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Melons and Salmonella - what we know about the outbreak

 Annalisa Hultberg, Extension Educator, food safety 

Cantaloupes and Salmonella bacteria are in the news, as a major foodborne illness outbreak and recall has been ongoing related to this crop. Here is what we know.

What happened?

As of January 19th, 407 people in 44 states (including 29 in Minnesota) were infected with one strain of Salmonella. 158 (44%) of these cases resulted in hospitalization. 64 people in Canada were also sickened, and 7 deaths were reported. 

Whole Genome Sequencing analysis showed that clinical isolates from ill people in Canada were genetically related to the ill people in the United States. FDA’s traceback investigation identified Sofia Produce of Nogales, AZ; Crown Jewels Produce of Fresno, CA; and Dulcinea of Fresno, CA as suppliers of the potentially contaminated “Malichita” or “Rudy” brand cantaloupes. Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 15, 2023, to December 25, 2023. 

As of January 19th, the CDC and FDA have announced that the outbreak is officially over.

Illness numbers in the US related to the Salmonella in Cantaloupe outbreak
Source: CDC

In realty, due to the nature of foodborne illness outbreaks, the true number of illnesses caused were likely much higher. Many people do not report foodborne illnesses or seek medical attention, and therefore outbreaks are often significantly underreported. 

Illness numbers in the US related to the Salmonella in Cantaloupe outbreak
Source: CDC

The melons were both whole and pre-cut. Whole fresh cantaloupes with a label on the cantaloupe that says “Malichita” or “Rudy”, “4050”, and “Product of Mexico/produit du Mexique”.

Tracing the outbreak

As part of this investigation, FDA and industry partners worked together to collect and analyze samples of cantaloupe. Two of the samples were positive for Salmonella Sundsvall, and Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) analysis confirmed that the strain of Salmonella found in isolates associated with these two samples matched the same strain of Salmonella found in ill people. Industry’s cooperation in collecting and sharing samples with FDA for further analysis provided additional information that helped resolve this outbreak. 

At this time, the FDA has not released any information on the growers associated with the outbreak, or potential factors that may have led to the contamination. For more information on the outbreak investigation as details become available, see the FDA page here.

Symptoms of Salmonella infections

Most people infected with Salmonella experience diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.

Symptoms usually start 6 hours to 6 days after swallowing the bacteria.

Most people recover without treatment after 4 to 7 days.

Some people—especially children younger than 5 years, adults 65 years and older, and people with weakened immune systems—may experience more severe illnesses that require medical treatment or hospitalization.

For more information about Salmonella, see the CDC Questions and Answers page.

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