Federal and state health officials investigating the ongoing Salmonella outbreak linked to Indiana-grown cantaloupes have yet to name the farm suspected as the source four days after the outbreak’s announcement.
The outbreak has taken the lives of two patients in Kentucky and sickened 141 nationwide, hospitalizing at least 31. But investigators will refrain from naming a source until they feel absolutely confident they know what caused the outbreak.
Investigators could possibly name the source as early as this week, said Beth Fisher, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department for Public Health. Of the 20 states affected by the outbreak, Kentucky has been hit the hardest, bearing both deaths and at least 50 illnesses.
A Kentucky state laboratory found cantaloupe samples from the unnamed southwestern Indiana farm tested positive for the same Salmonella present in infected Kentuckians. The farm has halted all shipments of cantaloupe for the remainder of the season out of caution, officials said.
Over the weekend, grocery retailers around Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois — including Kroger and Valu Market — assured customers that their cantaloupes were not sourced from southwestern Indiana. Wal Mart Stores Inc. instructed managers at all locations nationwide to discard any cantaloupes grown in that region.
Consumers took to the internet over the weekend expressing confusion and frustration over the lack of details on the outbreak source. Many asked if specific cantaloupe brands were safe, while others stated their cantaloupes either came unlabeled or the label featured no mention of geographical origin.
“If they’re not marked and you have no way of knowing where it came from, it’s best to take the approach of ‘when in doubt, throw it out,'” Fisher said. She added that the affected cantaloupes should bear a sticker identifying the location in Indiana where they were grown.
Food Safety News on Monday reached out to 10 farms in southwestern Indiana known to grow or sell cantaloupes in an effort to discover the suspected farm or learn more information about the investigation.
While none of the farms said they were involved in any investigations, two provided corroborating information that the suspected farm likely resides close to the Kentucky border. Public health officials would not confirm this.
Southwestern Indiana cantaloupe growers confirming no involvement in investigations include: Frey Produce, Obermeyer & Turbett, Prairie Acres (sells cantaloupes from other farms), Hall Farms, and Promised Land.
Multiple Sources Possible
While the investigation continues, some health officials suspect that the source still might not be cantaloupe, or that the outbreak might involve multiple food sources of the Salmonella Typhimurium strain.
Speaking to Iowa radio station KMA, Iowa’s chief epidemiologist, Patty Quinlisk, said that only two of Iowa’s six patients reported eating cantaloupe prior to their illness, and investigators don’t even know yet where that cantaloupe was grown.
Iowa’s cases are also spread across the state, further suggesting the chance that the infections come from multiple sources.
In the outbreak report compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 percent of the 24 patients interviewed reported eating cantaloupe within a week of falling ill. Illness onset dates range from July 7 to August 4, with more cases potentially being reported in the coming weeks.
As the outbreak investigation rolls on, officials plan to inspect the suspected farm’s growing and packing facilities, as well as the conditions of its shipping services in an attempt to pinpoint an exact cause of contamination.
“We’re hoping to know more in the next few days,” Fisher said. “We’ll get that information out as soon as it’s definitive.”© Food Safety News