by Marion Nestle
Sep 29 2011

Since when did cantaloupe become a WMD*?

Are you as puzzled about the latest cantaloupe outbreak as I am?  This time it’s Listeria again (see previous post on this particular pathogen).

According to the CDC, 72 people have been infected with the strains of Listeria associated with the outbreak in 18 states.  Most appalling,  13 people have died.

The CDC says that the people who have become ill range from 35 to 96 years, with a median age of 78 years.  Most are over age 60 or have health conditions that weaken the immune system.  Pregnant women are at especially high risk as are their fetuses.

As always, the recall occurred after most of the cases were reported to the CDC.  The cantaloupe were traced to Jensen Farms, which issued a recall on September 14.

Why cantaloupe?  They are, after all, grown in dirt and their skin is rough, textured, and has plenty of places for bacteria to hide.  People pick up Listeria by handling the fruit and cutting into it.  FDA’s information page lists the recalls and press releases on the Jenson Farms outbreak.

The FDA’s advice: throw it out.

Do not try to wash the harmful bacteria off the cantaloupe as contamination may be both on the inside and outside of the cantaloupe. Cutting, slicing and dicing may also transfer harmful bacteria from the fruit’s surface to the fruit’s flesh.

What do food safety experts say you have to go through to avoid getting sick from eating cantaloupe?

  • Wash the melon under running water with a clean vegetable brush.
  • Blot with paper towels to remove excess water.
  • Put melon on a clean surface, one that hasn’t come into contact with meat or poultry or other foods that could cause cross-contamination.
  • Cut off the stem end about 3/4 to 1 inch from the end, using a clean kitchen knife.
  • Place melon on a clean cutting board, plate, or other clean surface with the cut end facing down.
  • Using a clean knife, cut the melon from the blossom end to the stem end.
  • Follow this by washing the knife with clean running water and setting it aside.
  • Gently scrape out the seeds with a clean spoon and cut the melon into slices or whatever is desired.
  • Don’t use dish soap or detergent; cantaloupes can absorb detergent residues.
  • Do not allow the rind to touch any part of the edible fruit.
  • Melon that isn’t eaten should be peeled, covered and refrigerated.
  • Discard any melon that has been at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour when the temperatures are over 90 degrees F.
  • Follow these procedures for all melons, no matter where they were grown.

What?  No HazMat suit?

We are talking about cantaloupes here.

How about a food safety system where everyone makes sure—and tests—that Listeria don’t get on cantaloupe in the first place.

Single food agency anyone?


*Translation: Weapon of Mass Destruction

  • Way more deaths have been associated with fruits and vegetables than raw milk. Yet they treat raw milk like it is cocaine. How backwards things are in this country. Oh yeah, and turkey known to be dangerous is allowed to be sold. Truly effed up.

  • More problems with fruit and vegetables because the meat and dairy industry is spreading cow manure, untreated cow manure directly on fruits and vegetables. They have far too many cows for the size of their land to dispose of the waste. So these greedy and cruel exploiters sell it to be used untreated in great quantity on fruit and vegetable crops as fertilizer. Or they do it on their own land by use of rotator sprays. And our lying government covers it up while people die.

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  • Buy local from small organic farmers will help reduce the risk to foodborne illnesses and make our environment healthier! It is a sad day when we have to worry about cantelope, spinach, etc!

  • This is from Marion’s post on Listeria — she gives a link to it in her post above.

    “Animals and people often excrete Listeria from their digestive tracts, even when they show no signs of illness. The bacteria get into food from infected animal waste and unwashed hands.

    As a result, unpasteurized milk products and contaminated raw vegetables are frequent food sources. Other sources depend on yet another of Listeria’s nasty features – Listeria grows, reproduces and flourishes at refrigerator temperatures that stop other bacteria cold.

    This explains why the CDC strongly advises pregnant women not to eat potentially undercooked foods stored in refrigerators: hot dogs, lunch meats, deli meats, patés, meat spreads and smoked seafood (salmon, trout, lox, jerky); soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, those with blue veins, and especially Mexican “queso blanco fresco”; and raw milk or foods containing unpasteurized milk.”

  • Ms.M

    WMD = ?

  • @Green
    i would love to hear more how the meat and dairy farmers are responsible. i am against CAFO but wonder are they selling manure as being “treated” when it really isn’t?

    also, untreated manure is what is best for the soil. it has life….that is what a healthy soil needs. treated manure is dead and not nearly as effecxtive. any manure should be added to soil months before planting and should never be applied directly onto plants. farmers who do this with treated or untreated shit are stupid and negligent.

