ST Scroll Back: Fruit fright over rock melons, lychees, mangoes and more

We think ‘good health’ when we nibble fruit, but here’s how they can bite back

The listeria outbreak is linked to rock melons, also called cantaloupes, from a grower in the eastern Australian state of New South Wales.
The listeria outbreak is linked to rock melons, also called cantaloupes, from a grower in the eastern Australian state of New South Wales.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Sour news about our sweet affection for fruit: When they’re not handled properly, or when we eat bad parts in bad amounts, we can end up in a bad way, and even lose our lives.

In Australia, a fourth person had died after consuming rock melons contaminated with listeria, the authorities said on March 7, in an outbreak that had so far affected 17 people.

The listeria outbreak was linked to rocks melons, also called cantaloupes, from a grower in the eastern Australian state of New South Wales.

In Singapore, two consignments of melons from the farm linked to the outbreak were imported and available for sale here from Feb 12 to March 2.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said that they had been sold in Sheng Siong supermarket outlets and wet markets.

The authorities were recalling all rock melons from Australia as a safeguard against a listeria outbreak happening here. Supermarkets were offering customers refunds on recent purchases of Australian rock melons.

We think “good health” when we nibble fruits (and sometimes chew the seeds), but read on to find out how else they can bite back.


Lychees contain high levels of hypoglycin, a toxin which inhibits the body’s ability to synthesise glucose, leading to low blood glucose levels. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

It was a puzzling illness which was killing children in the city of Muzaffarpur, the site of one of India’s most mysterious outbreaks.

Mystery 1
Instead of occurring in clusters, the illness typically struck only one child in a village, leaving siblings unaffected.

Mystery 2
The children awakened with a high-pitched cry in the early morning, many parents said.

Mystery 3
The kids began having seizures and slipping into comas. In about 40 per cent of cases, they died.

Mystery 4
Every year in mid-May, as temperatures reached scorching heights, parents took children who had been healthy the night before to the hospital. Every year in July, with the arrival of monsoon rains, the outbreak ended as suddenly as it began.

“It was a very intense situation, because we witnessed children dying in front of our eyes every day, as soon as they arrived at the hospital. They were in a kind of panic. Their children were dying, and it was an unknown thing.” - Dr Rajesh Yadav, who was an investigator with the India Epidemic Intelligence Service.

An investigation finally identified a surprising culprit: Unripe lychee, when eaten on an empty stomach by malnourished children.

Laboratory tests confirmed that lychees contained high levels of hypoglycin. It’s a toxin which inhibits the body’s ability to synthesise glucose, leading to acute hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose levels.

The authorities issued these recommendations: That young children in the affected areas be encouraged to always eat an evening meal, and that consumption of lychees should be limited.


Apple seeds have amygdalin, which breaks down into hydrogen cyanide when ingested. ST FILE PHOTO

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so the saying goes. 

A lot of apple seeds a day, however, will keep the doctor busy, because they contain amygdalin, a compound which breaks down into hydrogen cyanide when ingested.

Symptoms of cyanide poisoning can include stomach cramps, headache, nausea, and vomiting. If untreated, it can lead to cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, and death.

The same heart-stopping stuff can be found inside stone fruits like apricots, peaches, plums, and cherries.


A father-of-three from the United Kingdom felt ill after eating cherry stones. 

Out of curiosity, Mr Matthew Creme had bitten into a cherry stone to find a nut inside and, finding it delicious (“it tasted similar to an almond but with a cherry flavour to it”), went on eating more, reported the UK media.  

20 minutes
Time it took for Mr Creme to feel extreme tiredness and to get a headache after eating the seeds.

Number of cherry stones Mr Creme ate before falling sick.

Mr Matthew Creme felt ill within minutes of eating cherry seeds. ST PHOTO: STEFFI KOH

Watch a video of him relating that he just “wanted to go to sleep” in the car while being rushed to the hospital. 

“If I fell asleep, I probably would have stayed asleep.” - Mr Creme, on the effects of being poisoned. In a nutshell, cyanide blocks the body's ability to use oxygen.


If you have kidney disease, eating starfruit is likely to harm you. LIANHE WANBAO FILE PHOTO


Excuse me. That’s a symptom of starfruit poisoning. Other symptoms include confusion and seizures

You may die from starfruit poisoning.

Studies show that eating starfruit can harm people who have kidney disease. The substances found in the fruit can affect the brain and cause neurological disorders. 

Don’t worry, though, if you have healthy, normal kidneys which can process the neurotoxin, and you can pass it out from your body.


Some people might be allergic to the mango in this salad and it might be making them itch. TNP FILE PHOTO

Mango is mmm.

But for some people, it can cause a “tingly, itchy sensation” in the mouth when consumed raw. 

“Mango mouth,” as it has been called, occurs in people who have a mango allergy, most commonly linked to the chemical urushiol. This is found in high concentrations in the mango peel and the flesh directly underneath the peel, and it can give you a rash.

One writer ate a mango still in the rind and ended up with a blistering rash on her mouth.

By the way, urushiol is found in the shells of completely raw cashew nuts too. No need to go nuts with fear though. Virtually all “raw” nuts that are sold have been steamed to release the resin and make them safe to eat.

Fruits are good for us, but when not handled properly, or when we eat the bad parts, we can fall ill. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG