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FOR RELEASE: April 13, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

State Health Department Advises Consumers to Scrub Cantaloupe before Eating

The I. Kunik Company of McAllen, Texas, has issued a nationwide voluntary recall of its Susie brand cantaloupes. Outbreaks of Salmonella poona have been linked to the Susie brand of cantaloupe, which is imported from Mexico and distributed in the United States and Canada. The cantaloupe was sold in retail stores and restaurants and possibly used in other institutions. Fresh cantaloupe has a shelf life of 7-10 days.

State health officials believe it is unlikely that this product was distributed in Oklahoma. However, 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.

These outbreaks provide evidence that consumers should take precautions with fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw. 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. 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. This risk of contamination continues if a consumer cuts through produce rind that has not been cleaned immediately before eating.

In addition to washing the skin of fruits and vegetables to reduce the chance of contamination, consumers should also wash their hands before and after handling the fruit and refrigerate unused cut portions immediately. The OSDH reminds 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 should 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.
  • To further reduce risk of cross contamination when cooking with fresh produce, wash hands often with hot soapy water. 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 experiencing these symptoms should consider consulting their physician.

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