  • Chuck – they do not bother to say it is treated — they sell raw untreated manure using the same argument you have used — that it is good for us just like their doped up cow flesh.

    From Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
    “The major cause for the rise in antibiotic-resistant pathogens is clear: the overuse of antibiotics among animals on factory farms. Here’s how it works.

    Livestock producers place animals in overcrowded, unsanitary living conditions to maximize their output and profits. Then, to prevent the inevitable spread of disease from such conditions and to spur faster growth in the animals, they routinely add antibiotics to feed.

    In 2009, 80 percent of antibiotics administered in the United States were given to animals; of that, 70 percent was administered to healthy animals through routine feeding.”

  • OK, so why are the dairy and meat farmers responsible for what the produce farmers put on their plants? It’s kinda like saying McDonald’s is responsible for what goes into my mouth. I don’t eat at McDonald’s because I know it is bad for me. I don’t try to take shortcuts to good health because I know there really aren’t any.

    The produce farmers constantly try to take shortcuts and they are the one’s who are responsible for the safety of their products.

    BTW, the PCRM is the same group that got restaurants to use trans fats for cooking because they said they were safer than the alternative at the time.

  • john

    WMD= weapons of mass destruction

  • Chuck

    I suggest you send this email to the CDC.

    To: ‘’
    Subject: Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Whole Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Colorado

    I want to know more about Jensen farms and the below questions are not answered on the web.

    1. Is Jensen Farm strictly a produce farm or do they raise animals?

    2. Has Jensen Farm purchased fertilizer from other farms, that is, cow manure to spray on their land?

    3. What type of fertilizer does Jensen Farm use?

    4. Do the people who harvest have a place to wash their hands and go to the bathroom in the fields?

  • Dan

    I’m not convinced manure is likely a source of pathogens under normal conditions. Normally, one cannot put raw manure on plants as it actually hurts the plants. Manure, first, needs to be fermented. During the fermentation process, “good” microorganisms process the manure into products useable to plants. When this occurs, normally the material becomes saturated by the “good” microorganisms, which actually protects the manure from becoming inoculated by pathogens. It’s the same process you see in fermentation of food for preservation purposes (purposely provide the conditions to favor the growth of a non-pathogen to prevent access, growth, or survival by pathogens). It’s also why UV or processes that make food sterile ultimately are bad as there’s no innate protection mechanism against pathogens.

    The Listeria need not have come from animal food sources. Plants themselves are vectors for L. monocytogenes (see doi:10.1016/ and 10.1146/annurev.phyto.011708.103102, for example). Also, insects can carry L. monocytogenes.

    “Buy local from small organic farmers will help reduce the risk to foodborne illnesses and make our environment healthier!” Pathogenicity can happen in small farms, just as easily as large, and there are documented cases of such happening. Organic doesn’t help either. In fact, if one believes the use of animal byproducts is the most likely cause of pathogenicity, then it would follow that organic farming would be expected to be worse as manure is routinely used in organic farming as both compost and fertilizer.

    “Way more deaths have been associated with fruits and vegetables than raw milk.” Of course. That’s because far more people consume fruits and vegetables than raw milk (many people don’t consume milk at all, and purchasing of raw milk continues to be illegal in most states), and hopefully, even those who consume raw milk, consume far more fruits and vegetables per meal than milk.

    Finally, for those who advocate complete and total food testing, I’m curious as to the logistics of how one does so. How does one test every single food product? Plus, at what point does one do it? Obviously, if we test at the farm, there are several opportunities for the food to become contaminated downstream (processing, packaging, at the store itself). Also, the more humans involved in handling the food product itself increases the risk of infection.

  • The manure does sit in the manure lagoons fermenting before it is used but it is a myth that this destroys the listeria bacteria. Refrigeration does not destroy it. The idea that good bacteria from manure that has been fermented kills listeria is just another one of those ideas that get us dead. These are the facts from the CDC:

    “Listeria monocytogenes is commonly found in soil and water. Animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill and can contaminate foods of animal origin, such as meats and dairy products. ”

    What is also is true is that by the time the CDC comes to the farm to get evidence the source point is fully degraded. This means investigation conclusions are on the level of speculation and cannot be trusted.

    More and more citizens will die until consumers get serious and start demanding common sense and common decency in food production practices. This means first of all to end the cruel commodity treatment of animals. What goes around is coming around. Modern food producers are like the Pinto car company balancing their profit against our lives.

