UPDATE: The CDC posted its update on this outbreak after we posted this story. See updates throughout.

Another 20 people have been confirmed with Salmonella infections in a 10-state outbreak associated with pre-cut melon from Caito Foods, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

In its first update since April 24, the FDA today reported a total of 137 people have been infected from exposure to Salmonella Carrau. Of those with complete information available, 38 have been admitted to hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on May 24.

Today’s update from the FDA says all of the implicated fruit is likely off the market and has been used or discarded by consumers and others. Indianapolis-based Caito recalled some freshcut fruit on April 12, but the FDA did not post the company’s recall notice until May 3. The agency was, however, investigating the outbreak along with the CDC and state officials as early as April 2.

The products were sold under a variety of brands at a variety of grocery stores and via Amazon. The retailers and brands were:

  • Kroger under the Renaissance Food Group label and the Boar’s Head private label; 
  • Target under the Garden Highway label; 
  • Trader Joe’s under the Trader Joe’s label;
  • Walmart under a Freshness Guaranteed label; and
  • Amazon/Whole Foods under the Whole Foods Market label. 

Distributors also were included on some labels. Distributors and the label information they used were:

  • Caito Foods — Distributed by Caito Foods; 
  • Gordon Foods Service — Distributed by Caito Foods; and 
  • SpartanNash Distribution — Open Acres. 

“On April 12, 2019, FDA warned consumers not to eat the recalled pre-cut melon products,” according to the FDA update. “Consumers need not avoid any type of melon currently on the market.”

The CDC reported the outbreak victims were spread across 10 states: Alabama, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. 

The implicated products were distributed in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

FDA’s 2018 outbreak-related inspection at Caito Foods
As part of a Salmonella outbreak investigation a year ago, the FDA found numerous sanitation problems at the Caito Foods facility that produced the melon implicated in the current outbreak. After the three-week inspection, the company was given time to correct the problems, but an official warning letter was not issued.

The 2018 investigation was in response to an outbreak of Salmonella Adelaide that eventually sickened 77 people in nine states. The FDA did not confirm the presence of Salmonella Adelaide in Caito’s production facility during the inspection, but investigators noted several sanitation and maintenance issues, according to an “Establishment Inspection Report” obtained by Food Safety News.

The 2018 report detailed a number of problems:

  • The plant was not designed to facilitate maintenance and sanitation, including allowing condensation from cooling units to collect on electric cords above the fresh pineapple production line;
  • The firm did not have necessary controls to minimize the potential contamination of food, such as failing to keep employees from neglecting personal hygiene procedures before entering the production area;
  • There were no reasonable measures or precautions to prevent employees from handling containers and packing materials and then entering the fruit cutting room without first cleaning and sanitizing their hands;
  • The cooling units’ fans appeared to be dirty; and
  • The firm used a lower concentration of sanitizing chemical than called for on the sanitizer’s label instructions.

In response to the FDA findings, Caito management told the agency the sanitizer was used to ensure the safety of the water, and not to provide a sanitizing step for the fruit. However, management reported that the concentration of sanitizing chemical had been adjusted.

The family-owned company’s management also told FDA about corrective actions intended to eliminate the condensation problem, and also reported new procedures regarding management, sanitation, and handling of all food contact containers. The Caito owners also told FDA their company had retrained employees on handling procedures and hand sanitizing requirements.

Editor’s note: Phyllis Entis contributed information included in this article.

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