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LSU AgCenter: Cantaloupe flood crop study could yield new insights on contaminated produce

Dallas Garden Buzz

LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Melanie Lewis Ivey is conducting research on cantaloupe and mimicking a flood to find out whether foodborne pathogens and other harmful contaminants survive on the fruit rind. Ivey planted about an acre of the test crop a week ago. It’s the second growing season for her study.

She’s repeating the flood event on a new crop to see if it yields the same results. In the last crop, not only did harmful pathogens survive on the cantaloupe for three days after her simulated flood, but she found the presence of salmonella.

“We don’t test every cantaloupe out there. We take a random sample. For us to have an instance of 1 or 2 percent is really high in my opinion,” Ivey said.

Ivey drenched her cantaloupe field with 18 inches of pond water using overhead irrigation guns. She set out buckets in the field to measure the water level. Floodwater can contain a high microbial load, according to LSU AgCenter food safety specialist Wennie Xu.

If the plants can be saved, they must be plants never in contact with floodwater. So, if anything is under the water, partially under the water, or just splashed with the floodwater then all of those should be destroyed,” Xu said.

Ivey says it doesn’t matter if the flooding came from rainwater or other surface water like her pond, the produce touched by the water is unsafe. She warns to stay away from her test plot in an undisclosed location.

“We actually have to put up fencing around the plot and signs so people don’t go in there because people see a cantaloupe and they want to eat it. We have to put up all these warning signs,” Ivey said.

Ivey will present her preliminary findings on the cantaloupe at the American Phytopathological Society annual meeting in Tampa, Fla., in August. She’ll publish a full study later this year, and she hopes it will attract a research grant that would enable her to broaden the study to include other fruits and vegetables.

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