  • chuck


    what am i getting from that email to the CDC? are there answers or just questions? btw, i don’t believe the produce farmers are forced to use manure on their fields. or do CAFO farmers come dump shit in the middle of the night.

    as i said, i too am against CAFO but you are pointing the finger in the wrong direction. the cantaloupe farmers are the ones who are responsible for the safety of their crops.

  • Michael Bulger

    “In fact, if one believes the use of animal byproducts is the most likely cause of pathogenicity, then it would follow that organic farming would be expected to be worse as manure is routinely used in organic farming as both compost and fertilizer.”

    Raw manure use is routinely used in conventional farming as well. In fact, manure use in certified organic farming falls under federal regulations that limit raw manure use to specific time periods months prior to harvesting crops. Conventional farmers fall under no such regulation. It is false to assume that certified organic food is safe from risk, but it is inappropriate to say that organic farmers carry an elevated risk due to differences in manure handling.

  • Debbie Fox

    Marion: In your link to an earlier article about listeria and pregnant women, you state that 20 to 25 years ago listeria was virtually unheard of. Do I have that right?

  • Roxanne

    Greenconsciousness wrote:

    “I want to know more about Jensen farms and the below questions are not answered on the web.

    1. Is Jensen Farm strictly a produce farm or do they raise animals?

    2. Has Jensen Farm purchased fertilizer from other farms, that is, cow manure to spray on their land?

    3. What type of fertilizer does Jensen Farm use?

    4. Do the people who harvest have a place to wash their hands and go to the bathroom in the fields?”

    Jensens Farms is practically in my back yard, and I am pretty familiar with them.

    1. Jensen Farms only grows produce (canteloupe, alfafa, corn, and a variety of beans and summer squash).

    2 & 3: They use commercial compost and composted manure for fertilizer. They do not spray it on their land. It is tilled into the soil twice a year: at the end of the season before the fields go dormant and 4 weeks before planting in the early spring when the ground is thawed enough to do so. The fields are usually not fertilized during the growing season, unless in conditions of drought, which hasn’t been the case for Southern Colorado for the last 3-4 years.

    4. Bathroom facilities (port-a-potties) are located at the perimeters of the fields, and more are brought in during the harvest. Running water, however, is not plumbed out to the fields (but are located in all processing, sorting, and packing buildings). Farm workers are required to carry hand sanitizer with them at all times in the fields.

    I would like to point out that at this time it is not known where the Listeria came from. Listeria lives naturally in soil, and can be spread around in fields by wild life. It’s a knee jerk reaction to say it came from manure.

    I would also like to point that Jensen Farms is in NO way affiliated with Big Ag. They are a small family farm that has been in operation for 3 generations. They do belong to a Farm Cooperative that works to market and distribute agriculture products from Southern Colorado across the region. Cantaloupe grown in the region is highly prized for being extra sweet and juicy (and it is), and Jensen farms now grows about 40% of the cantaloupe that is grown for regional distribution.

    Stop vilifying the family farmer. Small farms can’t control everything that goes on in their fields. Produce is grown in dirt, with exposure to wild life and all sorts of elements. It has its risks just like everything else in life. This is why you wash produce well. Even melons.

    Do you know what happens when you try to grow crops in sanitized (even bordering on the edge of sterilized) environments? Go look at what Del Monte and Con Agra are now requiring of their produce growers. It’s downright disheartening. It about 10 years, most of our farm land will be dead. Unfortunately, the public continues to demand “safe” food (more like sanitized food), so this is what we get to deal with: mass extermination of wild life, increased use of chemical fertilizers (because, you know, manure just doesn’t cut it anymore–even though it’s been used in agriculture for thousands of years), and the use of sanitizer agents on crops (and no one is talking about what those are).

    The Jensen brothers certainly never meant for anyone to get sick from their produce, and I certainly hope this outbreak doesn’t put them out business.

  • @roxanne

    you are right. many large farms literally kill everything in their soil for sanitation purposes. this then requires the use of dangerours artificial fertilizers. eventually that field will no longer be useable and will end up being a desert.

    that is why pasture based animal farming is becoming so popular. it is sustainable in that the animals fertilize their own food. they eat grass, poop and pee on it. then they come back months later to healthy ground with plentiful grass. it is a sustainable cycle that requires no manure ponds.

