Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES - Consumers should wash and refrigerate cantaloupe to protect themselves from recent cases of salmonella reported in over a dozen states including N.M., a New Mexico State University specialist said.
"The important thing is to wash a cantaloupe immediately before you plan to eat it," said Martha Archuleta, food and nutrition specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "Just use cold water and a scrub brush. That way, when you slice into the cantaloupe you won't drag the bacteria that was on the outside into the meat of the cantaloupe."
Salmonella poona, the culprit in the cantaloupe cases, is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in children, frail or elderly people and those with weakened immune systems, Archuleta said. Healthy people affected with salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Archuleta said a person should see a doctor immediately if they suspect salmonella poisoning. If a doctor determines salmonella as the cause of illness, report the incident to the New Mexico Environment Department for further investigation.
Archuleta said cantaloupe can become contaminated with salmonella from contact with fecal matter in the field or during transport. These bacteria then multiply at room temperature. A good defense against bacteria-caused illness is to choose melons wisely, she said.
"When you purchase cantaloupe in the store, look for one that doesn't have bruises or little cuts on the outside. When you get it home, store it in a cool place," Archuleta said.
Fresh, uncut cantaloupe has a shelf life of 14-18 days and does not require refrigeration, she said. After a cantaloupe is cut, it should either be served immediately or refrigerated. If taking the melon to a picnic, it must be kept cold. If cut ahead of time, place the cantaloupe in a closed container and keep it on ice, according to Archuleta.
Archuleta said consumers should not eat or serve cantaloupe if they suspect it is contaminated. Since a recall has been issued for affected cantaloupe from two Mexican companies under the Viva brand name, Archuleta said consumers should contact the store where they purchased cantaloupe if they hear about a recall.
"With produce, you don't usually see the brand right on it, but the store should know if they have carried it," Archuleta said. "If you do have the produce that was potentially contaminated, check to see if you can get a refund."
To reduce the risk of foodborne illness from produce, Archuleta recommends the following precautions:
Refrigerate fresh produce within two hours of peeling or cutting. Leftover cut produce should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours.
Wash hands with hot soapy water before and after handling produce or raw meat, poultry, or seafood and after using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling pets.
Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops after contact with produce or raw meat. Also, use clean cutting boards and utensils when handling fresh produce. If possible, use one clean cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat.
Do not consume ice that has come in contact with fresh produce or other raw products.
Use a cooler with ice or frozen ice gel packs when transporting or storing food outdoors, including cut fresh fruits and vegetables.
© 2013 New Mexico State University Board of Regents
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