Routine sampling of cantaloupe reveals Salmonella, leads to recall

On Friday, Raley’s Family of Fine Stores posted a message regarding a recall of fresh cantaloupes due to potential Salmonella contamination (triggered by routine sampling). There wasn’t any pick up of the recall story until this morning when the California Department of Public Health issued a warning (which I can’t actually find anywhere). CDPH is telling consumers not to eat Del Monte whole cantaloupe sold between Oct. 5 and 16 at Northern California and Nevada Raley’s, Bel Air, Nob Hill Foods and Food Sources stores. No illnesses have been linked to these products to date.

Risk in cantaloupes is largely due to growing conditions, contaminated wash water and the potential for cantaloupe flesh to support the growth of bacteria.  Prevention of surface contamination is an important factor for folks from farm-to-fork to address and control as research has shown a potential for bacteria to be pushed into the meat of the cantaloupe during slicing. Due to the roughness of the rind, it is very difficult to wash away much of the bacteria, suggesting that risk-reduction emphasis needs to be placed before the someone home uses them for a prosciutto-wrapped appetizer. 

California Department of Public Health warns consumers not to eat Del Monte cantaloupe — great — how would someone in their home know whether their cantaloupe was Del Monte? Are they labeled (I know some here in North Carolina are, some aren’t) and if they are, what does that label look like? That’s useful information.

I suspect since the scope of this recall has been limited to a specific shipment or lot of cantaloupes that the distributor has at least a rudimentary traceability system. Maybe the system is handwritten notes in a book of sales, maybe they possess a an electronic system incorporating barcodes and shipping documents. I’ve seen both. And both can work.

Throughout the summer, with help from my trusty assistant Michelle, we have been investigating some of the current traceability systems employed by fresh produce growers/packers/shippers in North Carolina.  While labeling of units (that’s what the industry calls something like an individual cantaloupe or tomato) is part of the traceability story, what we’ve found is that there are multiple ways the on-farm/packing folks are trying to differentiate, collect, record and transfer food safety information with their products.

But there are gaps, like the labeling one illustrated here. One of our conclusions is that while many producers might be awake and trying to navigate vague national and international suggestions, what happens to that information (maybe stored in a lot code) once it leaves the packhouse sometimes isn’t really known. The distribution folks may or may not record something like a lot code, and the producers may or may not tell their buyers why it’s important that they do. That’s a GAP gap.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.