Hairnets and pole barns: Watermelon group voices audit concerns

Chris Koger of The Packer writes that watermelon growers insist there’s no food safety risk involved without hairnets, and that a majority of watermelon shippers pack in pole barns.

watermelon-truckAnd they’re probably right.

So how to reconcile the demands of the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act and auditor requirements?

Courtney Cox, who as director of quality assurance for Primus AuditingOps, follows up on grower complaints stemming from third-party audits by her company, told the National Watermelon Association’s Convention the single most common non-compliant issue in the watermelon industry  — with 76% of facilities — is the mandate for four walls.

Several in attendance also pointed out that no retailer demands their own employees wear hairnets when handling watermelons.

NWA executive director Bob Morrissey told growers he plans to follow up with Azzule Systems — owns the PrimusGFS auditing scheme – adding, “I assure you from the association level we are going to aggressively approach (Azzule) to discuss these things. We need to get to some point where these audits are making common sense and stop with these expectations that are unrealistic, that are not only causing (growers-shippers) harm, but are causing them money.”

Watermelons suspected: 21 Cambodian monks sickened

Twenty-one monks became ill with diarrhea and vomiting after eating watermelons at the cultural celebration of Bun Pkar in Battambang province.  

monks.bad.habitsAs of yesterday afternoon, two of the ailing monks were still in the hospital in critical condition. 

Others had returned to their Koun Klong pagoda of Prey Domrei village in Moung Russey district, where the celebration took place yesterday and the suspected tainted fruit was eaten.

The district police chief, Kith Heang, said: “After questioning, during the celebration that day, some villagers claimed that they bought some watermelons from the market and some bought it from a fruit seller on the street in the village to offer to the monks. 

They really had no idea that the watermelons were poisoned.”

After their investigation, police are certain the fruit was poisoned. They urged any villager suffering symptoms to be treated at the hospital.


63 in Europe sickened; Salmonella in watermelon from Brazil, 2011

In November 2011, the presence of Salmonella Newport in a ready-to-eat watermelon slice was confirmed as part of a local food survey in England. In late December 2011, cases of S. Newport were reported in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Ireland and Germany. During the outbreak, 63 confirmed cases of S. Newport were reported across all six countries with isolates indistinguishable by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis from the watermelon isolate.

Watermelon_Rind_Copyright_2009_Watermelon_RindA subset of outbreak isolates were whole-genome sequenced and were identical to, or one single nucleotide polymorphism different from the watermelon isolate. In total, 46 confirmed cases were interviewed of which 27 reported watermelon consumption. Further investigations confirmed the outbreak was linked to the consumption of watermelon imported from Brazil. Although numerous Salmonella outbreaks associated with melons have been reported in the United States and elsewhere, this is the first of its kind in Europe. Expansion of the melon import market from Brazil represents a potential threat for future outbreaks. Whole genome sequencing is rapidly becoming more accessible and can provide a compelling level of evidence of linkage between human cases and sources of infection, to support public health interventions in global food markets.

A Multi-country Outbreak of Salmonella Newport Gastroenteritis in Europe Associated with Watermelon from Brazil, Confirmed by Whole Genome Sequencing: October 2011 to January 2012

Eurosurveillance, Volume 19, Issue 31, 07 August 2014

L Byrne, I Fisher1, T Peters, A Mather, N Thomson, B Rosner, H Bernard, P McKeown, M Cormican, J Cowden, V Aiyedun, C Lane

270 sick, 3 dead; more recalls; how can melons do this?

Sorenne and I like the cantaloupe; Amy, not so much. We also like the watermelon; Amy, not so much.

So it’s somewhat distressing to hear of the various Salmonella problems in some of our favorite melons.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control today noted that 270 people have been infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Typhimurium (240 persons) andSalmonella Newport (30 persons) linked to cantaloupe in 26 states from Chamberlain Farms Produce, Inc. of Owensville, Indiana.

Chamberlain Farms has also pulled its watermelons from the market after Salmonella was found on one of those fruits.

Grocery chain Schnucks says it removed Chamberlain watermelons from its stores after being contacted by the grower.

In unrelated news, DFI Marketing Inc. of Fresno, CA is voluntarily recalling cantaloupe after Salmonella was found on a single sample during routine testing conducted at a wholesale produce distribution center (terminal market) as part of a USDA testing program.

Through the company’s comprehensive recall and trace back systems, it has been determined the suspected cantaloupes include approximately 28,000 cartons of bulk-packed product. The cantaloupes are packed in 6, 9, 12, 15, or 18 cantaloupes per carton. Specific information on how to identify the product: All cantaloupes are packed in a DFI brand carton and the following is stamped in black on the carton “826 CALIFORNIA WESTSIDE.”

Florida Today reports 11 years have passed since Dana Dziadul nearly died from eating cantaloupe tainted with salmonella and now the 14-year-old has become a poster child for the food safety campaign with her face appearing in national “Stop foodborne illness” advertisements. She has spoken to Congress and was a major advocate for the “Food Safety Modernization Act,” which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010.

Dana has shared her story with chefs at Disney World and Publix supermarket food safety experts. On Friday, she will talk at a regional food safety meeting in Orlando.

For Dana, the story began at a nice restaurant near her Connecticut home when she was 3. She’d eaten cantaloupe imported from Mexico, which gave her Salmonella Poona blood poisoning. As a result, she continues to suffer from reactive arthritis.

