There was an outbreak of Salmonella illnesses in people in the summer of 2012 that were linked to contaminated cantaloupes. Specifically, to cantaloupe grown on one farm in southwestern Indiana. The farm has not been named, but the owners are voluntarily pulling all their cantaloupes from the shelves.
Do you know why cantaloupes are prone to carrying harmful bacteria? There are two main reasons. First, like all melons, they grow on a vine on the ground (instead of in a tree like apples or oranges). This makes them susceptible to being contaminated by droppings from wild animals in the area. Second, the skin of a cantaloupe has lots of pockets and divots. It’s easy for bacteria to hide in these pockets. See the video from Good Morning America for more information on this.
Over 140 people have been affected by this outbreak, in 20 states. Infection with this type of Salmonella can lead to fever, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. Very young, very old, and immunocompromised people are more susceptible to any infection, including this one. The diarrhea can be severe enough that it can lead to dehydration. Some people may need to be hospitalized to treat the dehydration.
What can you do to protect yourself and your family? Here are a few things.
- Throw out any cantaloupe that you purchased that came from southwest Indiana. Not sure where it came from? Check the sticker on your fruit – it should list the state where it was grown. No sticker? Check with the manager of the store where you bought it. Still no help? When in doubt, throw it out.
- If you have eaten cantaloupe recently, be on the lookout for signs of fever, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. If you see these in yourself or your family, call your family doctor right away.
- Practice good food safety with all your food. This includes washing your hands before handling food or eating, washing all fresh fruit and vegetables under running water, washing hands after handling raw produce or meat, using separate cutting boards for produce and raw meats, and cooking foods to the proper temperatures.
Do you need to swear off cantaloupes forever? Absolutely not! If you have cantaloupes in your area that were not grown in southwest Indiana, there is no indication that they are part of the ongoing infections. Feel free to enjoy them! But, follow my friend The Produce Mom’s advice on safe cantaloupe handling.