After an outbreak of foodborne illness caused by contaminated cantaloupe occurs, investigators are left to look at the fields, packing facilities and transportation used to grow, process and ship the melons.
The most vulnerable of these could well turn out to be the trucks that move cantaloupe from the farm to your retailer’s produce area. How did the cantaloupes implicated in the current Salmonella outbreak get from Gibson County, IN to at least 21 states, where they sickened at least 178 people, and just when did they become contaminated?
If transport was the weak link, it might prove to be important that southwest Indiana cantaloupe grower, Chamberlain Farms, shares an address — 5884 W 250 S, Owensville, IN 47665 — with Chamberlain Farm Produce Inc., an interstate carrier licensed (No. 777164) with the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).
According to its license report, cargo carried by the interstate trucking company includes fresh produce, grain, feed, and hay along with agricultural and farm supplies. Chamberlain Farm Produce Inc. owns 7 truck or tractor power units and employs 8 drivers.
What isn’t known is whether cantaloupe grower Tim Chamberlain or someone else owns the trucking company, or whether it transported the suspect melons to market. Nor is it known whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating Chamberlain Farm Produce Inc.
Food Safety News has asked FDA about the investigation and inquired with John Broadhead, attorney for the cantaloupe grower, about who owns the trucking company and whether it was used to move melons.
As to whether the trucking company figures into the investigation, FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said: “We are still investigating and trying to ascertain the full scope of the issue.”
Almost two years after the federal Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) was adopted by bipartisan votes in Congress, these are circumstances not many were expecting. The produce rule, along with other FSMA implementing measures, has disappeared into some kind of political vortex down at the White House.
Producers and growers of perishable foods are largely ignoring FSMA, experts say.
Kevin Payne, senior director of marketing for Santa Clara, CA-based Intelleflex that does remote monitoring and “track and trace” systems for the transport industry says it should not take days and weeks to produce the information needed by the FDA for a recall.
He says if you have to rely on a paper system “to reconstruct all those waypoints, it’s nasty.”
This latest cantaloupe-related outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium became known officially only one week ago on Aug. 17 when the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta reported that 141 people in 20 states were infected with the outbreak strain of the pathogen.
In fact, Food Safety News and WSAZ-TV in Charleston, WV were first to report on the outbreak without knowing its scope on Aug. 16 with a report focusing on West Virginia and Kentucky.
The outbreak itself, however, was not really that new. The first illnesses occurred as early as July 7.
But without any source identified, FDA opted to keep it quiet for more than six weeks as the outbreak numbers grew. It made the first announcement when one southwest Indiana grower agreed to withdraw cantaloupe from the market and cease distributing cantaloupe for the rest of the growing season.
FDA declined at the time to name the grower, but did so late on Aug. 22 after coming under extensive criticism for keeping the name of the sponsor of a recall secret. Tim Chamberlain agreed to conduct a normal recall, ending the secrecy he apparently insisted on practicing a few days earlier.
As it did, CDC updated the numbers for the spreading outbreak to include 178 people infected in 21 states with 62 requiring hospitalization and two ending in death.© Food Safety News