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Officials warn to wash all farm, packaged fruits

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Unharvested cantaloupes sat in a field in Owensville last week. Mixed messages from state and federal health officials contributed to confusion among consumers.

Toss all the melons or just wash them?

The advice and information coming from state health officials in the aftermath of the recent salmonella outbreak linked to tainted cantaloupes were more confusing than helpful to many consumers, as well as to farmers.

The outbreak so far has affected 178 people across 21 states, killing two and hospitalizing 62. When the outbreak was first announced, state and federal officials disagreed about the safety of melons grown in southwest Indiana.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials advised consumers to trash any cantaloupe grown in the region bought on or after July 7. Indiana Department of Health officials said only the melons from Chamberlain Farm Produce in Owensville, in Gibson County, needed to be discarded.

However, the most recent advice from state health officials is different still. ... Much of the ensuing illness quite likely could have been prevented had people thoroughly washed the melons before eating them.

At a meeting with melon growers on Monday in Vincennes, James Howell, an assistant state health commissioner, said, “The American consumer doesn’t understand the farm. They treat fresh produce just like it was packaged food.”

This shows the importance of an effective regulatory system accompanied by ongoing efforts from state health officials to educate consumers about food risks and the precautions they need to take to protect themselves.

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