July 7, 2015

Watermelon Associated with Deadly Salmonella Outbreak in Europe

Packaged, pre-sliced watermelon is associated with a Salmonella Newport outbreak in Europe that has sickened at least 50 people and killed one person. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) reports that seventy percent of the victims are women; others include one 85-year-old person and a six-month-old baby. The person who died had serious underlying health problems. The outbreak began in December 2011.

Case details:

  • England (26)
  • Northern Ireland (1)
  • Germany (15)
  • Republic of Ireland (5)
  • Scotland (5)
  • Wales (3)

Scientists with HPA in the United Kingdom sampled watermelon and found that some packs of ready-to-eat sliced fruit imported from Brazil was contaminated with Salmonella Newport. Between 10 and 15 of the victims reported eating the pre-sliced watermelon in the days before they got sick.

At this time of year, summer fruits such as watermelon are almost always imported, and Brazil is the largest supplier of imported watermelons in the UK. The watermelon is not definitively linked to the outbreak at this time, since the investigation is ongoing. The Food Standards Agency is investigating the source along with the HPA.

This outbreak underscores the fact that all consumers should thoroughly wash produce before slicing and consuming it, even fruits and vegetables with a thick peel such as watermelons.

If dangerous bacteria is present on the surface of produce, slicing into that product will spread the bacteria, via the knife, onto the flesh. Never buy produce that is damaged or bruised, and make sure that any prepared produce you buy has been refrigerated or kept surrounded by ice. It’s important to remember that in 2011, produce was the source of 1/3 of all foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States.

The problem is that these ready-to-eat foods such as presliced fruits and vegetables are meant to be eaten right out of the package, often on the go. It doesn’t matter if the consumer washes this type of product; the bacteria have already been spread onto the flesh in the processing plant.

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