WASHINGTON — Area cantaloupe growers have new FDA regulations to follow after cantaloupe scares in Colorado in 2011 and one in southern Indiana last year that in total caused more than 400 individuals to become ill and another 36 people to die as a result of the two outbreaks.
“The issue of food borne illness associated with cantaloupe is now front and center after the scare locally last year and the one in Colorado the previous year,” said Scott Monroe, extension educator with Purdue.
“In response to the outbreaks, the Indiana State Department of Health is now involved with food safety and has hired two farm food safety consultants. Purdue has had food safety teams in place the last three years.”
Monroe said the two consultants, one based in Oaktown and the other in Fort Wayne, will work directly with farmer’s to make sure the cantaloupe industry continues to move forward and in a positive light.
“If farmer’s have questions, they will contact the consultants who can guide them.”
In an effort to try to combat contamination in cantaloupes, the FDA will be inspecting packing sheds and possibly field conditions as well.
Samples of the melons will be taken and tested for salmonella and E.coli, among other things. E. coli and Salmonella are the two most common of food borne illnesses passed from the produce to the consumer.
Workshops were also recently held for local growers so that they, and their workers could learn the expectations of the FDA and how to keep customers safe from illness.
It is believed that because of its often dense netting that cantaloupes trap pathogens in and between the netting making contaminants harder to remove.
The typical process for most large growers is to harvest the product from the field, unload and wash the product, pack the product and then cool the product before it is shipped to stores. All that moving of the melons and washing can lead to unsanitary conditions in packing houses.
According to a letter from the FDA released in February, investigations into both recent outbreaks showed multiple findings of insanitary production, handling conditions, and packing house practices that lead to the outbreaks.
Nearly one third of all cases of food borne illness come from produce. In addition to cantaloupes, leafy greens, green onions, and tomatoes are usually the most susceptible.