  • Margeretrc

    About raw milk and listeria. I do not drink raw milk because my daughter made me promise not to and she is a vet. But I also know that her fear of raw milk is largely based on practices that occur more on industrial dairy farms than on sustainable farms where the dairy cows are free to roam the pastures. She and her vet friend both told me that all that is needed to prevent listeria from getting into milk is for the farmer to thoroughly clean the rear end and udder of the cow before milking–something any reputable raw milk seller would assuredly do. Know where your raw milk comes from and what their practices are and avoid problems! As to listeria in cantaloupe, the only way it could get to the edible portion of the cantaloupe is if it were carried there by the knife or fingers of someone who didn’t practice basic sanitary procedures while handling the fruit. It’s always easy to blame someone else for one’s own carelessness, but we need to take responsibility for our own welfare! I give the Jensen farms credit for recalling their cantaloupe, at no doubt great financial loss, and hope they continue to stay in business. I, on the other hand, will just make sure I wash my cantaloupe and hands before cutting it!

  • Cathy Richards

    I haven’t looked at the reports on this outbreak. Can anyone tell us if the people getting ill were eating home-cut canteloupe (and consuming right away), or commercially cut canteloupe (which would give a longer incubation period)?

    Also, how does listeria get INSIDE an intact melon — as per the FDA warning — does it grow with listeria inside it, or is it contamination due to damage to the rind?

  • Mary

    Would irradiation have helped to prevent illness and death in this case?

    And by the way, for those wondering–I’ve seen info on the fertilizers at Maryn McKenna’s blog.

  • Michael Bulger


    The cantaloupe is a porous fruit. We might expect pathogens to be able to pass through the rind or blossom end and survive within the cantaloupe.

  • Roxanne

    Thanks for the information — it is a good start for further investigation. Hand sanitizers, immigrant workers, a whole story untold. I think you and I have different definitions of small farms.

    “Barbara Mahon: As I understand it, the (Jensen) farm is actually in Granada, and the corporate offices are in Holly, Colorado.”

    The small farmers I know do not have corporate offices.

    Please don’t tell me not to blame. What you call blame, I call self defense. You are protecting your source of income and your neighbors. I am protecting my life.

    I eat fruits and vegetables — mostly raw. The ever increasing deaths and mass outbreaks of illness are directly related to farming practices. I use the same soil you do and no one dies eating food from my garden. I do not use animal fertilizer nor do I use toxic pesticides or any pesticide. You and your kind of farmers with their corporate offices want large yields and are justifying whatever that takes. Your contempt for people wanting safe food is why we consumers need to organize against “farmers” with your attitude toward the consumer.

    I hope that someday, at least in the US, we (small producers and consumers) can arrive at safe organic farming practices that do not involve the use of crowed, exploited, diseased animals and animal waste product. I would vote to subsidize these farms.

    And yes, there will still be accidents. But not in the numbers we are experiencing today. Until then consumers must protect their selves because your kind of farmer will not stop using exploited animal waste to increase production voluntarily. And they and you will justify it until the amount of people it kills puts them out of business. And then the only people left farming will be the Del Monte kind of farmers.


    Thanks for that link to McKenna – her post was also instructive. I am glad fertilizer is being inspected.

  • Colorado happens to be only one of ten states that is funded by CDC for food net approach to rapidly identifying and intervening with potential foodborne illness. And part of the safety modernization act is the continued enhancement of the ability to track foodborne situations.

    The situation has gotten more challenging and more important to do rapid, quick identification of contaminated food. The number of multistate outbreaks of foodborne illness has increased substantially in recent years.

    In this year alone, this is the 12th large multistate outbreak of a foodborne illness that the CDC has identified. This is a reflection at least of better quality monitoring and perhaps also of the increasing complexity and centralization of the food supply.

  • Roxanne


    I’m not a farmer, just someone who supports Colorado agriculture, so I don’t know what your point is with your use of “farmers of my kind” (honestly comes off as militant vegan). Jenson Farms is not corporate. They have an office in Holly because that’s where the Jensen family lives and where their home farm is. They lease fields all around the area. Most farmers lease other land to make sure they have enough land for crop rotation. I think the person who used the word corporate was mistaken.

    Kinda confused about this statement: “And then the only people left farming will be the Del Monte kind of farmers.”

    What does that mean? You want Del Monte to win?

    If farmers can’t use composted manure (Trust me, most organic farmers who grow commercial crops do use composted manure. They can’t produce enough viable produce for sale without it), then what should they use? They can’t get their hands on enough garbage-made compost for their needs and it’s expensive to boot. How else do we put manure to use? Animals are going to exist whether we use them for food or not. What do we do with all their waste? It’s got to go somewhere, better to have it for productive use then have it sit around, stink, and rot.

