Outbreaks associated with cantaloupe, watermelon, and honeydew in the United States, 1973–2011

Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet.

melon.berriesMelons have been associated with enteric infections. We reviewed outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System during 1973–2011 in which the implicated food was a single melon type. We also reviewed published literature and records obtained from investigating agencies.

During 1973–2011, 34 outbreaks caused by a single melon type were reported, resulting in 3602 illnesses, 322 hospitalizations, 46 deaths, and 3 fetal losses. Cantaloupes accounted for 19 outbreaks (56%), followed by watermelons (13, 38%) and honeydew (2, 6%). Melon-associated outbreaks increased from 0.5 outbreaks per year during 1973–1991 to 1.3 during 1992–2011. Salmonella was the most common etiology reported (19, 56%), followed by norovirus (5, 15%). Among 13 outbreaks with information available, melons imported from Mexico and Central America were implicated in 9 outbreaks (69%) and domestically grown melons were implicated in 4 outbreaks (31%).

The point of contamination was known for 20 outbreaks; contamination occurred most commonly during growth, harvesting, processing, or packaging (13, 65%). Preventive measures focused on reducing bacterial contamination of melons both domestically and internationally could decrease the number and severity of melon-associated outbreaks.