The USA is currently in the middle of its worst food scare in more than a decade. The culprit? Melons. As I write this at least 16 deaths have occurred, and 72 illnesses have been reported in 18 states. What’s worse, the figures are expected to rise substantially because listeriosis has such a long incubation time – it can be up to six weeks from infection to first symptoms.

cantaloupe, imageThe authorities were quick to work out that the culprit is contaminated melons from one producer, Jensen Farms. The firm acted swiftly to issue a recall of 1.5 to 4.5 million pieces of fruit, but admits that it can’t trace all the melons as they are often rebadged and resold. Investigators are currently trying to work out how the plants became contaminated, but the most likely source is the water they were irrigated with. Research has already demonstrated that listeria can get into plants through the roots, so just washing the melons won’t help – the bacteria is present in the flesh too.

Andy says...

Andy says... "You can grow your own melons in an unheated polytunnel in the UK"

Scares like this are hardly new, but it’s the sheer scale of the mass production of food that makes them so serious. I mean,  1.5 to 4.5 million pieces of fruit and we don’t know where they all went. Mass production has made it easier for food-borne illnesses to spread across huge areas, and the food changes hands several times before it reaches your plate. For processed foods the picture is even worse.

mark cartoon, image

Mark says: This year we had over 30 melons! A record! Now, where's that medal...?

There’s another mini-scare rumbling through the British press about leeks and potatoes contaminated with E. coli, although in this case the authorities couldn’t trace the source with any certainty.

One of the best things about growing your own food is that you know exactly what gets into it, but you do still have to be careful with manure and greywater (on which there will be an article in the next couple of weeks). And if you can’t grow your own, you can still keep the gap between yourself and the producer as small as possible, by buying direct from the farmer when you can.

Post script: Since Mark’s grown 30+ melons he’ll be writing a ‘home-made diarrhoea remedies’ article next week. – A

PPS: No, he won’t. He’ll be writing a ‘so how many did YOU grow?’ article… – M

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