Are cantaloupes safe to eat? Deadly salmonella outbreak now over – National

A deadly salmonella outbreak linked to cantaloupes that killed nine Canadians appears to be over, health officials say.

The outbreak, which sent 68 Canadians to hospital between October and December last year, ended in January, Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) officials said in a health notice.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also declared an end to its outbreak on Jan. 19; six people died from it last year, and 158 people were hospitalized.

Investigation findings identified consumption of Malichita and Rudy brand cantaloupes as the likely source of the outbreak. The melons are grown in the Senora region of Mexico.

Click to play video: 'Cantaloupes recalled due to possible salmonella contamination'

Cantaloupes recalled due to possible salmonella contamination

In December, Mexico’s Health Department ordered the temporary closure of a melon-packing plant implicated in salmonella infections. However, last month, Mexican authorities said tests were negative for traces of salmonella, but added that a new analysis of water, product and surface samples in production and packaging plants would be carried out this month.

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PHAC said its investigation spread across nine provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued food recall warnings in November for Malichita brand cantaloupes sold between Oct. 11 and Nov. 14. On Nov. 24, the CFIA updated the food recall warning to also include Rudy brand cantaloupes sold between Oct. 10 and Nov. 24.

Click to play video: '7th Canadian dies from cantaloupe salmonella outbreak: PHAC'

7th Canadian dies from cantaloupe salmonella outbreak: PHAC

Additional secondary recalls were issued for products that were made using recalled cantaloupes, like fruit trays, and for produce that was processed alongside recalled cantaloupes such as honeydew, pineapple and watermelon.

“Through the CFIA investigation the outbreak strains of Salmonella that made people sick were found in samples of the recalled Malichita brand cantaloupe,” PHAC said.

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“The U.S. CDC also investigated an outbreak of Salmonella illnesses linked to cantaloupes that was the same genetic strain as illnesses reported in this outbreak.”

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The majority of the Canadians who became sick were children five years of age or younger (33 per cent), or adults 65 years of age or older (45 per cent). About half of the cases (55 per cent) were in females.

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: 3rd cantaloupe lawsuit filed in Canada'

Health Matters: 3rd cantaloupe lawsuit filed in Canada

Three proposed class-action lawsuits were filed over the outbreak.

Law firm Slater Vecchio filed a lawsuit in British Columbia against Malichita, and two U.S. food companies; it filed a similar suit in Quebec on behalf of a Montreal man who was hospitalized with salmonella, and said the proposed class action it filed in B.C. is on behalf of all people outside of Quebec who were affected by the outbreak.

Ontario-based law firm Siskinds also filed a proposed class-action lawsuit in Manitoba, alleging that a Sarnia, Ont., woman became sick after eating cantaloupe that she believes was tainted with salmonella.

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The claims have not been tested in court, and the proposed class actions must be certified to move ahead.

How to protect your health

Salmonella can seep into cantaloupe when people use compost or manure, or come into contact with farm animals, creating a pathway for the bacteria to contaminate the soil, Keith Warriner, a food safety professor at the University of Guelph, told Global News in December.

“The cantaloupe then gets laid down into the soil,” he said. “And the thing about salmonella, it lasts a long time.”

Click to play video: 'Cantaloupe salmonella outbreak: 6th Canadian dies with 153 related cases confirmed, PHAC says'

Cantaloupe salmonella outbreak: 6th Canadian dies with 153 related cases confirmed, PHAC says

When cantaloupes that are potentially exposed to salmonella are harvested, they then undergo a thorough washing process in a large tank, Warriner said.

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“This tank of water acts like an inoculation bath because you can’t wash salmonella off,” he said.

If the bacteria are on the cantaloupe’s skin, the process of cutting into the fruit then allows it to get into the flesh, creating an optimal environment for salmonella growth. It will continue to spread at room temperature, Warriner added, adding that the prolonged shelf life of cantaloupes contributes to the persistence of the bacteria.

Click to play video: 'What salmonella symptoms to watch out for as cantaloupe-linked outbreak kills 5 in Canada'

What salmonella symptoms to watch out for as cantaloupe-linked outbreak kills 5 in Canada

PHAC recommends not to eat, serve, use, sell or distribute any of the recalled cantaloupes bought between the timeframes mentioned, any products made with the recalled cantaloupes or any of the recalled produce.

“Check to see if you have any recalled cantaloupes, any products made with recalled cantaloupes, or any recalled produce in your freezer. If you do, throw them out and wash your hands,” PHAC said.

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“Clean and sanitize all surfaces and storage areas that recalled produce may have come in contact with, including countertops, containers, utensils, freezers and refrigerators.”

If you suspect you have contracted salmonella, PHAC recommends seeing a health-care provider.

Salmonella infection symptoms usually last four to seven days, and most people recover on their own without any medical treatment, the agency said.

Click to play video: 'Cantaloupe salmonella outbreak: Canada’s death toll rises to 5, says PHAC'

Cantaloupe salmonella outbreak: Canada’s death toll rises to 5, says PHAC

However, salmonella carries the risk of severe dehydration, and Warriner advises that if you’re concerned, head to the emergency room, where health-care providers can administer intravenous fluids.

“You need rehydrating. You might be drinking lots of things, but you’re being sick and not retaining fluids,” he said.

While the majority of salmonella infections typically resolve on their own, Warriner said in instances where the infection has gone beyond the intestines or when there’s an elevated risk of severe illness, antibiotics may be needed.

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— with files from Global News’ Katie Dangerfield and Reuters


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