Del Monte is recalling freshcut vegetable trays because they are the suspected to be the source of a parasite that has sickened at least 78 people across four states.

The vegetable trays were identified by public health departments in Wisconsin and Minnesota a week ago as the likely source for the microscopic Cyclospora parasite. At that time, the states urged consumers to not eat the fresh, pre-cut Del Monte vegetables.

Photo illustration

Federal officials reported Friday night that Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc. is recalling three sizes of vegetable trays containing broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and dill dip. The multinational company distributed the pre-cut vegetables in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“On June 8, 2018, Del Monte withdrew their 6-ounce and 12-ounce vegetable trays from retail market locations, and they are not currently available for purchase,” according to an outbreak notice posted Friday night by the Food and Drug Administration.

“However, consumers who purchased these trays before the withdrawal may still have product in their homes since the expiration date is June 17, 2018, or earlier. The 28-ounce vegetable trays that were distributed to Illinois and Indiana are being recalled as of June 15, 2018.”

Del Monte distributed the recalled vegetable trays to: Kwik Trip, Kwik Star, Demond’s, Sentry, Potash, Meehan’s, Country Market, FoodMax Supermarket and Peapod in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to the FDA notice. All of the recalled products have “Best If Enjoyed By” dates of June 17 or earlier.

The FDA had not identified which of the ingredients included on the vegetable trays is the vehicle for the Cyclospora parasites. All of the vegetables, the dip and all of its ingredients are under consideration, FDA reported Friday night. The agency is reviewing distribution and supplier information related to the vegetable trays as part of its ongoing investigation.

As of midnight EDT, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had not posted any information about the outbreak of Cyclospora illnesses, but the FDA and state officials reported they are working with the CDC on the investigation.

All 78 of the sick people have had laboratory tests that confirmed they had been infected by the parasite, according to the FDA notice.

The specific product information for the recalled vegetable and dip trays, as provided by Del Monte, is as follows:

Product Name Best By date Components UPC Code

Del Monte 6 oz.
Veg Tray w/dip

6/17/2018 Baby carrots, broccoli,
cauliflower and dill dip
7 1752472715 2

Del Monte 12 oz.
Veg Tray w/dip
6/17/2018 Baby carrots, broccoli,
cauliflower and dill dip
7 1752472518 9
Del Monte 28 oz.
Small Veg Tray w/dip
6/17/2018 Baby carrots, broccoli,
cauliflower, celery sticks and dill dip
7 1752478604 3


Wisconsin hit hard
In Wisconsin, “dozens of cases are being reported daily,” according to a Friday update from the state’s health department. The vast majority of 98 confirmed cases of Cyclospora illnesses in Wisconsin so far this year had symptom onset dates after May 29. In all of 2017 the state had only 23 laboratory-confirmed cases.

“Of people with completed interviews, 50 of 63 cases report consuming a Del Monte vegetable tray purchased at a Kwik Trip location in Wisconsin. Most ill persons reported purchasing the tray on or after May 16,” according to the update from the Wisconsin Department of Health.

To view the full sized graphic about the transmission and life cycle of Cyclospora parasites, please click on the image.

Two outbreaks in Minnesota
Twenty of the people sick with Cyclosporiasis are from Minnesota, according to a news release from that state’s health department that was also posted Friday. The FDA did not report a state-by-state breakdown on the number of cases. Such outbreak details are generally tracked and reported by the CDC.

The Minnesota Department of Health is also investigating what officials there believe to be an unrelated outbreak of Cyclospora illnesses among people who ate at who ate at Sonora Grill in Minneapolis in mid-May. As of Friday, 17 patrons reported illnesses. The restaurant is “fully cooperating” with the health department’s investigation. Minnesota officials do not have any indication that there is an ongoing risk to customers of Sonora Grill.

To better identify the source of parasitic infections, Minnesota outbreak investigators want to speak with anyone who ate at Sonora Grill during the weekend of May 18-May 20, regardless of whether they became ill.

“Even if you have not been sick, your information can help us identify what may have caused these illnesses and prevent future illnesses,” said Trisha Robinson, an epidemiologist supervisor with MDH. 

