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FDA Lifts Import Alert on Guatemalan Cantaloupes

Del Monte Fresh Produce announced Tuesday that it had reached “an amicable resolution” with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and an end to an import alert that prevented the company from shipping cantaloupes from a Guatemala farm into the United States.

Cantaloupes from that farm had been implicated in a multistate Salmonella Panama outbreak this spring that sickened 20 people, including three who were hospitalized. Epidemiologists in several states made the link between the illnesses and cantaloupe, and traced the melons to Del Monte Fresh Produce, a Costco supplier.

Del Monte Fresh Produce voluntarily recalled 4,992 cartons of whole cantaloupes on March 22, although by the time the recall was announced none of the suspect cantaloupes remained in inventory, and no melons were found that tested positive for the outbreak strain of bacteria.

After the FDA imposed restrictions on further imports of cantaloupe from the Guatemalan farm, Del Monte Fresh Produce sued the federal agency and also threatened to sue the Oregon state epidemiologist who helped work on the outbreak investigation and spoke to the press about it.

The produce company said an epidemiological link was insufficient to prove its cantaloupes caused the illnesses.

In its statement Tuesday, Del Monte Fresh Produce said it shares with the FDA “a mutual interest in the creation and enforcement of appropriate food safety measures that protect consumer health” and said its agreement “demonstrates that the FDA and importers … can work together to achieve this mutual goal.”

Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, one of those who said Del Monte Fresh Produce was “asking for the impossible” in demanding microbiological proof before a recall alert can be issued to protect consumers, expressed some doubt about the settlement.

She told the New York Times she hoped the FDA had assurance that melons from the Guatemalan farm are safe, adding that in the past the agency has lifted import restrictions only to have repeat problems.

Marler Clark, sponsor of Food Safety News, has filed suit against Del Monte Fresh Produce on behalf of a 12-year-old girl who was infected with Salmonella in the multistate outbreak linked to the company’s cantaloupe.  

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