Sunday, August 19, 2012

Got Cantaloupe? What to Do During an Outbreak

Yesterday, I learned about another outbreak of bacterial illness caused by contaminated cantaloupes.  Chances are, if you live in the Midwest, you have heard about it; cantaloupes from Southern Indiana are the problem this time.  If you haven’t heard about this outbreak, here is a news article that lists the states where people have fallen ill.  In this article from the organization Food Safety News, you can see the same information as a graphic, and note that they have posted at least one update at the top of the article (I plan to check this article and website again for updates).

Cantaloupe by Brunhilde Reinig

My children love cantaloupe.  One of the reasons I am writing this post is because we bought a cantaloupe a week ago that is still sitting in my refrigerator.  The kids have asked me to cut it a couple of times, but I was waiting until we had finished eating other fruits.  As soon as I saw a news article about cantaloupes causing illness, I remembered our cantaloupe, and I sprang into action.  I’d like to share how I handle news about food illness outbreaks, particularly foods we have already bought.

Of course, the easiest thing to do is throw out any suspect food that might cause illness.  You absolutely should do this if you aren’t sure whether your cantaloupe is a problem.  Be especially cautious if you or anyone in your family is pregnant, breastfeeding, or immune suppressed (due to chronic illness, a serious infection, certain medications, youth, or age).  My family is in good health and I hate to waste food; also I’m curious about how food gets contaminated, so I always research before I take action about a food borne illness.  Here is how I do it.

5 Ways to Protect Your Family During a Food Illness Outbreak

No. 1: Pay attention to food news.
In order to protect your family, you need to know about the outbreak to begin with.  I try to get a little bit of news every day, and I use different news sources.  This ensures I get a wider variety of news, as well as makes it easier to get news on a daily basis.  I listen to National Public Radio in the car most days.  Sometimes, I watch local or national news while I make dinner.  Other times, I read the headlines on yahoo after I log off from my e-mail.  We subscribe to our city newspaper on Sundays, so I try to read through the paper when I have time during the week.  I learned about this particular cantaloupe illness, as well the one last year, from the yahoo headlines before I saw television news coverage.

No. 2: Research food related news further.
Once I learn about a food borne illness, I look for on-line articles and watch the news to get more information.  During this process, I usually learn about other food illnesses.  For example, both last year and this year, I learned about previous infectious outbreaks caused by cantaloupes that I had not heard about because they were smaller in scope.  Seeking good information is key.  In particular, I want to know where the food was grown and where people who are ill acquired the food.  See the links above for information on the current outbreak.

No. 3: Seek information on the food you have bought.
Once I learn which growers, suppliers, or people are affected, I check the stickers on my produce for information on origin.  If there is no sticker, not enough information, or we have recently eaten the food, I call the store where I bought it and speak to the produce manager.  I called last year and this year about the cantaloupes and each time, I was told the exact origin of the fruit I bought.  I had to wait while they confirmed the information, but I was happy to do so in order to have an accurate answer.  Fortunately, our cantaloupes were not infected.

No. 4: Wash your produce very well.
For protection against any outbreaks you may not know about, and to remove dirt, germs, and pesticide residue, always wash your produce well.  All of your produce should be washed, even if you intend to peel it.  This is particularly important for cantaloupes: their bumpy ridged rind is the perfect place for dirt and bacteria to hang out.  The rough skin on a cantaloupe can pick up and hold germs from any number of sources: irrigation water, agricultural animal run-off, wild animal feces, farm worker’s hands, and washing equipment.  Any bacteria on the rind can move through the fruit along with your cutting knife.

I use a vegetable brush to wash all of my produce.  Recently I have been washing just with water.  In the past, I used water with a few drops of dish soap, but after I switched to natural dish soap (hence no preservatives), the mixture got cloudy and I no longer trusted it.  A few days ago, my friend Karri shared a recipe for produce wash that uses water, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice.  I have heard about using ACV as a produce wash before, so you can bet I’ll be mixing up this new wash tomorrow and scrubbing my cantaloupe with it a couple of times.

No. 5: Cultivate a healthy immune response in your gut.
For protection against any illness, food borne or infectious, keep your gut flora (beneficial bacteria) flourishing.  Eat yogurt, kefir, and fermented foods daily.  Supplement with pro-biotics, especially during and after illness, while taking antibiotics, and when your stomach is upset.  Other foods that have anti-bacterial properties include oregano, garlic, ginger, and thyme.  Use these often in your cooking to help your immune system battle bacterial illnesses.

How do you handle news of food borne illness?  Will you be eating cantaloupe?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Amy at Raising Arrows hosts a weekly Welcome Home Link up focused on homemaking and related topics; you will find this post linked there this week. 

The many bloggers at The Better Mom host the Better Mom Mondays Link up for posts on “the topics of mothering, marriage, homemaking, discipleship, recipes, organization and more,” so I have also linked there.

Sarah at Nature’s Nurture hosts a weekly Tiny Tip Tuesday Link up for posts “pertaining to anything natural, frugal, sustainable, or homemade.”

I have linked up at Crafolic’s monthly Tea with Saint Anne Link up, which is for posts helpful to Catholic families.

Megan at Sorta Crunchy shares hosting duty for the weekly Your Green Resource Link up with three other blogs.  This link up is for green living: recycling, repurposing, do-it-yourself, organic gardening, and recipes using whole foods.

Ann Kroeker hosts a weekly Food on Fridays Link up, so I have also connected there, where you will find many links somehow (either casually or directly) related to food and recipes.


  1. What a great way to prepare for outbreaks. Because I seem to be allergic to melons of all kinds, I didn't have any melons in the house. But if we did, I'll bet they would have been from southern Indiana.

    By the way, I'm so sorry Food on Fridays was unavailable last week. I was locked out of my blog and unable to get in and publish anything at all. But thanks to my new tech support, it's live now, if you would like to join up this week. No pressure. I just wanted you to know.

    Have a healthy week!

  2. Thanks for visiting, Ann. Glad to know your family did not have infected melons. I have indeed linked up this week.

  3. Thank you for the reminder to wash our fruit and veggies before we cut them open. I have been rinsing well, but must consider to do the ACV wash.
    Lots of good healthy info here.!!

  4. Thanks for visiting, Hazel. I have been using the new wash this week. I just need to remember to pull it out of the refrigerator each time!

  5. Wonderful tips, Elisa! Thanks so much! I must admit: I can get rather "lazy" sometimes when it comes to washing my fruits and veggies! Thanks for the reminder!! God Bless!!

  6. I get lazy sometimes, too, but my children have started to remind me. They like to scrub with the brush.


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