CDC Issues Warning About Pre-Cut Cantaloupe, as Salmonella Outbreak Expands

A person cuts cantaloupe into wedges.
Basak Gurbuz Derman/Getty Images
  • The CDC has issued a warning advising people to avoid pre-cut cantaloupe if they don’t know the brand.
  • The warning comes as a salmonella outbreak linked to cantaloupe has expanded.
  • A total of 117 people from 34 states have been sickened in the outbreak and two have died.
  • Experts say that there are steps you can take to reduce risk.

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning that you should avoid eating pre-cut cantaloupe if you don’t know what brand it is.

The recall of certain brands of cantaloupe due to confirmed cases of salmonella, first announced on November 17 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has been expanded.

The outbreak has been connected to 117 illnesses, 61 hospitalizations, and two deaths across 34 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cantaloupe rinds may be especially hospitable to bacteria

Dr. Jennifer Quinlan (PhD), a food microbiologist who is currently a professor at Drexel University, says that one of the reasons cantaloupe are at a higher risk of salmonella transmission than other produce is because of their rind, which, unlike a watermelon, has “crevices and a roughness to it.” This texture can create a safer haven for the bacteria.

“This is a product that’s grown outside. Subjected to animals, potentially; unsanitary conditions, potentially. So, the bottom line is that if the pathogens get into the rind, it’s a very rough rind, and so even washing it makes it difficult to get the pathogens completely off,” Quinlan.

Dr. Patrick Penfield (PhD), professor of supply chain practice at Syracuse University, says the variety in the food supply chain heightens the risk of illness.

“The food supply chain specifically for fruits and vegetables is fragmented and globally sourced by many companies within the US. We literally receive fruits and vegetables from thousands of farmers and food producers from all over the world,” Penfield. “It’s incredibly difficult to prevent all potential food borne illnesses from these food growers and producers.” Unfortunately, the expectation is that you will have food borne illness issues occasionally impact the food supply chain.”

Salmonella symptoms

Symptoms of salmonella include the following:

  • diarrhea that can be bloody
  • fever
  • stomach cramps

Most people recover on their own within 4 to 7 days. However, some people are at higher risk for severe symptoms, including children under 5, pregnant women, and people over age 65.

How to avoid getting salmonella

If you are a regular consumer of cantaloupe, there are some steps you can take to reduce risk.

The CDC suggests that, besides checking whether products you’ve bought are subject to the recall, you should not eat any cantaloupe you don’t know the origin of. This includes any product you may have previously frozen.

Quinlan, whose work includes studying the impacts of food-borne illnesses on marginalized communities, says that understanding food safety can help people avoid getting sick.

Quinlan advises that if you’re cutting up cantaloupe, put it in the fridge immediately to stop bacteria from growing. Quinlan also points out that there are some groups of people who may want to steer clear of the fruit for the time being.

“Obviously, it’s not on every cantaloupe out there,” Quinlan said. “We don’t want to scare people from eating cantaloupes, but if you do have cantaloupe, you want to make sure it’s not associated with the outbreak. And if you do have vulnerable people in your family, or you are a vulnerable person, you might want to think twice.”

Penfield says that while better regulations may help cut down on food-borne outbreaks, people can protect themselves by washing fruits and vegetables and, when cooking, making sure that food reaches a high enough temperature to kill bacteria.

“Sadly, this is something we will have to live with until new technology or processes are developed to eliminate these issues from happening with fruits and vegetables within the food supply chain,” Penfield said. “Until this happens, we have to always wash fruits and vegetables and cook these items whenever we can.”

A full list of measures you can take to ensure your food is safe to eat can be found on the FDA website.

How to identify the recalled cantaloupe products

The recall includes whole fresh cantaloupes that are labeled “Malichita” or “Rudy”, “4050,” and “Product of Mexico/produit du Mexique.” More information about how to identify the recalled produce can be found on the FDA website.

The fruit is being voluntarily recalled by different businesses including Crown Jewels Produce, Sofia Produce and Pacific Trellis Fruit.

“The company has ceased sales and distribution of the product as FDA and the company continue their investigation as to what caused the problem,” Crown Jewels Produce said in a voluntary recall notice posted by the FDA.

Other companies that have voluntarily recalled produce include Sofia Produce which does business under the name “Trufresh.”

“Trufresh is contacting each of the individual buyers to advise them of the recall. If the buyers associated with the above brands have not already been contacted by Trufresh, they should contact Trufresh at the number below,” the company said in their recall notice.

Pacific Trellis Fruit said in their release that they had not received notice that any illnesses were connected to their produce.

“This is an ongoing outbreak, and several illnesses have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States and Canada. To date, Pacific Trellis Fruit has not received any reports of illness,” company officials said in a statement.

Cut cantaloupe products have been voluntarily recalled from grocery chain ALDI, Vinyard Fruit and Vegetable Company, and CF Dallas.

ALDI said their products have not currently been linked to any illness.

“ALDI puts the safety and integrity of the products it sells first. If customers have a product affected by this
recall, they are advised to discard it immediately or return it to their local store for a full refund,” the company said in a press release.

Vineyard Fruit and Vegetable Company also said they had no links to reported illnesses.

“Vinyard has contacted all retailers and wholesalers who purchased these products and notified them to remove recalled products from their inventory immediately and dispose of products or arrange for their pick-up by a Vinyard representative,” the company said in their recall notice.

CF Dallas also said that as of November 22, they also had not been notified of any illnesses connected to their produce.

“All CF Dallas fresh-cut fruit products associated with the recalled whole cantaloupe have expired, however, consumers who have purchased these items and may have frozen them for later use are urged not to consume the products and to dispose of them immediately or return the items to their local store for a full refund,” the company said in their recall notice.

Takeaway

Multiple companies have voluntarily recalled cantaloupe after the produce was linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 117. At least two people have died in the outbreak, according to the CDC.

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