In 2011, across the U.S. there were zero fatalities from shark attacks or terrorist attacks. There were 26 fatalities due to lightning strikes. At the top of the list? Cantaloupes! That's right, cantaloupes grown on Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado were the source of an outbreak of Listeriosis monocytogenes food poisoning across 28 states, resulting in 147 confirmed cases and 33 fatalities! Thats more than sharks, lightning and terrorist attacks combined. The FDA investigation determined that four separate strains of Listeria were found on farm services including: used corroded farming equipment, the plant floor, in water pooled on the farm's conveyor belt and by leaving out an important chlorination stage to kill bacteria. It was theorized that Listeria was possibly introduced to the farm by a "dump truck used to take culled melons to a cattle farm." The owners of the farm pled guilty to six charges of introducing tainted cantaloupe into interstate commerce and declared bankruptcy.
These melons were conveyed to the public via grocery stores and through broad line food distributors to restaurants. The pathogen Listeria monocytogenes can be destroyed by heating a food to 165º F in the cooking process, however cantaloupe is a fresh fruit typically served raw and cold under 41ºF. The FDA advises “to wash all fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking," even if you plan to peel the produce first. Scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush to reduce pathogens to a safe level to the average consumer, though infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems might still be at risk. The average person at home ,or untrained cook in a restaurant, is likely to not scrub a cantaloupe with a brush under clean water since melons generally have a “clean” appearance and the Listeria pathogen on the melon skin can only be viewed under a microscope and not with the naked eye. Another issue is that many people figure that since the melon is peeled and the skin is discarded, there is no threat. However, when the peeling knife’s blade pierces the skin, it transfers the pathogen directly to the edible flesh of the melon which is then consumed by the end user.
A restaurant can better protect its customers, its business and its reputation by training its employees in food safety and by having an effective food protection program. Check out Restaurant Class's Food Safety Classes:
*William Neuman (October 19, 2011). "Listeria Outbreak Traced to Cantaloupe Packing Shed". New York Times.