Cantaloupe deadly salmonella outbreak angers food-safety experts

7:09 AM, Aug 20, 2012   |    comments
Credit: AP/file.
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By Liz Szabo, USA TODAY

Consumers are once again doubting the safety of cantaloupes, a year after a deadly outbreak of food poisoning caused by tainted melons killed at least 30 people and sickened 146 people.

Agricultural experts say the frequent problems with cantaloupes come from the nature of the melons and sloppy agricultural practices.

In the latest outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, two people have died and 141 have fallen ill in 20 states in a salmonella outbreak linked to contaminated cantaloupe grown in southwestern Indiana. Thirty-one victims have been hospitalized. Both deaths were in Kentucky.

Last year's epidemic was caused by cantaloupes contaminated with listeria, from Colorado's Jensen Farms, according to the CDC.

Food-safety advocate Nancy Donley said she's "hopping mad" over the latest outbreak. "These illnesses and deaths are preventable," said Donley, a spokeswoman for STOP Foodborne Illness. Her group has urged the Food and Drug Administration to more quickly put out new regulations, based on authority from 2010 legislation. "This shouldn't have happened."

Richard Marler of the Seattle law firm Marler Clark, which specializes in food-safety law, links cantaloupes to at least 13 salmonella outbreaks since 1990.

A cantaloupe's rough, porous skin is an easy target for bacteria, which cling to the bumps on its surface. Cantaloupes growing on the ground can also pick up dirt and germs from manure that runs off from livestock fields, said Douglas Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University.

It's almost impossible for consumers to adequately wash cantaloupes at home, Powell said. The knives used to cut cantaloupes transfer bacteria to the inside.

Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection, FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said.

Meanwhile, a Northern California produce supplier, Tanimura & Antle, said Sunday that it is voluntarily recalling romaine lettuce that was shipped to 19 states, Puerto Rico and Canada over fears of possible E. coli contamination, the Associated Press said. There have been no reported illnesses.

The recall is a single lot of Field Fresh Wrapped Single Head Romaine that has a "best by" date of Aug. 19.



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