Cantaloupes and Listeria: Bacteria on the Peel
The 2011 outbreak of listeria from cantaloupes killed 18 people and infected at least 100. This was one of the worst outbreaks of listeria from a commercial food.
While most of the news relating to the listeria (listeriosis) outbreak have insinuated that the cantaloupe contents contain listeria, this is not the case. The bacteria that causes listeria, Listeria monocytogenes, has been found on the outside peels of the Rocky Ford brand of cantaloupes.
Cantaloupe peel was vector of infection
The vector – or pathway – for infection projected by the Centers of Disease is via cutting the unwashed or poorly washed melon. The theory is that the knife brings the bacteria into the inside of the melon, where it is eaten.
While washing the outside rind has been advised in all cases, it has been suggested that the cantaloupe rind be washed very thoroughly.
The outbreak has infected people in 20 states, according to the CDC, including Alabama (1), Arkansas (1 case) California (1 case), Colorado (30 cases), Idaho (1 case), Illinois (1 case), Indiana (2 cases), Kansas (7 cases), Maryland (1 case), Missouri (3 cases), Montana (1 case), Nebraska (6 cases), New Mexico (13 cases), North Dakota (1 case), Oklahoma (11 cases), Texas (14 cases), Virginia (1 case), West Virginia (1 case), Wisconsin (2 cases), and Wyoming (2 cases). These of course, are only the reported cases.
This outbreak of listeria has claimed the lives of 18 people according to the CDC, with 100 infections.
However, thousands of people have likely consumed the pathogen. Why only 100 infections reported, and why so few deaths from this deadly bacteria species?
The CDC implied who the infection affects in its October 4 statement:
“CDC recommends that consumers not eat Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupe from Jensen Farms. This is especially important for older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women.”
In other words, some people are more susceptible because that have weaker immune systems.
Avoiding foodborne infections
Stronger immune systems, primarily means stronger probiotic colonies. Research indicates that those with poor or weakened probiotic colonies will also have weakened immune systems. Our probiotics make up at least 70% of our digestive immunity. This was also the case with the German E. coli outbreak.
Then there are simple sanitary strategies. These include not just washing our hands before eating. They also include washing fruits before we eat them.
When it comes to eating a fruit with a thick peel, this means thoroughly washing the peel before slicing into the fruit. This is because the bacteria on the peel will be introduced into the fleshy part of the fruit through the knife entry.
CDC, October 4, 2011 Report: Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Whole Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Colorado