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Outbreaks of Foodborne Illness Associated with Melons1

Michelle D. Danyluk, Rachel McEgan, Ashley N. Turner, and Keith R. Schneider2

In recent years, foodborne illness outbreaks have become more prevalently associated with produce (Sivapalasingam et al. 2004). Melons, specifically—cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon—are popular commodities consumed around the world. Melons can be eaten alone; however, they are often combined into fruit and vegetable salads. Despite the manner in which they are prepared, melons are commonly consumed raw without a processing step which would eliminate pathogenic bacteria (FAO 2011).

Melons may be contaminated with foodborne pathogens during harvest, packing, shipping, or preparation for consumption. During production, melons may be in direct contact with the soil, a potential source of contamination, even if plastic mulch is used (Richards and Beuchat 2005). The characteristics of the melon rind can influence susceptibility to contamination and removal of surface contamination; netted surfaces (cantaloupes) create a favorable environment for bacteria to grow and make it difficult to remove pathogens (Ukuku and Fett 2002). Mechanical damage resulting in wounds (e.g., punctures, cracks, and bruising) may allow pathogen entry into the melon mesocarp tissue (edible flesh of the fruit) (Fleming, Pool, and Gorny 2005; Richards and Beuchat 2005). Pathogen infiltration and adherence at the stem scar tissue (the end of the melon where the vine was removed), especially in cantaloupe, also can be problematic for food safety (Richards and Beuchat 2004). Maturity of the melon also can play a role in susceptibility because ripe melons may allow for better growth and survival of pathogens on their surfaces (Suslow 1997). Contamination on the surface of a melon may then be able to spread to the inside of the fruit once the melon is cut (Gagliardi et al. 2003).

This document serves as a reference for those concerned about the safety of melons, including cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon in the fresh and fresh-cut market. Outbreaks associated with melons in the United States, Canada, and Europe are highlighted with information regarding the location, pathogen, and incidence of illness. Four tables are presented, representing different melon types (Table 1, cantaloupe; Table 2, honeydew; and Table 3, watermelon), and unspecified melon and mixed fruits including melon (Table 4).

References

Blostein, J. 1991. “An outbreak of Salmonella javiana associated with consumption of watermelon.” J. Environ. Health 56:29–31.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1979. “Salmonella oranienburg gastroenteritis associated with consumption of precut watermelons: Illinois.” Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 28:522–523.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1991. “Epidemiological notes and reports multistate outbreak of Salmonella poona infections—United States and Canada, 1991.” Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 40:549–552.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2002. “Multistate outbreaks of Salmonella serotype Poona infections associated with eating cantaloupe from Mexico—United States and Canada, 2000–2002.” Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 51:1044–1047.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2007. “Salmonella Oranienburg infections associated with fruit salad served in health-care facilities—Northeastern United States and Canada, 2006.” Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 56:1025–1028.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2008a. “Multistate outbreak of Salmonella Litchfield infections linked to cantaloupe (final update).” http://www.cdc.gov/Salmonella/litchfield/.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2008b. “Salmonella Litchfield outbreak associated with a hotel restaurant—Atlantic City, New Jersey, 2007.” Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 57:775–779.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2011. “Multistate outbreak of Salmonella Panama infections linked to cantaloupe.” http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/panama0311/062311/index.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2012. “Multistate outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Newport infections linked to cantaloupe (Final Update).” http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/typhimurium-cantaloupe-08-12/.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). n.d. Foodborne Outbreak Online Database. http://wwwn.cdc.gov/foodborneoutbreaks/.

Deeks, S., A. Ellis, B. Ciebin, R. Khakhria, M. Naus, and J. Hockin. 1998. “Salmonella Oranienburg, Ontario.” Can. Comm. Dis. Rep. 24:177–179.

Del Rosario B. A. and L. R. Beuchat. 1995. “Survival and growth of enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 in cantaloupe and watermelon.” J. Food Prot. 58:105–107.

Donovan, K. 2007. “Nothing says summer like baseball, watermelon, barbecue, and Campylobacter.” Virginia Epidemiology Bulletin 107(3):6. http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/Epidemiology/diseaseprevention/documents/pdf/VEBmarch07%204_30_07c.pdf.

Fleming, P., W. Pool, and J. Gorny, eds. 2005. Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Melon Supply Chain, 1st edition. Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/FruitsVegetablesJuices/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/UCM168625.pdf.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 2011. “Microbial hazards and melons: Codex Committee on Food Hygiene Working Group on the development of an annex on methods for the Code of Hygienic Practice for fresh fruits and vegetables (CAC/RCP 53-2003).” ftp://ftp.fao.org/ag/agn/jemra/Microbiological_hazards_and_melons_Nov08.pdf.

