The FDA is reporting that an August 2022 outbreak that sickened almost 90 people was linked to cantaloupe from three farms in Indiana. The agency finally reported yesterday where the sick people lived.

The Food and Drug Administration notice posted on April 27 says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified the FDA of the outbreak in the summer of 2022, but there is nothing on the CDC website about the outbreak.

According to the FDA, 88 people across 11 states were sickened by Salmonella Typhimurium, with 32 people requiring hospitalization. No deaths were reported. There were likely many more people sickened because people with less significant symptoms often do not seek medical attention. Also, regardless of the severity of symptoms, many patients are not tested for foodborne pathogens because the illnesses mimic other infections.

The outbreak was over as of Oct. 5, 2022, according to the FDA. The CDC never reported publicly on the outbreak.

“FDA conducted investigations in Indiana at three farms, their common packinghouse and nearby public lands. Salmonella-positive environmental samples were found at each location, but none of the resulting Salmonella isolates conclusively matched the outbreak strain by whole genome sequencing (WGS). No cantaloupes were recalled, and no public warning was issued due to the implicated melons no longer being on the market,” an FDA spokesperson told Food Safety News.

However, the FDA report says a common packinghouse was identified but there was no convergence to a single shipment of products, and therefore three farms that supplied the common packinghouse were identified as potential sources of cantaloupe linked to the outbreak. The farms still have not been named.

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At “Farm 1” FDA investigators found a soil surface drag swab that resulted in the recovery of 12 S. Typhimurium isolates. Whole genome sequencing analysis found that these isolates represent a single strain that matches human clinical isolates from 2016, 2017, and 2018 indicating that this strain has caused illnesses, according to the report.

A poultry growing operation was found to be located about a quarter mile from “Farm 1.”

“The recovery of multiple Salmonella strains with a clear association with human illness distributed widely within the growing environment may be indicative of robust human pathogen reservoirs which persist and circulate within this growing region. Considering these findings, the FDA is continuing an ongoing assessment of this region to better understand the presence of pathogens in the growing environment,” says the FDA report.

“FDA will work in conjunction with the Indiana State Department of Health to increase awareness amongst the melon growing industry of pathogenic environmental strains in the region to develop and promote risk reduction strategies related to melon growing and harvesting to minimize the impact of these strains.”

The outbreak information posted on Oct. 5, 2022, by the Food and Drug Administration, provided little information, except for the patient count, which stood at 87. The agency did not report the ages of the patients or their states of residence until yesterday. 

At the first posting on Aug. 17, 2022, there were 44 confirmed patients. The source of the Salmonella was listed as unknown from Aug. 17 to Oct. 5. The states and numbers of patients living there were not reported until yesterday.

The states where sick people lived and the number of patients in those states were: Georgia with 1, Illinois with 5, Indiana with 17, Iowa with 39, Kentucky with 3, Michigan with 3, Minnesota with 4, Missouri with 2, Ohio 3, South Carolina 1, and Wisconsin 10. The onset of the last illness to be confirmed was Sept 11, 2022.

The FDA had been working on traceback, testing, and on-site inspections for weeks, but did not reveal what food was being traced. On Oct. 5 it announced that the investigation had determined cantaloupe was the source of the pathogen.

The agency did not report whether the cantaloupe involved was whole fruit or fresh cut. It also did not reveal a grower, packer, distributor, or retailer where the cantaloupe was produced and sold.

The growers, packers, and distributors have still not been named.

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