“If you ate at Sonora Grill during that weekend of May 18-20, please contact the Minnesota Department of Health Waterborne Diseases Unit at 651-201-4891.” 

Advice to consumers
Anyone who has eaten any items from the recalled Del Monte vegetable and dip trays and developed symptoms of cyclosporiasis should seek medical attention and tell their doctors about their possible exposure to Cyclospora parasites.

Symptoms usually include diarrhea, with frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements. Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps/pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, and fatigue. Vomiting, body aches, headache, fever, and other flu-like symptoms may be noted. 

Some people who are infected with Cyclospora parasites do not have any symptoms. If not treated, the illness may last from a few days to a month or longer. Symptoms may seem to go away and then return one or more times, making diagnosis difficult.

“The Cyclospora parasite needs time — days to weeks — after being passed in a bowel movement to become infectious for another person,” according to the FDA notice. “Therefore, it is unlikely that cyclosporiasis is passed directly from one person to another.”

Cyclospora parasites can contaminate foods or beverages, but in the United States they are most often found on fresh produce. A spike in U.S. cases has been recorded during the summer months in recent years among people who consumed fresh cilantro from Mexico.

Consumers who bought the recalled Del Monte vegetable and dip trays in the outbreak states discard the products immediately. Washing or other cleaning processes may not be sufficient to eliminate the parasite from fresh produce or other raw foods, according to the FDA.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), the Minnesota Department of Health, and local health departments are investigating an increase of Cyclospora infections.

Photo illustration

To date, 11 ill patients in Wisconsin and three in Minnesota have reported purchasing a vegetable tray from a Wisconsin or Minnesota Kwik Trip location before their illness. The La Crosse, WI-based Kwik Trip, and Kwik Star is a chain of convenience stores founded in 1965 with locations throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota under the name Kwik Trip, and in northeast Iowa under the name Kwik Star.

The Del Monte vegetable trays sold at Kwik Trip contained broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and dill dip and may have been available at other retail locations.  Further details on distribution are pending.

Consumers should not eat the following products:

• Del Monte Vegetable Tray (containing broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and dill dip) 6 oz.
• Del Monte Vegetable Tray (containing broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and dill dip) 12 oz.

Kwik Trip is cooperating with state officials and voluntarily removed this product from their stores.

Cyclospora is a parasite commonly found in developing countries. People diagnosed with this infection in the U.S. often report having traveled; however, during the summer months, outbreaks and illnesses occur as a result of contaminated fresh produce entering the U.S. food market from endemic countries.

Symptoms of Cyclospora infection include:

• Frequent watery diarrhea
• Loss of appetite and weight
• Cramping, bloating, and/or increased gas
• Nausea (vomiting is less frequent)
• Fatigue
• Low-grade fever

Anyone experiencing any one of these symptoms should see a health care provider who can provide appropriate treatment. It may take a week after consuming the product for symptoms to begin. State health officials are continuing to conduct interviews with individuals who test positive for Cyclospora. Ill consumers are also encouraged to contact their local health department.

The investigation is ongoing. Additional information may be forthcoming.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click )

 

You’ve gotta give it to those marketing magicians at Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. Back in the 1990s when they introduced the phrase “golden extra sweet pineapple” they stated the obvious with fabulous flair. I can’t help myself. I have to write down the entire phrase when drafting a shopping list.

That brilliance will no doubt be eclipsed when the multi-national company begins marketing its genetically engineered, pink-fleshed version of the fruit with the tagline “extra sweet pink flesh pineapple” — as approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

beach-beatYep, that’s right, the FDA has signed off on Del Monte’s “EF2-114 pineapple” aka the “extra sweet pink flesh pineapple.”

The gestation period for the agency’s approval was 22 months, with the Coral Gables, FL, company having submitted its request for FDA evaluation in February 2015. That term will no doubt generate a lot of action in the comment section below about how our government hasn’t sufficiently researched the potential impact of the lab-modified plants.

But the people behind the golden Del Monte shield have been working on the pink version of their money-maker since at least 2005, no doubt with government regulations in one hand and their test tubes in the other. Regardless where you come down in the GMO debate, you’ve gotta believe corporations are at least as familiar with the danger zones GMO regulators will be watching as they are with the tax code.

