Cantaloupe farm named in Salmonella outbreak probe

Aug 23, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) late yesterday identified the Indiana farm linked to a multistate Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak that has grown to 178 people in 21 states, and the cantaloupe grower followed with a recall.

The grower, Chamberlain Farms, based in Owensville, released its recall notice yesterday as well.

The FDA said in its statement that the ongoing investigation is trying to determine whether other sources are involved in the outbreak. An earlier announcement from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said officials were trying to determine if other types of melon might be linked to some of the infections.

In its update today, the CDC said 37 more cases have been reported, with one more state—Massachusetts—reporting illnesses linked to the outbreak. So far 62 patients have been hospitalized, and the number of deaths remains at the two reported last week from Kentucky. The most recent illness onset was Aug 9.

The FDA said Chamberlain Farms recalled its cantaloupes from the marketplace after officials from the FDA, CDC, and the state of Indiana briefed the grower on investigation findings. While the investigation continues, records show the farm's cantaloupes were first shipped to Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin, with further distribution likely, the FDA said.

The agency is urging consumers in any state who are buying or have recently bought cantaloupes to ask retailers if they were grown at Chamberlain Farms and, if so, to throw out the fruit. It warned consumers to not try to wash the bacteria off the outside of the cantaloupe, as Salmonella may be both inside and outside the melon.

The FDA also said that cutting the melon could transfer the pathogen from the surface to its flesh.

Chamberlain Farms, in a press release announcing the voluntary recall, said it pulled the products from the market on Aug 16 and 17. Prior to that, from Jun 21 to Aug 16, it had marketed cantaloupes to four retail grocery stores that have outlets in four Indiana counties (Vanderburgh, Warrick, Gibson, and Dubois) and one Illinois county (Wabash).

The firm also said it sold its cantaloupes to wholesale customers in Owensboro, Ky.; St. Louis; Peru, Ill.,; and Durant, Ia. and has notified all of its customers to immediately remove all of Chamberlain Farms cantaloupe from the market. It said all of the accounts have confirmed that they have complied.

Earlier in the investigation, interviews with sick patients and the isolation by Kentucky lab authorities of the outbreak strain in two cantaloupes collected from a retail location pointed to cantaloupe from southwestern Indiana.

Owensville, where Chamberlain Farms is located, is in southwestern Indiana, about 30 miles north of Evansville. It is an agricultural community and, like other communities in the Lower Wabash Valley, is known for its watermelons, cantaloupes, and zucchini.

The latest recall is the second foodborne illness outbreak linked to cantaloupe in the past year. In 2011, a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to cantaloupe from Colorado's Jensen Farms sickened at least 146 people and was implicated in the deaths of 30 people.

Last week when the outbreak was announced, California and Arizona cantaloupe growers distanced themselves from the latest outbreak. In an Aug 17 statement, the Western Growers Association (WGA), a regional agricultural trade group, said the human infections are tragic and that the entire cantaloupe industry suffers when companies don't aggressively ensure food safety through the whole supply chain.

"For a broker, distributor, retailer, grocery chain, or food service buyer to demand a vigorous food safety and trace back program from California and Arizona cantaloupe farmers, but then purchase from a supplier without ensuring they have similar systems in place is unconscionable," the WGA said.

Karen Ross, California's agricultural secretary, said in an Aug 20 blog post that her heart went out to the affected families. She emphasized that growers and all part of the food supply chain share the responsibility of protecting people from foodborne illnesses.

Also, she pointed out that over the past 20 years California has not had any illnesses linked to its cantaloupe and that the state's cantaloupe growers have formed a marketing order over the past year that includes mandatory government inspection of farms and packing facilities.

See also:

Aug 22 FDA press release

Aug 22 Chamberlain Farm Produce recall notice

Aug 23 CDC outbreak update

Aug 17 WGA press release

Aug 20 Ross blog post

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