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Salmonella and rockmelon - Q&A

In 2016 FSANZ coordinated a national trade-level recall of rockmelons from a particular supplier. The recall was in response to increased cases of people falling ill from Salmonella Hvittingfoss, traced back to contaminated rockmelons from a single farm. The following information was issued at the time.

(August 2016)

Why has a warning about consuming rockmelons been issued?

Salmonella Hvittingfoss has been detected on the surface of some rockmelons that were sampled from a retail outlet in South Australia by South Australia Health.
This sampling was conducted in response to an investigation of a cluster of cases of Salmonella Hvittingfoss. Although case interviews are continuing, consumption of rockmelon is common to many of the cases.

What action has been taken?

A food recall has been instigated by Red Dirt in the Northern Territory – the company that produces the rockmelons that were found to be positive for Salmonella at the retail outlet in South Australia.
State and territory enforcement agencies have advised that they have worked with the company to remove all affected product from distribution.

What should I do?

Not every person who eats the affected rockmelons will get sick.
Only some rockmelons are affected by this issue.
If you have rockmelons at home, and you do not know their source, it’s best not to eat them as a precaution. This especially applies to young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.
If you are feeling unwell and suspect you have consumed affected product, please seek medical attention.

Are there any particular shops or brands I should be avoiding?

The only rockmelons affected by the food recall are sourced from Red Dirt in the Northern Territory. If you have rock melons in your home and do not know the source, either check with your retailer or dispose of them as a precautionary measure.
If you are unsure about products currently for sale, ask your retailer.
State and territory enforcement agencies have advised that they have worked with the company to remove all affected product from distribution.
These products were available for purchase nationally at a variety of retailers including large and small supermarkets, and fruit and vegetable grocery stores. It is also possible that they may have been used by food service businesses, such as restaurants and cafes, childcare centres and aged care facilities. These premises are advised to either check with their place of purchase for the source of their rock melons, or dispose of them as a precaution.

What is a salmonella illness?

Salmonella illness is one of the most commonly reported gastrointestinal diseases and is notifiable in all Australian states and territories. It can cause mild to severe symptoms and can potentially be fatal. Common symptoms may include abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhoea, mild fever, vomiting, dehydration and headaches. The usual time it takes from eating a contaminated food to becoming unwell is 24–48 hours (but it can range between 8–72 hours) and symptoms typically last for 2–7 days.
People of all ages are susceptible to Salmonella illness. However, infants (under 5 years of age), the elderly, pregnant women and other people with compromised immune systems are at a greater risk of illness and generally have more severe symptoms.
Further information on Salmonella is available in the FSANZ Agents of Foodborne Illness publication.

How did the rockmelons get contaminated?

The surface of rockmelons can become contaminated by dirty water, direct contact with fertiliser, pests or animals in the field, or if they are not properly washed before sale.
Rockmelons also have a wrinkled surface that can potentially trap bacteria, and when it is cut, the bacteria can be transferred to the inside of the fruit, which is a perfect place for bacterial growth.

What else can I do in future?

Do not buy melons that are bruised or damaged.
If buying fresh-cut produce, make sure it is properly refrigerated. Fresh produce should be refrigerated within 2 hours of peeling or cutting. Leftover fresh-cut produce should be discarded if it’s been left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Wash hands with warm soapy water before and after handling rockmelons.
Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after they’ve been in contact with fresh produce, raw meat, poultry, raw eggs or seafood.

What advice is given to businesses that use rockmelon within their operations?

Food businesses that use or sell rockmelon should check where their produce comes from and be confident it is safe and suitable.

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