Gagliardi, J. V., P. D. Millner, G. Lester, and D. Ingram. 2003. “On-Farm and Postharvest Processing Sources of Bacterial Contamination to Melon Rinds.” J. Food Prot. 66:82–87.

Gayler, G. E., R. A. MacCready, J. P. Reardon, and B. E. McKernan. 1955. “An outbreak of salmonellosis traced to watermelon.” Public Health Rep. 70:311–313.

McCollum, J. T., A. B. Cronquist, B. J. Silk, K. A. Jackson, K. A. O’Connor, S. Cosgrove, J. P. Gossack, S. S. Parachini, N. S. Jain, P. Ettestad, M. Ibraheem, V. Cantu, M. Joshi, T. DuVernoy, N. W. Fogg, J. R. Gorny, K. M. Mogen, C. Spires, P. Teitell, L. A. Joseph, C. L. Tarr, M. Imanishi, K. P. Neil, R. V. Tauxe, and B. E. Mahon. 2013. “Multistate outbreak of listeriosis associated with cantaloupe.” N Engl J Med. 369:944–953.

Mohle-Boetani, J. C., R. Reporter, S. B. Werner, S. Abbott, J. Farrar, S. H. Waterman, and D. J. Vugia. 1999. “An outbreak of Salmonella serogroup Saphra due to cantaloupes from Mexico.” J. Inf. Dis. 180:1361–1364.

Nielsen, C. F., A. Langer, J. Pringle, R. Heffernan, R. Klos, T. Monson, M. Rauch, J. Ball, M. Hoekstra, J. Archer, M. Sotir, and J. Davis. 2010. “First documented multistate outbreak of Salmonella Carrau infections—United States, 2009.” Abstract. 59th Annual Epidemic Intelligence Service. 19–23 April, 2010. http://www.cdc.gov/eis/downloads/2010.EIS.Conference.pdf.

Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). 2009. “Update: Salmonella Carrau outbreak.” http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/new-nouv-eng.php?year=2009&month=may.

Richards, G. M. and L. R. Beuchat. 2004. “Attachment of Salmonella Poona to cantaloupe rind and stem scar tissues as affected by temperature of fruit and inoculum.” J. Food Prot. 67:1359–1364.

———. 2005. “Metabiotic associations of molds and Salmonella Poona on intact and wounded cantaloupe rind.” Int. J. of Food Microbiol. 97:327–339.

Ries, A. A., S. Zaza, and C. Langkop. 1990. “A multistate outbreak of Salmonella chester linked to imported cantaloupe (Abstract).” In American Society for Microbiology Program and Abstracts of the 30 Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotheraphy, 238. Washington, DC: American Society for Microbiology.

Sivapalasingam, S., C. R. Friedman, L. Cohen, and R. V. Tauxe. 2004. “Fresh produce: a growing cause of outbreaks of foodborne illness in the United States, 1973 through 1997.” J Food Prot. 67:2342–2353.

Suslow, T. V. 1997. “Postharvest chlorination basic properties and key points for effective disinfection 1997.” Publication 8003. University of California, Davis Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. http://ucanr.edu/datastoreFiles/234-404.pdf.

Ukuku, D. O. and W. F. Fett. 2002. “Effectiveness of chlorine and nisin-EDTA treatments of whole melons and fresh-cut pieces for reducing native microflora and extending shelf-life.” J. Food Safety 22:231–253.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 2009. "Chapter IV: Outbreaks Tables, Analysis and Evaluation of Preventive Control and Reduction/Elimination of Microbial Hazards of Fresh and Fresh-Cut Produce." http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodScienceResearch/SafePracticesforFoodProcesses/ucm091270.htm

Tables

Table 1. 

Outbreaks of foodborne disease associated with cantaloupe, 1990–2012.

Year

Month

Location

Pathogena

Location of Consumption

Cases (Deaths)

Food Vehicle

Referencesb

1990

January

US (multistate)

Salmonella Chester

Restaurant salad bars

245(2)

Cantaloupe*

Ries, Zaza, and Langkop 1990

1991

June

US (IL, MI), and Canada

Salmonella Poona

Grocery stores, restaurants

400(0)

Cantaloupe*

CDC 1991

1997

Feb–May

US (CA)

Salmonella Saphra

Private home, grocery store, restaurant

24(0)

Cantaloupe

Moehle-Boetani et al. 1999

1997

NRc

US (OR)

E. coli O157:H7

Restaurant

9(0)

Cantaloupe*

FDA 2009

1998

May–June

Canada (ON)

Salmonella Oranienburg

Supermarket

22(0)

Cantaloupe*

Deeks et al. 1998

2000

April–June

US (multistate)

Salmonella Poona

Nursing home, home care, private home, restaurant, school

47(0)

Cantaloupe*

CDC 2002

2000

June

US (MN)

Norovirus

Workplace

33(0)

Cantaloupe, sandwich (turkey) *

CDC n.d.