In 2011 the government in Costa Rica, where the GMO pink pineapple has been in the R&D stages, gave Del Monte permission to expand its plantings of the fruit there.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture OK’d the genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered tropical fruit in January 2013.

At that time I was reporting for The Packer, a trade newspaper covering fresh produce and Del Monte’s marketing vice president Dennis Cristou told me the pink-fleshed pineapple was in a testing phase and years away from U.S. grocery store shelves.

He told me the variety had a working name of “Rosé” and I remember thinking that ad campaign could write itself.

A Rosé by any other name, though — be it EF2-114 or “extra sweet pink flesh” — is still genetically modified in the eyes of many consumers, and I imagine the pleasantly pink pineapples will face the same opposition that the non-browning Arctic Apple and recently approved “PPO_KO,” “X17” and “Y9” non-browning potatoes have seen on comment sections across the World Wide Web.

So at the risk of stirring the pot, here’s a bit of what we know about the “extra sweet pink flesh pineapple” from Del Monte Fresh Produce Co., which is still likely years away from a grocery store near you. If you want to read the scientific terms used by the feds, click on the links in the following paragraphs.

Del Monte’s in the pink, according to the FDA and USDA

Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. has not release photographs of the GMO pink-fleshed pineapple. Photo illustration
Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. has not released photographs of the GMO pink-fleshed pineapple. Photo illustration

FDA scientists concluded that there were no unresolved safety or regulatory issues under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act for the genetically engineered pink flesh pineapple.

Although Del Monte will market this pineapple in the United States, the company is not planning on growing it here.

The new pineapple has been genetically engineered — with tangerine genes — to produce lower levels of the enzymes already in conventional pineapple that convert the pink pigment lycopene to the yellow pigment beta carotene.

“Lycopene is the pigment that makes tomatoes red and watermelons pink, so it is commonly and safely consumed,” according to FDA’s letter.

Fruit from the Del Monte Rosé pineapple cultivar does not have the ability to propagate and persist in the environment once they have been harvested.

In documents filed with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Del Monte reported 65 percent of the pineapple it imports to the U.S. is sold to the fresh sector. About 15 percent goes to fresh-cut, with the balance sent to juice and frozen food processors.

The new genetically modified pink variety is eventually planned to be sold in the same channels and at about the same percentages, according to the documents filed with USDA.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

Freshpoint Vancouver Ltd. is recalling Del Monte and Sysco Imperial Fresh brand cantaloupes because of possible Salmonella contamination. Fresh cantaloupe with juicy chunks ready to be eaten Consumers should not consume and retailers, hotels, restaurants and institutions should not sell, serve or use the recalled melons, according to the Feb. 18 recall notice on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) website. “Food contaminated with Salmonella may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick. Consumers who are unsure if they have the affected cantaloupes are advised to check with their retailer,” according to the notice. This recall was triggered by CFIA test results. The CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. Check to see if you have recalled products in your home. Recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased. Salmonella is particularly dangerous for young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems who may contract serious and sometimes deadly infections. Healthy people may experience short-term symptoms such as fever, headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Long-term complications may include severe arthritis, according to CFIA. The recalled cantaloupe can be identified as follows:

  • Del Monte brand cantaloupe sold individually through Feb. 18, PLU code 4050;
  • Del Monte brand cantaloupe sold in 12-count cases, Lot 360012, no UPC number; and
  • Sysco Imperial Fresh brand cantaloupe sold in 3-count packs, Lot 127 12 035 5, no UPC number.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

