloupe at first blush seems to be a pretty benign fruit.  Although a bit ugly on the outside, the inside is a favorite to both young and old – those most vulnerable to foodborne illness.  Cantaloupe seems to pop up everywhere – on the side of your plate for breakfast or on platters from wedding to wakes.

Yesterday afternoon the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment identified nine cases (including one death) in Colorado linked to cantaloupe (my best guess is cut, not whole) to a multistate Listeria outbreak.  There are two other potentially related cases in Texas and one in Nebraska (more from CDC on Monday). 

Screen Shot 2011-09-10 at 9.22.37 AM.pngA few months ago the CDC, and 10 state epidemiologists, linked 20 ill people infected with Salmonella Panama from Arizona (1), California (2), Colorado (1), Maryland (1), Montana (1), Nevada (1), Oregon (6), Pennsylvania (1), Utah (1) and Washington (5) to Del Monte imported cantaloupe. 

Del Monte of course has become infamous for suing the FDA to lift the import ban on its cantaloupe by claiming that it was not its cantaloupe that sickened Costco customers – that FDA, CDC and 10 states botched the investigation.  Del Monte has also been threatening some type of legal action against the State of Oregon and its senior epidemiologist, Bill Keene for apparently leading the public health charge.

By the way, would it not be deliciously ironic if this recent cantaloupe problem were Del Monte?  On the other hand, given that some Del Monte cantaloupe has been banned from import, perhaps the FDA did Del Monte a favor.

Courtesy of outbreak database, here are a few other cantaloupe outbreaks in the last decade:

  1. Del Monte Cantaloupe Salmonella Outbreak (2011)
  2. California Restaurant Cantaloupe Outbreak, Norovirus (2008)
  3. Colorado Private Home Cantaloupe and Watermelon Salonella outbreak (2008)
  4. Agropecuraria Montelibano Cantaloupe Salmonella Outbreak (2008)
  5. Colorado Cantaloupe Salmonella at Private Home (2007)
  6. Atlantic City Hotel Restaurant Fruit Salad and Green Salad 2007
  7. Grocery Store, Health Care Facility, and Nursing Home Fruit Salad 2006
  8. Colorado Cantaloupe Salmonella Outbreak (2005)
  9. Utah Private Home Cantaloupe, Barbequed Chicken, Corned Beef 2005
  10. Florida Unknown Location Cantaloupe, Pineapple, Bananas 2003
  11. Multistate Day Care Center or Private Home Cantaloupe and Honeydew Melon 2003
  12. Washington State Church Cantaloupe, Grapes, Watermelon 2002
  13. Susie Cantaloupe Distributed by I. Kunik Company 2002
  14. Oregon Nursing Home or Restaurant Cantaloupe 2001
  15. Viva Brand/Shipley Sales Cantaloupe (2001)
  16. Cantaloupes 2000

There have been more than just a few severe illnesses and deaths.  Perhaps it is time to rethink our affair with cantaloupe and push it to the side of the plate.

  • “deliciously ironic”
    I see what you did there.

  • Gil Ramirez

    I’ve never been fond of the cantaloupe, seems to be one of the more overhyped fruits.

  • Carlotta Parsons

    Am I kidding myself that by washing the outside thoroughly with vegetable wash, that I am removing all unwanted bacteria from traveling by knife blade to the inside of the melon? Seeing as all melons sit on the ground on top of fertilizers, etc., I have done that for years thinking that made it safe.

  • Margaret

    I have been very wary of canteloupe for quite a few years since reading of all the outbreaks associated with it. Even when I do decide to buy some, have it in my home and wash the outside of it, I still find myself wondering how easily cross-contamination could occur. Then I cross my fingers and say a little prayer !

  • Dan Cohen, Maccabee Seed Co. Davis CA

    What is it with cantaloupes? Answer, a soft, spongy rind without glossy natural waxes makes them more difficult to grow and handle free from human pathogens.

    A number of seed companies have developed orange-fleshed melons of types that are not typically orange fleshed, with the glossy waxy rind type of honeydews or other melons. They see this as an alternative to cantaloupes because the soft, absorbent characteristics of cantaloupe rinds make it possible for pathogen penetration, and impossible to wash off pathogens successfully once contaminated. If rinse water is contaminated at any stage of handling and marketing the problem is worse.

    This isn’t a bad alternative for many semi-industrial uses (like pre-cut food service) where the full flavor distinctive of cantaloupe varieties may not be present anyway, but color variation is appealing.

    Another alternative is to place developing cantaloupes on raised trays (like stools) to keep them off the ground, which almost no-one does because of expense. This helps with animal intrusion issues but not contaminated water sources used in some types of irrigation (overhead sprinklers, pivot, linear move).