2001

December

US (OR)

Salmonella spp.

Nursing home, home care, restaurant

2(0)

Cantaloupe*

CDC n.d.

2001

Apri–-May

US (multistate)

Salmonella Poona

Private home

50(2)

Cantaloupe*

CDC 2002

2001

March

US (MN)

Norovirus

Workplace

42(0)

Cantaloupe, pineapple*

CDC n.d.

2001

June

US (WA)

NR

Restaurant

4(0)

Cantaloupe, pineapple*

CDC n.d.

2002

March–May

US (multistate), Canada

Salmonella Poona

Nursing home, home care, private home

58(0)

Cantaloupe*

CDC 2002

2004

NR

US (NR)

E. coli O157:H7

NR

6(0)

Cantaloupe*

FAO 2011

2005

May

US (UT)

Salmonella spp.

Private home

126(0)

Cantaloupe, chicken, corned beef*

CDC n.d.

2007

December

US (CA)

Salmonella Litchfield

Private home

11(0)

Cantaloupe*

CDC n.d.

2008

August

US (CO)

Salmonella Newport

Private home

5(0)

Cantaloupe, hamburger meat*

CDC n.d.

2008

November

US (multistate)

Salmonella Javiana

NR

10(0)

Cantaloupe

CDC n.d.

2008

January–March

US (multistate), Canada

Salmonella Litchfield

Hospital, private home

51(0)

Cantaloupe*

CDC 2008a

2008

December

US (CA)

Norovirus

Restaurant

23(0)

Cantaloupe*

CDC n.d.

2011

February

US (multistate)

Salmonella Panama

Private home

20(0)

Cantaloupe*

CDC 2011

2011

August–October

US (multistate)

L. monocytogenes

Grocery retailer

147(33)

Cantaloupe

McCollum et al. 2013

2012

July–September

US (multistate)

Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Newport

NR; all sourced from same farm

261(3)

Cantaloupe

CDC 2012

a Pathogens abbreviated and associated with outbreaks include E. (Escherichia), L. (Listeria)

b For outbreaks sourced from CDC (n.d.), no other reference is available.

c NR: Not Reported

*Denotes a suspected, not confirmed, food vehicle (suspected defined as being epidemiologically linked, but no isolate from the actual food source)

Table 2. 

Outbreaks of foodborne disease associated with honeydew, 1990–2010.

Year

Month

Location

Pathogen

Location of Consumption

Cases (Deaths)

Food Vehicle

Referencesa

1998

August

US (IA)

Norovirus

Restaurant

41(0)

Honeydew, strawberries*

CDC n.d.

2001

January

US (CO)

Norovirus

Restaurant

100(1)

Honeydew, pineapple*

CDC n.d.

2002

April

US (DC)

Staphylcoccus aureus

NR

8(0)

Honeydew, cheese (pasteurized), potato (fried) *

CDC n.d.

2003

January

US (multistate)

Salmonella Newport

Grocery store, hospital, nursing home, restaurant

68(2)

Honeydew

CDC n.d.

2003

September

US (CO)

Shigella sonnei

Hotel restaurant

39(0)

Honeydew*

CDC n.d.

2007

NRb

US

Salmonella Litchfield

Private home, restaurant

11(0)

Honeydew*

FAO 2011

a For outbreaks sourced from CDC (n.d.), no other reference is available.

b NR: Not Reported

*Denotes a suspected, not confirmed, food vehicle (suspected defined as being epidemiologically linked, but no isolate from the actual food source)

Table 3. 

Outbreaks of foodborne disease associated with watermelon, 1950–2010.

Year

Month

Location

Pathogena

Location of Consumption

Cases (Deaths)

Food Vehicle

Referencesb

1950

NRc

US (MN)

Salmonella Bareilly

Roadside stand

6(0)

Watermelon, cut

Gayler et al. 1955

1954

June

US (MA)

Salmonella Miami

Supermarket

17(1)

Watermelon, cut

Gayler et al. 1955

1979

NR

US (IL)

Salmonella Oranienburg

Supermarket

6(0)

Watermelon

CDC 1979

1987

NR

Sweden

Shigella sonnei

Dinner party

15(0)

Watermelon

FAO 2011

1991

June

US (MI)

Salmonella Javiana

Indoor picnic/school party; Grocery retailer

39(0)

Watermelon

Blostein

1991

1993

NR

US

Salmonella Javiana

Private home, church

27(0)

Watermelon

Del Rosario and Beuchat 1995

2000

July

US (WI)

E. coli O157:H7

Restaurant

536(1)

Watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2002

June

US (DC)

NR

NR

11(0)

Watermelon, strawberries*

CDC n.d.

