By LaDell Emmons
A recent multistate outbreak of salmonella linked to cantaloupes is prompting reminders on the safe handling of fresh produce. Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, but properly handling fresh produce will help keep you and your family safe.
Most people who become sick with Salmonella experience diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours, and the illness usually runs its course in four to seven days. Although most recover without treatment, anyone who thinks they might have become ill from a possibly contaminated cantaloupe should contact a health care provider.
Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. The rate of diagnosed infections in children younger than 5 years old is higher than the rate in all other people. Young children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems are the most likely to have severe infections. An estimated 400 people die each year with acute salmonellosis.
Cantaloupes from Chamberlain Farms Produce, Inc., Owensville, Ind., were voluntarily recalled in August because they could be a source in a recent outbreak of salmonella infections. The fruit was initially shipped to Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin; however, further shipment was likely, according to available records.
The Centers for Disease Control instructed consumers who may have purchased the cantaloupes to not eat the fruit and to discard it. However, the agency stated consumers could continue to purchase and eat cantaloupes that did not originate with Chamberlain Farms.
To determine the growing area of a cantaloupe, check the sticker on the fruit. If there is not an identifying sticker, ask the retailer about the source. If there is any doubt, throw the cantaloupe away in a closed plastic bag in a sealed trashcan. Washing it will not completely eliminate the contamination, and cutting it could lead to transferring dangerous bacteria from the fruit’s surface to the edible part of the fruit.
Generally, keeping fresh produce safe begins at the market. Consumers should avoid buying fruits and vegetables that are bruised or damaged, and should only purchase pre-cut produce such as half a watermelon or bagged salad if it has been refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
Bag these items separately from meat, poultry and seafood when packing them to take home from the store or market.
At home, keep all perishable fruits and vegetables in a clean refrigerator set at 40 F or below. When you get ready to eat and prepare your fresh produce, start by washing your hands. Be sure to keep cutting boards, dishes and other utensils used for raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from produce you don’t plan to cook.
After cutting away any damaged or bruised areas on the produce, wash it thoroughly under running water, even if you are planning to peel it before eating. Use a scrub brush on any produce item that will not be bruised by the scrubbing process. Then dry the food with a clean towel or paper towel to further reduce exposure to bacteria. Use a clean knife for cutting. It is not necessary to wash pre-cut, ready-to-eat produce such as bagged lettuce if the package states that it has already been washed.
For more information in Pittsburg County, call 918-423-4120 or log onto www.oces.okstate.edu/pittsburg.
LaDell Emmons is the Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for the Pittsburg County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.