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On-Farm and Postharvest Processing Sources of Bacterial Contamination to Melon Rinds

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Abstract:

Multistate and international foodborne illness outbreaks, particularly involving cantaloupe and often involving rare Salmonella spp., have increased dramatically over the past 13 years. This study assessed the sources and extent of melon rind contamination in production fields and at processing and packing facilities. In the spring of 1999, cantaloupe (Cucumis melo L. [reticulatus group] cv. Cruiser) sampled from two sites in the Rio Grande River Valley showed that postharvest-processed melon rinds often had greater plate counts of bacterial contaminants than field-fresh melons. Cantaloupe in the field had 2.5 to 3.5 log CFU g-1 rind total coliforms by aerobic plate counts, whereas washed melons had 4.0 to 5.0 log CFU g-1. In the fall of 1999, coliforms on honeydew melons (C. melo [inodorous group] cv. Honey Brew) ranged from 2.6 to 3.7 log CFU g-1 after processing, and total and fecal coliforms and enterococci never fell below 2.5 log CFU g-1. A hydrocooler at another site contaminated cantaloupe rinds with up to 3.4 log CFU g-1 total and fecal enterococci; a secondary rinse with chlorinated water incompletely removed these bacteria. Sources of coliforms and enterococci were at high levels in melon production soils, especially in furrows that were flood irrigated, in standing water at one field, and in irrigation water at both sites. At one processing facility, wash water pumped from the Rio Grande River may not have been sufficiently disinfected prior to use. Because soil, irrigation water, and process water were potential sources of bacterial contamination, monitoring and management on-farm and at processing and packing facilities should focus on water quality as an important control point for growers and packers to reduce bacterial contamination on melon rinds.

Keywords:

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service Animal Waste Pathogens Lab, 10300 Baltimore Avenue, Building 001, Room 140, BARC-West, Beltsville, Maryland 20705 2: U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service Kika de la Garza Subtropical Agricultural Research Center, Crop Quality and Fruit Insects Research Unit, 2413 East Highway 83, Building 200, Weslaco, Texas 78596, USA 3: U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service Animal Waste Pathogens Lab, 10300 Baltimore Avenue, Building 001, Room 140, BARC-West, Beltsville, Maryland 20705

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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