The Giant Eagle grocery chain based in Pittsburgh, PA, has recalled its Giant Eagle Apple Pistachio Salad and Apple Pistachio Salad with Chicken because the salads may contain fresh cut Gala red apples currently recalled by Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. due to potential Listeria monocytogenes contamination. To date, Giant Eagle has received no reports of customer illnesses associated with this recall. Del Monte previously distributed a press release regarding the recall of pre-cut Gala red apples and named Giant Eagle as one of the recipients of the affected product under the Giant Eagle label. The salad items may have been sold in Pennsylvania and Ohio Giant Eagle locations from Nov. 29 through Dec. 9, 2014, with sell-by dates of Dec. 1 through Dec. 11. Labels attached to the product packaging bear the names “Apple Pistachio Salad” and “Apple Pistachio Salad With Chicken.” Sell-by dates of Dec. 1 through Dec. 11 can be found directly underneath the product names. Upon notification from Del Monte, Giant Eagle immediately removed all potentially affected product from the prepared foods areas and also implemented a register block to ensure that the product was not inadvertently purchased. Additionally, the company reached out to customers who had purchased the potentially affected product and updated telephone contact information in the Giant Eagle Advantage Card loyalty program. Customers who have purchased the affected product should dispose of it or return it to their local Giant Eagle store where they will receive a refund. Consumers may also call Del Monte at 1-800-659-6500 (operating 24 hours a day). The affected Del Monte fresh-cut Gala red apples were distributed to retailers in multiple states in the northeast U.S. and are being recalled because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women. The recall is being implemented because samples of red apple slices produced by Del Monte and collected by the Division of Food Safety of the Ohio Department of Agriculture tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. FDA was notified on Dec. 9.

Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Inc. (“Del Monte Fresh”) announced Wednesday the voluntary recall of fresh-cut fruit products containing Gala red apples grown in Pennsylvania. The affected products were distributed to a limited number of customers in a few states in the northeast U.S. and are being recalled because these apples have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. The fresh-cut red apples have a red-colored skin. The recalled fresh-cut fruit packages containing red apples were distributed for sale in clear plastic containers with one of the following labels and markings:

Finished Product Descriptor Package size/Weight BIUB Retailer Brand/Label  Lot Number Product Quantities
Red/Green Apples W/Dip 9 oz 12/8/2014 Giant Eagle Plain Transparent Label 2332101 50
Gala Apples 12 oz 12/8/2014 Giant Eagle Plain Transparent Label 2332101 20
Apple W/Dip 24 oz 12/8/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 62
Apple Tray W/Dip 24 oz 12/8/2014 Giant Eagle Plain Transparent Label 2332101 6
Red/Green Apples W/Dip 5 oz 12/8/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 8
Red Apple Slices 12 oz 12/7/2014 Amazon Del Monte 2332101 6
Red/Green Apples W/Dip 5 oz 12/7/2014 Amazon Del Monte 2332101 6
Pineapple Medley 16 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 156
Pineapple Medley 8 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 114
Apples/Grapes/Cheese 7 oz 12/6/2014 Sunoco Nature Made 2332101 96
Gala Apples 12 oz 12/8/2014 Giant Eagle Plain Transparent Label 2332101 2
Gourmet Bowl 64 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Plain Transparent Label 2332101 4
Pineapple Medley 16 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Del Monte 2332101 6
Pineapple Medley 8 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Del Monte 2332101 4
Snack Pack 7 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 14
Apples/Grapes/Cheese 7 oz 12/6/2014 Peters Nature Made 2332101 108
Red Apple With Caramel 5 oz 12/8/2014 Peters Del Monte 2332101 60
Gourmet Bowl 40 oz 12/6/2014 Amazon Del Monte 2332101 3
Red Apples/Grapes/ Cheese/Dip 7 oz 12/6/2014 Amazon Nature Made 2332101 6
Gourmet Bowl 64 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 120
Pineapple Medley 32 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 128
Apple Cinnamon Yogurt 6.5 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 44
Gourmet Fruit Bowl 4 Lbs 12/3/2014 Wegmans Wegmans 2332101 78
Gourmet Fruit Bowl 4 Lbs 12/3/2014 Wegmans Wegmans 2332101 50
Red Apple Gala 12 oz 12/8/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 142
Red and Green Apple With Dip 24 oz 12/8/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 56
Apple with Dip 24 oz 12/8/2014 Giant Eagle Plain Transparent Label 2332101 14
Gourmet Bowl 64 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 60
Pineapple Medley 32 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 80
Pineapple Medley 16 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 4
Pineapple Medley 8 oz 12/6/2014 Giant Eagle Farmer’s Market – Giant Eagle 2332101 140
Red Apple With Cheese 5 oz 12/6/2014 Sheetz Sheetz M-T-O 2332101 48
Apples/Carrots/ Cheese with Dip 7 oz 12/8/2014 Sheetz Sheetz M-T-O 2332101 156
Harvest Blend 4 oz 12/6/2014 7-Eleven 7-Eleven 2332101 1200

