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Outbreaks of Foodborne Illness Associated with Melons

Clara Diekman, Matthew D. Krug, Ashley T. Myers, Rachel McEgan, Keith R. Schneider, and Michelle D. Danyluk

This document is intended to serve as a reference for everyone interested in the safety of melons by providing a comprehensive list of melon-related outbreaks in the United States.

In recent years, foodborne illness outbreaks have become increasingly associated with produce (Walsh et al. 2014). One such commodity linked to foodborne illness are melons (specifically cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon), which are consumed around the world. Melons can be eaten alone or combined with other fruit and vegetables to make salads. Regardless of the way they are prepared, melons are typically consumed raw. This lack of a processing step increases the risk a foodborne pathogen making it to the consumer (Carstens et al. 2019).

While in the field, melons may be in direct contact with the soil, irrigation water, and insects, all of which are a potential source of contamination (Carstens et al. 2019; Walsh et al. 2014). Melons may also becom contaminated with foodborne pathogens during harvesting, packing, shipping, or preparation for consumption. During harvesting, mechanical damage resulting in wounds (e.g., punctures, cracks, bruising) may allow pathogen entry into the melon mesocarp tissue (i.e., edible flesh of the fruit) (US Food and Drug Administration 2013). 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 (US Food and Drug Administration 2013).

The characteristics and maturity of the melons can also influence the susceptibility to foodborne pathogen contamination. The characteristics of the melon rind, specifically the netted surfaces (cantaloupes), create a favorable environment for bacteria to grow and make it difficult to remove pathogens (Fu et al. 2020; Walsh et al. 2014). The 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 (Walsh et al. 2014).

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. Six tables are presented, representing different melon types (Table 1, cantaloupe; Table 2, honeydew; and Table 3, watermelon), unspecified melon and mixed fruits including melon (Table 4), outbreaks suspected to be associated with different melon types, unspecified melon, and mixed fruits including melon (Table 5), and outbreaks associated with multiple foods including melons (Table 6).

 

Table 1. Outbreaks of foodborne disease associated with cantaloupe, 1997–2016*

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

b NR: Not Reported

*Table was last updated on 5-3-2021. The most recent data published by the CDC indicates that there have been no outbreaks since 2016.

Table 2. Outbreaks of foodborne disease associated with honeydew, 2003*

*Table was last updated on 5-3-2021. The most recent data published by the CDC indicates that there have been no outbreaks since 2003.

 

Table 3. Outbreaks of foodborne disease associated with watermelon, 1950–2017*

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

*Table was last updated on 5-3-2021. The most recent data published by the CDC indicates that there have been no outbreaks since 2017.

 

Table 4. Foodborne Illness Outbreaks Associated with Unspecified Melons and Mixed Fruit (including melon), 1998–2019*

*Table was last updated on 5-3-2021. The most recent data published by the CDC indicates that there have been no outbreaks since 2019.

Table 5. Foodborne illness outbreaks suspected to be associated with cantaloupe, honeydew, or watermelon or with unspecified melons, or mixed fruit (including melon), 1987–2017*

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

b NR: Not Reported

*Table was last updated on 5-3-2021. The most recent data published by the CDC indicates that there have been no outbreaks since 2017.

 

Table 6. Foodborne illness outbreaks associated with multiple foods (including melons), 2000–2016*

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

*Table was last updated on 5-3-2021. The most recent data published by the CDC indicates that there have been no outbreaks since 2016.

References

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Carstens, C. K., J. K. Salazar, and C. Darkoh. 2019. “Multistate Outbreaks of Foodborne Illness in the United States Associated with Fresh Produce from 2010 to 2017.” Frontiers in Microbiology 10 (November): 1–15. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2019.02667

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. Last accessed on 3-9-21. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00014966.htm

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. Last accessed on 3-9-21. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5146a2.htm

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. Last accessed on 3-9-21. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5639a3.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2008a. “Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Litchfield Infections Linked to Cantaloupe (Final Update).” Last accessed on 3-16-20. https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/2008/cantaloupes-4-2-2008.html

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. Last accessed on 3-9-21. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5728a4.htm

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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).” Last accessed on 3-9-21. https://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/micro/MRA_FruitVeges.pdf

Fu, Y., A. K. Bhunia, and Y. Yao. 2020. “Abrasive Brushing Reduces Pathogen Biofilms at Cantaloupe Rind Surface.” In International Journal of Food Microbiology 329:108685. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2020.108685

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McCollum, J. T., A. B. Cronquist, B. J. Silk, K. A. Jackson, K. A. O’Connor, S. Cosgrove, J. P. Gossack, et al. 2013. “Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Associated with Cantaloupe.” New England Journal of Medicine 369 (10): 944–953. https://doi.org/10.1056/nejmoa1215837

Mohle-Boetani, J. C., R. Reporter, S. Benson Werner, S. Abbott, J. Farrar, S. H. Waterman, and D. J. Vugia. 1999. “An Outbreak of Salmonella Serogroup Saphra Due to Cantaloupes from Mexico.” Journal of Infectious Diseases 180 (4): 1361–1364. https://doi.org/10.1086/314995

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. Last accessed on 3-9-21. http://www.cdc.gov/eis/downloads/2010.EIS.Conference.pdf

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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. Last accessed on 3-9-21. http://ucanr.edu/datastoreFiles/234-404.pdf

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 2009. “Chapter IV: Outbreaks Tables, Analysis and Evaluation of Preventive Control Measures of the Control and Reduction/Elimination of Microbial Hazards on Fresh and Fresh-Cut Produce; Outbreaks Associated with Fresh Produce: Incidence, Growth, and Survival of Pathogens in Fresh and Fresh-Cut Produce.” Last accessed 3-9-21. http://wayback.archive-it.org/7993/20170111183953/http:/www.fda.gov/Food/FoodScienceResearch/SafePracticesforFoodProcesses/ucm091265.htm

US Food and Drug Administration. 2013. “National Commodity-Specific Food Safety Guidelines for Cantaloupes and Netted Melons.” Last accessed 3-9-21. https://www.fda.gov/food/guidance-documents-regulatory-information-topic-food-and-dietary-supplements/produce-plant-products-guidance-documents-regulatory-information

Walsh, K. A., S. D. Bennett, M. Mahovic, and L. H. Gould. 2014. “Outbreaks Associated with Cantaloupe, Watermelon, and Honeydew in the United States, 1973–2011.” Foodborne Pathogens and Disease 11 (12): 945–952. Last accessed on 3-16-21. https://doi.org/10.1089/fpd.2014.1812

 

Peer Reviewed

Publication #FSHN14-11

Date: 8/4/2021

Fact Sheet
General Public

About this Publication

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. Revised August 2021. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Clara Morgan Diekman, graduate student, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center, Lake Alfred, FL; Matthew D Krug, state specialized agent, food science, UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, Immokalee, FL; Ashley T. Myers, former graduate student, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center, Lake Alfred, FL; Rachel McEgan, former research assistant, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center, Lake Alfred, FL; Keith R. Schneider, professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; and Michelle D. Danyluk, professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center, Lake Alfred, FL; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Contacts

  • Keith Schneider
  • Michelle Danyluk