Wednesday, October 5, 2011


This ongoing outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria in whole cantaloupes has Americans scared. Food poisoning is one thing, but once people start dying it's another. There have now been at least 100 confirmed illnesses and 18 deaths. Nor is this the end, because of the long lead time before symptoms develop. The detailed personal stories on line in some of the lawyers' blogs are enough to make one give up eating cantaloupes for life.

But many of us really like cantaloupes. We don't want to stop eating them. So how can we eat them more safely? Cooking cantaloupes is out, so we have to think of other ways to avoid - not kill - most of any existing bacteria. Here are some ideas.

• Eat whole cantaloupe rather than cut-up ready-to-eat packaged ones. Yes, I know this outbreak started in whole cantaloupes, but usually bacteria, and especially Listeria monocytogenes, are more likely to turn up in the sliced-up "convenience" type, coming from workers who are carriers or contaminated equipment or even packaging that is used.
• Always wash thoroughly your whole cantaloupe before cutting it, using cold running water. True, some have already been washed and look perfectly clean, but may not be, and others are clearly soiled. Use a soft brush if the cantaloupe has a rough skin, to get into all the crevices. Never use hot and then cold water, because this can draw any bacteria on the skin inside the cantaloupe.
• Wash your hands first and then peel the whole cantaloupe with a clean knife and then rinse it again under running cold water. This is a little tricky to do as it's pretty slippery. In that case, you may want to cut the cantaloupe in half, running it briefly under cold water where cut and then peel it. Rinse the now peeled item, the knife and your hads quickly again, before slicing up the cantaloupe.
• If a cantaloupe has a soft bruised area, cut off this part, with at least an inch margin (depending how bad the bruising is). Use an even wider margin if part of it is moldy.
• For the time being, avoid the Jensen Farm pesticide-free Rocky Ford ones if you happen to come across any, although not every cantaloupe will be heavily contaminated. As far as we know right now, the problem is limited to this farm's produce, and to any processors that used them for salads or convenience products. The cause of the contamination has not yet been identified, and if it is the irrigation water, contaminated soil or processing water, it will take a while to resolve. If that cantaloupe in your frig has no label, discard it anyway, just to be safe.

To your good health,

No comments: