531-D North Alta Ave., Dinuba, CA 93618
Dear California Cantaloupe Customer:
The tragic foodborne illness outbreak which recently occurred in Europe is a clear reminder that we
must all be vigilant in our efforts to protect public health. The California cantaloupe industry is
extremely committed to ensuring our products are not involved in any foodborne illness outbreak and
we are continually taking action to ensure the safety of our cantaloupes.
California-grown cantaloupes have never been associated with a foodborne illness outbreak.
Nevertheless, California cantaloupe producers are working to learn more about the specifics of our
potential food safety challenges and how we can maintain this excellent safety record. Over the past
two years, the California Melon Research Board has devoted significant research dollars to examine
potential risk factors within the growing conditions of the central San Joaquin Valley. The research
objectives are prioritized to protect public health and minimize the likelihood of contamination of our
cantaloupes by pathogens in the field and at shipping point.
Renowned food safety scientist Dr. Trevor Suslow of the University of California, Davis has conducted a
series of tests both in commercial field settings as well as in greenhouses to analyze how pathogens,
particularly Salmonella, could potentially find their way into packed melon.
What Dr. Suslow has learned is very good news. Despite exaggerated, worst case attempts at
introducing pathogens to experimental cantaloupe plots in the open field, there was no internalization
of Salmonella to fruit via uptake through the roots. Interestingly, in more controlled greenhouse tests it
was possible to observe Salmonella uptake, but the pathogen died off in a matter of days. In fact, this
phenomenon is currently being further studied by Dr. Suslow as part of a Center for Produce Safety
project to determine if other plants related to cantaloupes also have this same capacity to ward off
Salmonella pathogens systemically. This will be an interesting study to watch and may be a key to
understanding how natural controls are functioning to limit and restrict internalization of pathogens via
uptake from irrigation or the soil.
So, while uptake of pathogens via the root system seems a highly unlikely possibility for California
cantaloupes, Dr. Suslow further examined the effects of introducing extremely high levels of pathogens
into the furrows of cantaloupe fields to determine if Salmonella could be detected on the surface of the
fruit by transference during production. Dr. Suslow found that there was no detectable transference to
fruit on the plant bed surface and no internalization of pathogens from the surface of the fruit
developing in direct contact with the soil.
The conclusion of Dr. Suslow’s extensive work is that , although there is research data showing
pathogen survival in the hot, arid environment of central California growing areas is possible, it very rare
and in very low numbers. In addition, growing practices designed to keep the fruit and plant beds dry
work to prevent contamination of the product. In short, both research and practical experience show it
is very unlikely for cantaloupes produced in the central California valley to become contaminated with a
Still, it is crucial that all action be taken to ensure consumers are protected. Cantaloupes have been
shown in the past to harbor bacteria on their rough, netted surfaces and they can become contaminated
through exposure to pathogens during preparation at home and in foodservice operations. For this
reason, California cantaloupe farmers offer consumers helpful tips about cantaloupe food safety which
can be found on the website of the California Melon Research Board at www.cmrb.org. You may also
contact the California Melon Research Board to obtain copies of Dr. Trevor Suslow’s research reports
from 2009 and 2010.
The California cantaloupe industry has worked in conjunction with other producers throughout the
nation to develop commodity specific food safety guidance for the U. S. Food and Drug Administration.
These guidelines are continually updated with new research and will evolve as new science is available.
Meanwhile, California cantaloupe shippers are required by their marketing order to have a mandatory
traceback system in the event of a product recall. California cantaloupe shippers can tell you more
about their own individual food safety programs.
In the meantime, we encourage you to continue to ask questions and seek assurances that our products
are safe and healthy for your customers. If you would like more information, please contact the
California Cantaloupe Advisory Board at (559) 591-5715.
Steve Patricio, Chairman
California Cantaloupe Advisory Board