Following foodborne outbreaks associated with Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) in cantaloupes in 2011, the FDA undertook an inspection and sampling assignment at cantaloupe packing houses and conducted laboratory-based research to help inform further discussions with state regulators and industry to reduce the likelihood of future foodborne illness.
The FDA conducted investigations and sampling at 17 packinghouses. Although this small sample size is not sufficient to draw conclusions about cantaloupe packing nationwide, the overall findings from the assignment were that as a general matter the packing houses were utilizing current food safety recommendations. Further work and discussions with the cantaloupe industry are ongoing.
In addition, FDA completed research on the practice of using water in the packing and cooling of cantaloupes. The risk of having Lm contaminate foods due to its presence in food facilities that utilize water is well known in many commodities (particularly dairy and luncheon meats). Previous research has also identified the potential for uptake of water by cantaloupe and certain other produce commodities in wet packing and cooling operations. FDA’s research confirms earlier findings on the ability for melons to take up water, while also providing additional details on the risks of pathogen infiltration into produce handled under environmental conditions similar to some wet cooling and packing operations used for cantaloupe.
FDA is continuing to work with industry and researchers on this important issue. We will use this as an opportunity to continue to research and work with industry and state regulatory colleagues to thoroughly examine current practices and controls in the cantaloupe harvesting, packing, and cooling processes. FDA remains confident in the overall safety of the food supply and continues to encourage consumers to eat a variety of fruits (including cantaloupes) and vegetables.
We are posting a report summarizing the results of visits to cantaloupe packinghouses and the research will be presented at the upcoming International Association for Food Protection meeting.