(May 28) You’ll go one step further in helping ensure the health of your customers if you take a second look at fresh-cut melons. Carefully review and monitor your handling and preparation procedures for these fresh-cut classics to make sure you’re doing all you can to offer the safest product possible.
Cantaloupe and watermelons have been associated with several outbreaks of foodborne illnesses during the past 12 years. Forty-six illnesses, including two deaths, in 14 states were reported in the most recent outbreak in April and May of last year, according to a “Produce Safety at Retail” report issued by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, College Park, Md. Many of the illnesses reported a unique strain of the bacteria salmonella poona and were associated with cantaloupe consumption.
For most of these outbreaks, it was assumed that salmonella was present on the rind of the fruit, according to another FDA/CFSAN report about how to reduce and eliminate microbial hazards on fresh-cut produce.
This assumption indicates that the fruit was either contaminated in the field or during washing in a packinghouse and that the edible portion inside became contaminated during its final preparation. Factors such as improper storage temperatures and favorable conditions on the surfaces of cut melon pieces also likely contributed to the outbreaks, the report says.
“Melon is the only fresh-cut product that is classified as potentially hazardous,” says Jim Gorny, technical director for the International Fresh-cut Produce Association, Alexandria, Va. “Melons grow on the ground. They have an intimate contact with dirt.”
That relationship illustrates the importance your staff should take to ensure that potential bacteria, viruses and parasites on the outside of the fruit are not transported by the knife cutting through the rind and into the flesh.
MONITOR HANDLING PRACTICES
For basic food safety training, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, Chicago, offers a new food safety training program called ServSafe Essentials for Supermarkets. The program is based on one developed for restaurants and foodservice.
“We have taken ServSafe Essentials for Food Service and added supermarket examples and photos. We are putting a supermarket spin to it,” says LeAnn Chuboff, NRA manager of science and regulatory relations. The new supermarket version contains information targeted toward produce, deli and bakery departments. It includes case studies, exercises, resources and updates to the FDA’s 2001 Food Code.