CDC warns against pre-cut melon and tahini used in hummus

The Centers for Disease Control had some gloomy warnings to kick off Memorial Day Weekend.  Pre-cut melon and a popular type of tahini –used in summer salads and hummus– are responsible for Salmonella outbreaks all over the country.  Health officials urge Americans to be cautious as they prepare their sunny spreads for the customary long-weekend garden parties.

The melon-linked outbreak was traced back to watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe and mixed fruit from Caito Foods, a manufacturer that distributes nationwide.  The offending fruit, sold in clear packages, was sold in 16 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

In the last couple of months, 137 people fell ill. Officials say there have been no cases in recent weeks, suggesting the outbreak is over.

According to FDA reports obtained by Food Safety News in an FOIA request, the issue at Caito Foods dated back to 2016.  Inspectors found evidence of employees in the Indianapolis plant shoving waste deep into a trash can before returning to cutting fruit without washing their hands. They also found listeria on butternut squash, but, reportedly, declined to recall the squash because it was intended to be cooked.  

Tahini is a blended, runny sesame sauce, that can be drizzled over snacks, salads or hot dishes, and is a key ingredient in hummus.  A couple of decades ago, infected tahini wouldn’t have made any impact on the US market.  But, in recent years, Middle Eastern food has become a stable in US supermarkets, restaurants and kitchens, and hummus is a staple of almost every casual social event.

According to brinkwire.com, the recall is tied to Brodt Zenatti Holding LLC in Jupiter, Florida, which manufactures US tahini for two top brands, SoCo and Karawan. SoCo (Seeds of Collaboration) is an Israeli-Palestinian venture, and Karawan hails from Ethiopia. Both have gained sizeable markets in the US, where they are sold as various types of tahini and used for hummus. 

In a warning issued on Friday, the CDC urged restaurants and supermarket shoppers not to ‘eat, sell, or serve’ tahini labeled as ‘Karawan Tahini’, ‘El-Karawan Tahini’, or ‘SoCo Tahini’, nor any products made from it.


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