Thirty-three people have been sickened by salmonella at four health-care facilities in Southeastern Pennsylvania, in many cases after eating pre-cut fruit from a New Jersey distributor, state and federal health officials said.
Tailor Cut Produce of North Brunswick has agreed to recall its mix of cantaloupe, honeydew melon, pineapple, and grapes distributed between Nov. 15 and Dec. 1 as it has been “potentially linked” to the illnesses, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.
The product, which is distributed to restaurants, banquet halls, hotels, schools, and other institutions in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, should not be sold or served, Pennsylvania Department of Health officials said.
“We recommend that any facility who use Tailor Cut Produce pre-cut fruit to immediately stop and throw it away,” Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said.
The four health-care facilities with the 33 known infections have thrown out the fruit and are working with state and FDA officials in an ongoing investigation, she said.
The locations include two hospitals and two nursing homes, which state officials declined to identify. Cases were reported at one facility on Nov. 27; the rest were reported in early December, with the two latest cases confirmed on Monday.
People can become infected with salmonella bacteria by eating or drinking contaminated food or water, and through contact with infected people or animals. Symptoms typically include diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever, usually starting within 12 to 72 hours of exposure, state health officials said.
Infected patients usually recover within a week, but the illness can lead to hospitalization and even death for those with weakened immune systems.
Cantaloupe carries a slightly higher risk of bacterial contamination than other cut fruits because of its rough, “netted” surface where microbes can be hard to eliminate, said Gordon C. Johnson, a fruit and vegetable specialist at the University of Delaware’s cooperative extension for agriculture education.
Proper handling and disinfection practices at farms, packing houses, and kitchens can reduce the risk dramatically and have been adopted so widely that in general, Johnson said, he has no hesitation about eating pre-cut cantaloupe.
But, he said, “if I was a person with a compromised immune system or pregnant, I might think twice about it.”
The 33 Pennsylvania cases to date have been confirmed by laboratory testing. Sick individuals, health-care providers, or laboratories can get more information from the state Health Department at 1-877-PA-HEALTH (877-724-3258).