    Also, getting sick from garden raised produce isn’t unheard of, especially in areas with large amounts of wildlife. Here in Colorado, the health departments and extension offices highly recommend that gardeners fence in their gardens to at least 6inches underground with chicken wire to keep wildlife out (which includes, deer, elk, antelope, fox, coyote, skunk, porcupine, etc), not only to protect the garden from being eaten but also to prevent wildlife from spreading untreated waste around (i.e. their own) which is known to carry a smorgusboard of pathogens. They also recommend that all produce (both garden and commercial) be washed in a saline solution to aid in the removal of pathogens and insects.

    Fencing in large tracts of fields for farm use to keep wild life out is only feasible for the likes of Del Monte and Con Agra (which is exactly what they are doing, along with exterminating rodents and other small animals that venture into fields).

    I am all for organic farming. I support it with as much of my food dollars as I can. What I am not for is requiring farmers to go against the opposite of what 4000 years of agricultural practice tells us is the best methods for farming. I am not for fields and farms becoming sterilized operations where everyone must live in fear of the mighty pathogen. I am NOT for farmers being strong armed into mandates that will either push them out of business or leave their farms withering and dying. We have few family farms in this nation as it is. If we want to break the monopoly that Big Ag has on this country, we cannot make it harder for small farms to survive, and we can’t drive away would-be-future farmers either.

    So tell me, Greenconsciousness, exactly how would you run a commercially viable organic farming operation that produces clean and sanitary produce? Commercially viable being the key term.

  • Plenty of people are running actual small organic operations without killing people. Jensen’s is NOT a small family farm. Jensen’s is your kind of farmer. That is what I mean. So I hope you continue eating the food they produce.

    Here in WI, factory farms are gaining permits calling themself third generation family farmers. The third generation must be where the rot starts.

    What I would do is continue to develop a system of CSAs wherein the local operation is supported and regulated by the surrounding community’s owner/users. I support supplementing that system with urban garden agriculture. It is already happening and no one is dead.

    I am sorry you think community gardens are killing people. I know this is not true. You are speculating in the hope you can prove that food deaths are inevitable so we should just relax and enjoy it.

    I do not want to be too certain of things. Often the after field production will be the source point for disease although Listeria has not been documented in melons previously. But I resent the use of animal waste, untreated animal waste from overcrowded diseased factory farmed animals, being used in the production of fruit and vegetables. And yes it is being sprayed in fields at all times of the year when they need to get rid of it and yes I do want mandates and regulation to stop it.

    Some very few states, states including WI, have that regulation but the factory farms lobby for elimination of those regulations. First they get their permits, then they set up their 5- 10,000 cow/pig operations, then they use their money to eliminate environmental regulations. Then they spray whenever they need to get rid of their waste.

    No we should not let it rot in manure lagoons. We should reduce the size of the herds to what the earth can support without spreading disease. We should educate people so the demand for meat and dairy is drastically reduced. We should reduce overpopulation of all kinds and deal with waste in a sustainable way.

    We should get over denial in the service of greed. This would mean a reversal in ethics and policy. So I suppose we will simply have to let the bodies pile up until people are forced to change.

  • Roxanne

    “I am sorry you think community gardens are killing people. I know this is not true. You are speculating in the hope you can prove that food deaths are inevitable so we should just relax and enjoy it.”

    My gosh, over-dramatic much? I said no such thing at all. All I said is that no one should think their own home grown produce is 100 percent safe, because it’s not. Nothing involving nature ever is. Though death is not a likely-hood, sometimes illness is.

    They are documented cases of small, localized outbreaks of food borne illnesses that have been linked to family and community gardens. It is indeed rare, but it does happen, to say it doesn’t happen is wrong. I pointed this out simply to illustrate that nothing involving agriculture is ever without risk.

    I’m no fan of CAFO’s and would like to see them outlawed for good, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon. Our nation is thoroughly greedy when it comes to animal products.

    You also wrote:

    “Plenty of people are running actual small organic operations without killing people”

    Of course they are. I didn’t say they weren’t, but they’re still using composted manure. Go ask them. You’re linking the use of composted manure to food borne illness, and I call balderdash on that since most farmers use it *without* killing people.

    You never did address my last question, you just raked around it.

  • Dan

    Hope this isn’t inappropriate, but Michael Bulger, are you Professor Nestle’s graduate student?

  • Cathy Richards

    Does anyone know if the canteloupe involved was sold whole or cut in half? Fresh or sold as pre-cut fruit salad ingredient?

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