WASHINGTON, DC – Consumers remain concerned about the safety of eating cantaloupes following the recent deadly Listeria outbreak in the U.S. But for those eager to buy and eat the sweet, nutritious fruit again, a Georgetown food safety expert offers some advice.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says cantaloupes that are known to NOT be come from Jensen Farms are safe to eat. The CDC reports that as of Oct. 17th, 123 people have been infected with a strain of Listeria (Listeria monocytogenes) linked to consumption of cantaloupe from Jensen Farms. To date, 25 deaths have been reported. The CDC also reports a miscarriage attributed to illness from Listeria.
Myrtle McCulloch, Ed.D., an assistant professor of international health at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies, teaches courses in nutrition and food safety at home. She says the precautions you take to prevent other forms of food-borne illness should be applied to preparing melons.
Scrub your melon. “You need a vegetable brush or something similar to scrub the rough, outer texture of a cantaloupe or any fruit, even if you’re not eating the peel,” McCulloch explains. Even though the outer layer of some fruits like cantaloupe and pineapple are not eaten, cleaning it will greatly reduce the chance of contaminating the inside of the melon when it is cut. The CDC recommends sanitizing the brush after each use, to avoid transferring bacteria between melons.
Wash your hands. “It’s advice you hear all the time, but washing your hands well before and after working with a melon is important to reduce contamination,” McCulloch says. The CDC recommends washing with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
Chill your cantaloupe. “Putting cut cantaloupe promptly in the refrigerator helps prevent food-borne illnesses,” McCulloch advises. The CDC says cut melon should be refrigerated at, or less than 40 degrees F (32-34 degrees F is best). It says not to keep it for more than 7 days. Also, cut melons left out for more than four hours should be thrown out.
The CDC has more information about preventing Listeria contamination on its website www.cdc.gov.
About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical Translation and Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. In fiscal year 2010-11, GUMC accounted for 85 percent of the university’s sponsored research funding.