cantaloupe.jpg Salmonella and cantaloupe, and cantaloupe and other bugs like E. coli, have been bedfellows all too frequently.  A 2005 article by Trevor Susslow, Linda Harris, and Tracy Parnell at UC Davis states that “[c]antaloupe has been associated with foodborne outbreaks involving Escherichia coli O157:H7 (DelRosario and Beuchat, 1995), Norovirus (Iversen et al.,1987), and numerous serovars of Salmonella, including Salmonella chester (CDC, 1991), Salmonella poona (CDC, 1991; FDA, 1991; California Department of Health Services, 2000, 2001, 2002), Salmonella oranienburg (Health Canada, 1998), and Salmonella saphra (Mohle-Boetani et al., 1999).

Common themes in these outbreaks were that the melons were cut and most had been subjected to temperature abuse. In some cases, melons were contaminated through inadvertent contact with raw meat (see Harris et al., 2003) or a human handler (Iversen et al., 1987), but in other cases, the contamination was thought to have been soil on the melon rind (Mohle-Boetani et al., 1999), packing house wash water, or shipping ice (Hedberg et al., 1994; Tauxe, 1997).

What are best consumer practices to reduce the risk of contaminating the meat of the melon by contact with surface bacteria?  Note that contamination of the meat can occur during cutting, so it is important to (1) simply avoid cantaloupe during an outbreak and (2) take measures to clean the entire melon before preparing it for consumption.  The same article by Parnell, Harris, and Susslow, says:

scrubbing with water resulted in reductions comparable to soaking in 200 ppm of total chlorine, while scrubbing in chlorine provided the greatest reduction.  However, in the absence of chlorine, Salmonella spread from inoculated to uninoculated surfaces. Washing cantaloupes in a common batch-water system is strongly discouraged for packinghouses, processors, foodservice, and home consumers.

In agreement with current recommendations, consumers and food service industries should scrub melons with a clean brush under running water. It is important that these instructions also include advice on cleaning and sanitizing brushes prior to and after preparation as using a contaminated scrub brush may negate the benefits achieved with washing. Brushes can be cleaned either by washing in the dishwasher with a hot cycle or by soaking in a 200 ppm total chlorine solution made with 45 ml household bleach (5% sodium hypochlorite)/l water.