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June 2, 2000

Salmonella Outbreak Offers Food Safety Lesson - Wash Cantaloupe and other fruits before eating

From the South Dakota Department of Health

Pierre, SD.,  A salmonella outbreak in several western states is a good reminder to consumers of how important it is to wash the skins of unpeeled fruit before eating, says a state health official.

Consumption of tainted cantaloupe has been linked to at least 39 cases of salmonella in California, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada and Washington. Because cantaloupes are grown on the ground, their outer skin can become contaminated in the field by human or animal waste, or during distribution prior to sale, said Dave Micklos, Director of Health Protection for the Department of Health.

"Unless the cantaloupe rind is first scrubbed with soap and hot running water, slicing into it can contaminate the fruit," said Micklos. "Handle cantaloupe the same way you do raw meat - wash your hands before and after you work with it and refrigerate unused cut portions right away. In fact, all fruits and vegetables that aren't peeled should be washed."

Salmonella symptoms, which include fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea,generally occur one to three days after eating contaminated food and last two to five days. While most ill individuals recover without medical attention, the infection can be life threatening to young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.  Related story.

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