The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies, including some university extension services, are issuing guides for consumers about cantaloupe and the recent Salmonella outbreak. The outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium announced this past week has many consumers uneasy about buying and eating melons. Because the government has not said which facilities bought the cantaloupe for resale, the CDC is telling consumers to check with their retailer if the cantaloupe came from Chamberlain Farms Produce, Inc. Supermarkets must tell you the origin of a product if you ask. Fred Pritzker, national food safety attorney, says, “I wonder when we are going to see a retail distribution list for this Salmonella outbreak?”
While stickers to identify the source are often added to produce, they sometimes won’t stick to the webbed surface of cantaloupe. That’s why it’s important to always ask about the source. And when in doubt, throw it out.
University of Iowa Extension has a fact sheet about the safe purchase and handling of fresh cantaloupe. And Purdue Extension has created a guide to help consumers stay healthy when eating cantaloupes and other produce. If the cantaloupe you are purchasing is not part of the recall, it is safe to eat as long as it is properly stored and prepared.
When you purchase cantaloupe, look for fruit with a complete rind that does not have cracks, breaks, bruises, soft spots, or mold. Always refrigerate cantaloupes to help slow the growth of bacteria. In fact, advice on keeping melons in the fridge is similar to advice for perishable foods; don’t leave sliced or cut melons out of refrigeration for more than two hours.
You should always scrub cantaloupes under running water with a brush before eating. Dry the melon before cutting it. Wash the knife after every cut from the rind into the flesh. And make sure you disinfect surfaces and utensils that come into contact with the cantaloupe rind.
But be aware that thorough cleaning will not remove all of the bacteria that may be present on the fruit. And in this particular outbreak, the FDA stated, “If consumers believe they have cantaloupe from this farm, they should not try to wash the harmful bacteria off the cantaloupe as contamination may be both on the inside and outside of the cantaloupe.”
If you or anyone you know is experiencing the symptoms of Salmonella, which include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting, see your health care provider immediately. If you have eaten cantaloupe recently, make sure you tell the doctor about it. Long-term consequences of a Salmonella infection can be severe, including Reiter’s syndrome, which causes reactive arthritis, and bloodstream infections.