2005

July

US (ID)

Norovirus

Camp

18(0)

Watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2006

July

US (CA)

Norovirus

Other

14(0)

Watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2006

July

US (VA)

Camplyobacter jejuni

Picnic

15(0)

Watermelon*

Donovan 2007

2006

August

US (NY)

Salmonella Newport

Restaurant

20(0)

Watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2008

October

US (CA)

Salmonella Javiana

Multi-site daycare center program

594(0)

Watermelon

CDC n.d.

2010

July

US (MI)

Salmonella

Private home

17(0)

Watermelon*

CDC n.d.

a Pathogens abbreviated and associated with outbreaks include E. (Escherichia)

b For outbreaks sourced from CDC (n.d.), no other reference is available.

c NR: Not Reported

*Denotes a suspected, not confirmed, food vehicle (suspected defined as being epidemiologically linked, but no isolate from the actual food source)

Table 4. 

Foodborne Illness Outbreaks Associated with Unspecified Melons and Mixed Fruit (including melon).

Year

Month

Location

Pathogen

Location of Consumption

Cases (Deaths)

Food Vehicle

Referencesa

1987

NRb

UK

Norovirus

NR

206(0)

Melon (unspecified)*

FDA 2009

1993

NR

US

Campylobacter jejuni

Food service

48(0)

Melon (unspecified), strawberries*

FAO 2011

1999

May

US (WI)

Norovirus

Restaurant

23(0)

Melon (unspecified), pineapple, watermelon*

CDC n.d.

1999

July

US (CA)

Salmonella Enteritidis

School

82(0)

Honeydew, watermelon

FAO 2011

1999

June

US (IA)

Norovirus

Restaurant

61(0)

Cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2000

May

US (IL)

Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus

Church, temple

55(0)

Melon (unspecified)*

CDC n.d.

2000

June

US (CO)

Salmonella Heidelberg

Restaurant

4(0)

Melon (unspecified)*

CDC n.d.

2001

March

US (FL)

NR

NR

33(0)

Melon (unspecified)*

CDC n.d.

2001

January

US (KS)

Norovirus

Restaurant

36(0)

Cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple*

CDC n.d.

2001

June

US (CA)

Salmonella Poona

Daycare, picnic, private home, restaurant

23(0)

Cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2002

January

US (MN)

Norovirus

Restaurant

15(0)

Cantaloupe, pineapple*

CDC n.d.

2002

September

US (WA)

Salmonella Berta

Church

29(0)

Cantaloupe, grapes, watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2003

May

US (multistate)

Salmonella Muenchen

Daycare, private home

58(0)

Cantaloupe, honeydew*

CDC n.d.

2003

August

US (FL)

Norovirus

Nursing home

16(0)

Cantaloupe, banana, pineapple*

CDC n.d.

2004

April

US (CO)

Norovirus

Nursing home, home care

62(0)

Melon (unspecified), house salad, strawberries*

CDC n.d.

2004

June

US (WI)

Norovirus

Church

34(2)

Cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2004

November

US (CA)

Norovirus

NR

30(0)

Cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2004

March

US (KS)

Norovirus

Banquet facility

100(0)

Cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2006

June–July

US (multistate), Canada (ON)

Salmonella Oranienburg

Grocery store, health care facility, nursing home

41(0)

Cantaloupe, honeydew, fruit salad*

CDC 2007

2007

February

US (MI)

NR

Banquet facility

8(0)

Cantaloupe, watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2007

May–June

US (NJ)

Salmonella Litchfield

Hotel restaurant

30(0)

Fruit salad, honeydew*

CDC 2008b

2008

August

US (CO)

Salmonella Newport

Private home

3(0)

Cantaloupe, watermelon*

CDC n.d.

2009

February

US (multistate)

Salmonella Carrau

Private home

53(1)

Cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon*

PHAC 2009; Nielsen et al. 2010

a For outbreaks sourced from CDC (n.d.), no other reference is available.

b NR: Not Reported

*Denotes a suspected, not confirmed, food vehicle (suspected defined as being epidemiologically linked, but no isolate from the actual food source)

Footnotes

1.

This document is FSHN14-11, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 2014. Reviewed December 2017. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Michelle D. Danyluk, associate professor; Rachel McEgan, research assistant; Ashley N. Turner, graduate student; Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition; Citrus Research and Education Center; and Keith R. Schneider, professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


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U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.