The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to Chamberlain Farms, Inc. this week, months after the Indiana farm’s cantaloupe was linked to a 24-state Salmonella outbreak tied to cantaloupe that caused 261 illnesses and 3 deaths. According to FDA, which inspected and tested the farm and packinghouse in August and September, the firm has a Salmonella problem and needs to take corrective actions.
“FDA does not expect melons to be grown in a Salmonella free environment; however these findings suggest a source of contamination that is wide-spread and not consistent with background contamination,” reads the letter, which was sent Dec. 14 but posted on the agency’s website this week. Chamberlain Farms has reportedly suspended its cantaloupe operation.
During the inspection, FDA collected 50 environmental swabs from food contact surfaces and other areas in the company’s packing house. Salmonella Newport with a PFGE pattern indistinguishable from the outbreak strain was isolated from seven of the samples and Salmonella Anatum was isolated from two of the samples.
The agency did not pinpoint the source of the bacteria, but pointed to a long list of practices that “may have contributed” to the contamination of the melons.
Inspectors found “organic material,” which can harbor bacteria, on multiple locations of the cantaloupe conveyer. Environmental tests subsequently revealed the outbreak strain on the conveyer.
The inspection also notes that there was trash, standing water, mud and dirt beneath the conveyer belt. In the packinghouse, there was standing water, which contained algae on the floor and below the area where cantaloupes were being washed and rinsed.
The water used to process the melons was also found to be positive for Coliforms and Escherichia coli.
In the rafters above cantaloupe processing equipment, inspectors found bird feces, which had apparently dropped onto the processing line itself.
“Allowing birds to roost in your packing facility could allow them to defecated directly on to food products during conveyance, grading, and sorting,” reads the letter.
On top of these potential contamination sources, the agency noted that the processing area contained surfaces, like carpet, that were difficult to clean effectively (environmental tests revealed the outbreak strain on a carpet surface at the end of a grading table).
The agency noted that Chamberlain made some corrective actions while the inspection was taking place in mid-August. The firm cleaned up the organic material and standing water, sanitized the area around the processing line and removed the porous surfaces from equipment that made it difficult to clean; but the letter calls for more action.
The company’s attorney told local media that an independent microbiologist hired by Chamberlain found the outbreak strain in the surrounding area, and that it “didn’t originate in Chamberlain Farms fields or operations,” according to the report.
FDA asked Chamberlain to reply within 15 working days with “specific steps you have taken to correct the noted violations, including an explanation of how you plan to prevent these violations, or other similar violations, from occurring in the future.”© Food Safety News