By: Heather Williams
A healthy snack is not generally thought to send you to the bathroom, or the hospital for that matter. For 18 unfortunate individuals, that is exactly what they got. Fresh fruit trays sold at select grocers in Washington and Oregon are being indicated as the source of a Salmonella outbreak. The fruit trays involve those containing pre-cut watermelon, cantaloupe, and fruit mixes containing either watermelon and/or cantaloupe sold in both states.
The fruit was purchased between October 25, 2017 and December 1, 2017 a QFC, Fred Meyer, Rosauers, and Central Market stores located in Washington and Oregon. As a precaution, consumers are urged to not eat the fruit and to throw it away. Seven people in Snohomish County, Washington fell ill after consuming the product as well as five people in King County, Washington. One person in Yakima County, one in Mason County, one in Thurston County, and one in Pierce County in Washington also fell ill as well as two others in the state of Oregon. Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority confirmed that both people ill in Oregon, one in Multnomah County and one in Wasco County, had eaten fruit purchased from Fred Meyer and that the fruit products carried the Fred Meyer label.
The Investigation Continues
Investigators do not have a lot to go on at this time, other than interviews indicating the common food as a source. State Health Officials are working closely with state and federal partners to identify the source of the fruit.
The original source, where the product was cut and packaged, as well as other potential retailers who may also be carrying the tainted fruit are top priority in the investigation. This information can be used to minimize subsequent infections and stop the outbreak before it spreads.
Salmonella Newport is the common strain between the 18 ill people. This is a common foodborne pathogen strain of Salmonella sometimes found infecting fruit products. Across both states, illness began November 15, 2017. While most normally health people recover without treatment, others may become more severe and require testing and treatment. Health authorities expect additional cases to emerge.
The Washington Department of Health sent out a public notice of the Salmonella Newport outbreak last week. As a result, Fred Meyer grocery stores pulled the pre-cut watermelon and cantaloupe products from store shelves as a precaution. Jeffry Temple, spokesman for Fred Meyer issued a statement: “Our highest priority is our customer’s safety and the safety of our food.” He continues, “We will continue to work closely with state and federal health officials on their investigation to determine the source of this outbreak.”
Why is Cut Food a Higher Risk?
The peel or rind of fruits provide a protective barrier, preventing disease causing bacteria from entering the flesh. Bruises, nicks, and cuts in this barrier leave the fruit vulnerable to pathogens, allowing them to enter areas that you cannot clean. Have you ever washed slices of orange? How about cut melon? It doesn’t work too well.
Unwashed fruits, even those where the rind or peel is not consumed, carry risk for infection. Particularly in cut fruits. While you might be tossing that peel or rind, the knife passed through the surface and into the flesh to cut the produce of interest. Imagine a watermelon. This fruit hangs around on the ground for quite awhile as it is growing and ripening. At this point it is exposed to so many things. Some of those things could be contaminated irrigation water, animal feces (birds don’t have a no-fly-zone over watermelon fields), and many other possible contaminants. Then, the watermelon is picked. The hands picking the watermelon are likely hands that have been out in the field all day. While we don’t like to think about it, a proper bathroom with a sink is generally not within reach for the farmers who are collecting the crops. Then, the watermelon makes its way to a distributor, where it is touched a few more times by a few more hands. Then it is shipped to your local grocer, where it is handled again. By the time it reaches your home, countless hands and animal byproducts may have come in contact with your delicious watermelon. It looks clean. So you slice. It’s almost as if all of those people and animals reached in and touched the sweet red flesh of your watermelon. I’m betting washing that watermelon before cutting won’t seem such a chore after all.
Salmonella: What to Look Out For
Though there are many strains of Salmonella, most present relatively the same symptoms. The Salmonella Newport linked to this outbreak often includes fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea. It is a good idea for people with these symptoms to contact their health care provider, particularly if they have consumed fruit included in the outbreak. While symptoms may be mild for some, others may be more severe requiring additional treatment.
Most patients will be given antibiotics to treat the infection. Some may require rehydration therapy. This can be achieved in two ways. If vomiting and dehydration are not severe, oral therapy is an option. With this method, the patient is given small amounts of fluid frequently to regain hydration. While not always, ideally this hydration should be a balanced electrolyte solution to ensure electrolyte levels return to normal after dehydration. Sugary drinks should be avoided, as this could have a negative impact on treatment and promote additional diarrhea and dehydration. In more severe situations, nasogastric therapy may be used to avoid intravenous therapy (IV). This provides the patient with hydration without the need for IV. Finally, IV fluid is another option, allowing hospital staff to provide hydration directly into the blood stream to treat extreme dehydration.
Infants up to young children, the elderly, and pregnant women are at a higher risk for illness and difficult recover. Those who have a compromised immune system are also at a higher risk for complications as a result of infection. Those in these categories should seek medical attention as soon as symptoms arise, particularly if you have consumed food indicated in the outbreak.
UnsafeFoods will continue to monitor this outbreak and provide additional information as more detail are discovered.