1 dead 54 sick with salmonella in UK, Europe linked to watermelon

The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) is investigating an outbreak of a strain of Salmonella Newport infection among 30 people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since the beginning of December 2011. Cases of illness caused by the same strain have been confirmed in Scotland, Ireland and Germany.

Dr Bob Adak, head of the gastrointestinal diseases department at the HPA said: “Although it’s too soon to say with certainty what the likely cause of infection is, early indications suggest that a number of people became unwell after eating watermelon. This has also been noted in the cases in Scotland and Germany although further investigation is ongoing.

Confirmed cases:

• England – 26
• Wales – 3
• Northern Ireland – 1
• Scotland – 4
• Republic of Ireland – 5
• Germany – 15

Chinese watermelons explode

Watermelons are exploding in China the same way David Letterman used to drop them out of windows.

An investigative report by China Central Television found farms in Jiangsu province were losing acres of fruit to overuse of a chemical that helps fruit grow faster, causing a rash of exploding watermelons in eastern China.

Summer means melons

In my current neck of the woods summer is approaching. I’ve decided only the oldies station will play in my pimpin’ ride, and I’ve been purchasing strawberries and watermelon on every trip to the grocery store. Nothing says summer like fresh melon(s).

But melons have their risk. Cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon have been linked to outbreaks of Salmonella in the past, and currently the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued a health hazard alert for Melon up! brand large seedless watermelons from Mexico.

You can check out a video on how to safely prepare melon, here. Or the FDA guidance for industry document, here.

Stickers source watermelons to California farm

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that at a farm in Manteca, in San Joaquin County, workers smack labels onto watermelons freshly cut from the vine, each sticker bearing a unique string of letters and numbers that identifies where they were harvested.

Ryan Van Groningen of Van Groningen & Sons Farms, which sells watermelons under the Yosemite Fresh brand, said,

"With food safety as big as it is, we can give each watermelon its own code so a consumer can check on the Internet to see where it is grown.”

This new code, called the HarvestMark, is being developed by the Redwood City startup YottaMark Inc. at a time when Congress is considering food-safety legislation that could make some type of tracking system mandatory.

In advance of any legal mandate, a few growers have started putting HarvestMark codes on products like plastic-packaged grapes and strawberries, as well as watermelons.

The idea is to enable a consumer to type the 16-digit tracking code into a locator field at to learn where the product was grown. Depending on the grower’s records and what the farm chooses to reveal, the system could detail the date and part of the field where the product originated.

Great idea.

A decade ago, I advised the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers – whose cluster tomatoes still dominate supermarket shelves in Florida in the middle of summer – to do something similar, to market their food safety efforts directly to the concerned consumer.

For other produce producers, forget government babysitters and the non-niceties of offending other growers … growers who maybe aren’t so good at food safety.

Go further. Put a url on the sticker so concerned shoppers can check out a web site with video, not just about where a commodity was grown, but about food safety standards, and real-time test results for water quality and product sampling.

And then market it.

Salmonella outbreak in N. Ontario may be linked to melons

When I think Thunder Bay, Ontario in January, I think melons.

Ripe, juicy melons, like cantaloupe.

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit is investigating an increased number of Salmonella cases in Thunder Bay and District. Twenty-three cases of Salmonella have been reported since January of this year. We would normally expect approximately seven (7) cases in this time period.

Some cases have been linked to person-to-person transmission or travel and some are related to a North American outbreak being investigated by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Six cases are still under investigation, but like most Salmonella cases, are likely related to unsafe food handling in the home. …

The outbreak under investigation by PHAC may be related to melons. Because melons grow at ground level, their rough and pitted outer skin can trap Salmonella bacteria from the soil. If the outer skin of a melon is contaminated, the fruit inside may be affected when the melon is cut. Follow these tips:

* Buy melons that are not bruised or damaged and store them in the fridge.
* Throw away any melon that is bruised or rotten.
* Wash all melons before cutting.  When cleaning a cantaloupe, brush the whole fruit under running water using a clean produce brush, getting into all the pits on the skin.
* Put cut melon on a clean plate; don’t put the pieces back on the cutting board.
* Don’t reuse any food equipment (e.g. knife, cutting board) used to prepare a melon.
* Wash all equipment with hot water and soap or clean them in the dishwasher.
* Store cut melon in a clean container in the fridge.

How is Salmonella in melons a consumer handling issue? Where is the data that says most Salmonella cases are related to unsafe food handling in the home? And why no notice from PHAC about an outbreak investigation?

The human face of E. coli O157:H7: 3-year-old died in 2000

Three-year-old Brianna Kriefall and her family ate at a Sizzler restaurant in South Milwaukee in July 2000. Brianna died a week later after battling E. coli-related hemolytic uremic syndrome.

Brianna, along with most of the other 140 people who were sickened in the outbreak, consumed watermelon that had been cross-contaminated with raw meat.

Genetic testing showed the microbes that made the restaurant patrons sick matched microbes contained in an unopened package of meat.

The national Sizzler chain, its local franchise and an insurance company are suing Excel Corp., the subsidiary of Cargill Inc. that produced the meat.

On Friday Brianna’s family reached a $13.5 million settlement with the company’s meat supplier and others.

The Kriefalls’ case had been dismissed in 2004 by a different Milwaukee County Circuit judge after Excel lawyers argued the company was exempt from state lawsuits because it had followed federal regulations in handling the beef sold to Sizzler.

An appeals court reversed the dismissal, saying the legal action fit within the federal goal of making food safer for consumers. The U.S. Supreme Court declined Excel’s appeal.