At least six Iowans are among more than a hundred people who are sick in a salmonella outbreak that’s spread across 20 other states. Two deaths are reported from the outbreak in Kentucky. Iowa’s chief epidemiologist, Patty Quinlisk, says the illnesses were first thought to be linked to cantaloupes grown in Indiana, but that may not be the case.
Dr. Quinlisk says, “We link people who’ve gotten sick with the exact same bacteria, so we have six people, maybe seven, with the exact same bacteria but as far as we can tell right now, only two of them even ate cantaloupe and we don’t know where that cantaloupe came from yet.”
The cases in Iowa are not from a particular metro area and Quinlisk says they’re scattered across the state. She says all of the Iowans are recovering and none were in life-threatening condition. Nationwide, more than 30 people have been hospitalized.
While health officials in Kentucky and Indiana believed they’d traced the exact cause of the outbreak to those cantaloupes, Quinlisk says that’s still a mystery. “Sometimes these bacteria are not that uncommon and there can be multiple places that people can get it from, especially with these more common strains,” Quinlisk says.
“That’s what we’re investigating. I don’t know yet quite what’s going on. Sometimes people just don’t remember eating a certain food, but sometimes it’s that they actually didn’t eat that food and they got exposed to that bacteria someplace else.” Cantaloupes, watermelons and other types of melons lay on the ground as they grow and they’re susceptible to this sort of issue, so Quinlisk says Iowans should follow a strict procedure when preparing them.
“The safest way of handling any of these melons is to wash off the surface before you cut it,” she says. “Once you cut it, either eat it immediately or put the part you’re not eating in the refrigerator. You don’t want these sitting out on your counter. The inside of a melon is the perfect place for these bacteria to grow.”
This outbreak comes just a week after a North Carolina-based farm recalled 189-thousand cantaloupes and honeydew melons in ten states due to fears of listeria. A listeria outbreak blamed on cantaloupes grown in Colorado last fall killed at least 34 people. To learn more, call 888-SAFE FOOD or visit the website: www.fda.gov.