What is it about cantaloupe farms that seem to be so ripe for pathogen outbreaks? It’s not that it happens exceedingly often, but even a couple of times can be enough to get noticed by the media. This week an investigation is underway to find the source of a Salmonella outbreak that has already killed two people and sickened at least 150 more in Indiana, Kentucky, and Minnesota.
According to Reuters, the outbreak is thought to have started in early July and has been linked to cantaloupes originally grown in Indiana, with identical strains of the pathogen showing up on cantaloupes in consumers found ill in Kentucky. The number of cases has reportedly shot way above normal incidental levels:
"Usually the pattern is to see outbreaks in the summer. But we're seeing about double the number of cases this year," said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh of Kentucky's Department for Public Health.
Officials from both states are currently looking into the cantaloupes’ supply chain route to determine whether the cantaloupes were contaminated during production or processing. In the meantime the Associated Press reports that health officials have warned Indiana residents to get rid of any cantaloupes purchased on after July 7 (and if your cantaloupe was purchased on July 7, that’s pretty old and maybe you should just throw it out anyway). Meanwhile, the Kentucky Department of Public Health has reportedly warned citizens to stay away from cantaloupes labeled as grown in Indiana.
The last major outbreak of this sort occurred last year, when Colorado-grown cantaloupe tainted with Listeria killed and sickened dozens in what’s considered the most devastating food borne pathogen outbreak in recent U.S. history. So far this current outbreak isn’t up to the scale of the Jensen Farms incident, but any outbreak that leads to even one consumer death is a tragedy. With any luck, officials will be able to track down the source of the outbreak soon and stop it in its tracks.