National Consumers League

Regarding the latest cantaloupe salmonella outbreak ...


By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow Almost a year ago, the food safety community was rocked by an outbreak of Listeria in cantaloupe melons grown in Colorado. The outbreak would eventually lead to more than 140 illnesses as well as over 30 deaths. This week, FDA and the CDC have announced an outbreak of Salmonella, again in cantaloupes. This outbreak, which has been traced to cantaloupes from Chamberlain Farms of Owensville, Indiana, has sickened 172 and killed two, according to the CDC. What is Salmonella? Salmonella is the most commonly reported cause of foodborne illness. It is a bacteria which can infect many different kinds of foods, from eggs to produce and meat. Most people infected with Salmonella get sick within 8 to 72 hours of exposure. They will experience symptoms ranging from chills to stomach cramps, fever and diarrhea. The CDC estimates that Salmonella kills 400 people annually in the U.S. alone. What can I do to keep my family safe? Many cantaloupes contain a sticker indicating the farm or region where they were grown. Cantaloupes from the implicated farm should be thrown out immediately. The FDA advises consumers to ask their grocery store where its cantaloupes come from. The bottom line is this; if you have any question about whether your cantaloupe is safe, err on the side of caution and get rid of it. What is being done to make sure this doesn’t happen again next year? The good news is that the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was signed into law by President Obama in early 2011, will transform the FDA from an agency which simply responds to foodborne illness to one that preemptively seeks to prevent these outbreaks from occurring. Unfortunately, the implementation of this landmark piece of legislation relies on the issuance of several rules by the FDA. These rules, which were due to be released in January, have been stuck in review for months. Consumer advocates and industry alike see these rules as an essential part of updating our food system and have urged the White House to release them.