UPDATE: An investigation by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) into both the Michigan and South Carolina Salmonella outbreaks has concluded that they are not related and are not part of any multi-state outbreak. Dr. Ian Williams, who heads up CDC’s foodborne outbreak unit, told Food Safety News on Thursday that genetic fingerprinting is used to determine if a local cluster of illnesses is connected other around the country. Williams said that, about 200 times a year, CDC’s search ends with the determination that local clusters are not connected to any multi-state event. These illnesses in Michigan and South Carolina are such events, he said. CDC’s investigation, which also did not identify any specific food source for the local clusters, comes three years after one of the most deadly outbreaks involving fresh produce in U.S. history. Local media reports have named melons and berries as suspects in the two outbreaks. A spokesman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) network said they “have not been involved in an investigation of a Salmonella outbreak linked to melons or berries.” The spokesman said that outbreak investigations typically begin with CDC working with the state and local health departments, and then, when a regulated product is identified, FDA gets involved. Three years ago in July, there was a deadly Listeria outbreak caused by contaminated cantaloupe grown in southeastern Colorado. That outbreak sickened 147 people in 28 states, resulting in 33 immediate deaths and another 10 who died in the aftermath. A woman who was pregnant at the time of her illness also suffered a miscarriage. On Monday, the first report of an eight-state Salmonella outbreak possibly involving berries or melons came not from any federal or state food safety officials, but from a local health department director in Michigan. Williams said there was some miscommunication in that report. Steve Todd, who heads the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Counties Community Health Agency, told local media outlets that a Salmonella outbreak at the Reading Summer Festival Days during the last week of July was a “cluster” in the larger outbreak. Todd said his agency had 12 laboratory-confirmed cases stemming from the festival and several other secondary cases involving family members of those sickened. Only a tiny percentage of the fresh fruit and produce reaching the U.S. market is ever tested before it is consumed. Todd said CDC had told his agency that the Michigan outbreak was a sub-cluster in the larger multi-state outbreak. At about the same time, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said it was investigating nine cases of Salmonella poisoning in Beaufort County, SC, that the agency said matched a national cluster of Salmonella. The first of those reports came in Sept. 19, but it’s not clear when the first onset of the illnesses occurred. South Carolina health officials declined to provide more information on that state’s nationally connected Salmonella cases, saying that the investigation is ongoing. This summer saw only one major fresh produce recall. It was from the Wawona Packing Company of Cutler, CA, over a testing sample that came back positive for Listeria. There was great consumer interest in that major recall, but no related illnesses were ever confirmed by laboratory analysis. Berries, melons, and other fresh fruit are rarely tested before they hit the market, where they are sold and quickly consumed. That can make finding unconsumed contaminated fresh fruits a very difficult task. The testing that resulted in the Wawona recall was actually done by a foreign government testing product being imported into that country. For several years, USDA had a program with participating states to randomly test fresh produce. It was called the Microbiological Data Program, or MDP, and, during its run, MDP did about 80 percent of the fresh produce testing that was done in the U.S. for less than $5 million a year. Congress and the White House, at the behest of the politically powerful fresh fruit and vegetable industry, killed MDP two growing seasons ago. FDA did step up its fresh fruit and produce testing after MDP’s demise. It conducted 7,592 unique sample tests in 2013, up from 5,882 tests in 2011 and 5,174 tests in 2012, according to figures the agency provided to Food Safety News. While their testing levels varied widely, the 10 state labs affiliated with MDP were testing 10,000 to 15,000 unique samples each growing season. That’s the data that are no longer available for any outbreak investigations that might be underway.