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Food Safety Focus (172nd Issue, November 2020) – Food Incident Highlight

Bitterness in Angled Loofah and Other Cucurbit Fruits and Vegetables

The media has recently reported an incident where a person suffered from days of diarrhoea after consuming bitter-tasting angled loofah that he cultivated himself.

It is known that fruits of the cucurbit family plants, which include many commonly consumed fruits and vegetables, such as angled loofah, zucchini, cucumber, bitter gourd, pumpkin and watermelon, may at times form significant levels of cucurbitacins naturally. Cucurbitacins impart a bitter taste at low dose but can cause nausea, stomach cramps and diarrohea if sufficient amount is consumed. Food poisoning cases have been reported worldwide from consumption of bitter cucurbit fruits.

While most of the commonly-consumed cucurbit fruits are not bitter, cucurbitacins may occasionally accumulate when the plants back-mutate, form hybrids with bitter varieties of cucurbits, or become stressed from adverse growing conditions or insect infestations. Consumers should avoid consuming fruits and vegetables when they taste turn bitter in taste or differ from their usual taste, and seek medical attention promptly if feeling unwell after consumption.