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FOR RELEASE: May 24, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

State Health Department Advises Consumers to Scrub Cantaloupe before Eating

Following a recent outbreak of Salmonella foodborne disease associated with eating cantaloupe in California and eight other states, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) today reminded consumers to always thoroughly wash the skin of all fruits and vegetables that are eaten raw before consuming them. Contamination can occur when a consumer cuts through a cantaloupe rind that has not been scrubbed with a brush under cool, running water immediately before eating. To further reduce the chance of contamination, consumers should also wash their hands before and after handling the fruit and refrigerate unused cut portions immediately.

An uncommon type of Salmonella, known as Salmonella poona, caused an outbreak of 18 cases (including 1 death) in California. Thirteen other cases of illness were reported in Arizona, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington in the same outbreak. This week the OSDH has confirmed one case of Salmonella poona in Oklahoma. Investigators from the State of California said it is likely that contaminated fruit was imported into the United States. Domestic production of cantaloupes has not begun in California and Arizona, and production has only recently begun in Texas.

Cantaloupe has been implicated in previous Salmonella outbreaks, including a multi-state outbreak of more than 46 cases (26 in California) due to Salmonella poona in 2000, 400 cases due to Salmonella poona in 1991, and an outbreak in California of more than 20 cases due to Salmonella saphra in 1997.

Because cantaloupes are grown on the ground, their skin can become contaminated in the field by human or animal waste, or during distribution prior to sale. The OSDH would like to remind consumers to use the following guidelines when preparing fruits and vegetables that are eaten raw:

  • Fresh produce must be washed under cold tap water to remove any lingering dirt. This will help reduce bacteria that may be present.
  • If the produce is firm, such as an apple or melon, it can be lightly scrubbed with a brush.
  • Never use detergent or soap. These products are not approved or labeled by the federal Food and Drug Administration for use on foods. You could ingest residue from soap or detergent absorbed on the produce.
  • When preparing fresh produce, cut away any damaged or bruised areas because bacteria that cause illness can thrive in those places. Immediately refrigerate any fresh-cut items for best quality and food safety.
  • Fresh produce should be refrigerated within two hours of peeling or cutting. Leftover cut produce should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Wash hands often with hot soapy water when cooking with fresh produce. Use one clean cutting board for fresh produce, and wash surfaces often

The symptoms of Salmonella include fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. The symptoms generally develop one to three days after eating contaminated food. While most individuals who become ill from Salmonella recover in three to five days without medical intervention, the infection can be life threatening to young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Consumers should consult with their physician if they have these symptoms.

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