The voluntary recall of the fresh-cut fruit products containing red apples is being implemented as a result of a random test by the Division of Food Safety of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and FDA was advised on Dec. 9, 2014. Although no illnesses have been reported to date, Del Monte Fresh voluntarily decided to recall the potentially affected lot. Consumers who believe that they are in possession of the fresh-cut fruit products containing the affected red apples should dispose of the products in an appropriate waste container. For any inquiries, consumers may call 1-800-659-6500 (operating 24 hours a day) or email Del Monte Fresh at Contact-US-Executive-Office@freshdelmonte.com. Listeriosis symptoms may include fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea and other gastrointestinal distress, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. recalled some of its fresh-cut fruit packages containing mangoes from Mexico’s Agricola Daniella because they may be contaminated with Salmonella. Dell Monte said its recall was associated with Coast Distributors Inc., one of four importers supplying the Mexican grown Agricola Daniella brand mangoes to customers in the U.S. Del Monte in turn distributed the recalled mangoes to retailers in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee. The recalled fresh cut fruit packages are in clear plastic bowls.  Product details can be found here. Splendid Products of Burlingame, CA first recalled Daniella brand mangoes in the U.S. because they were associated with 25 Salmonella Braenderup illnesses in 25 states.  Three other distributors have now joined the recall.

Del Monte Fresh Produce has withdrawn its threatened lawsuit against the Oregon Public Health Division and its senior epidemiologist, who with other public health officials last year  traced a multistate outbreak of Salmonella infection to cantaloupes imported from the company’s Asuncion Mita farm in Guatemala.

The news was reported by Lynne Terry of The Oregonian. She wrote that Del Monte Fresh Produce notified the state earlier this month that it would not go forward with legal action against William Keene and his department.

Del Monte Fresh Produce had announced its threat in a news release in August, claiming that “misleading allegations” had been made in naming the Guatemalan cantaloupes as the likely source of Salmonella infection that sickened at least 20 people, and sent three to the hospital. The case patients were from Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington.

Twelve of 16 ill people had reported eating cantaloupe in the week before they became ill, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on the outbreak investigation. Eleven of those 12 people had purchased cantaloupes from eight different Costco stores and traceback information indicated the melons were from a single farm — Asuncion Mita in Guatemala.

Del Monte Fresh Produce voluntarily recalled the Guatemalan cantaloupes on March 22, 2011 after it was notified of the epidemiological link between the melons the outbreak of Salmonella Panama infection.

But when the Food and Drug Administration banned further cantaloupe imports from the company’s Guatemalan farm, Del Monte Fresh Produce sued the FDA and got it to back down on the import alert. It also claimed it was wrongly blamed for the outbreak.

Food safety experts and consumer activists predicted the case targeting Oregon Public Health — recognized for its food safety leadership — would not go far, but said they saw the complaint filed by Del Monte Fresh Produce as an attempt to intimidate public health programs across the country.

Dr. Katrina Hedberg, Oregon state epidemiologist, told The Oregonian that dealing with the tort claim had been time-consuming, so it was a relief when it was withdrawn and they could resume focusing on their job — protecting the public’s health.

The claim was unprecedented, Terry noted:

State epidemiologists investigate dozens of foodborne illness outbreaks every year and name the culprits to prevent more people from getting sick. No other company has ever filed a suit or threatened to sue Oregon over one of those investigations.


“There have been lots of outbreaks,” Hedberg said. “Why some companies choose to work with public health and others want to fight it — I can’t answer that.”

A Del Monte Fresh Produce spokesman declined to comment, telling Terry the company “does not comment on ongoing or closed investigations.”

Del Monte’s legal cannon shot fired at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Oregon Public Health department over the past week was heard clearly by food safety officials around the country, from Washington state to Washington D.C.  And they don’t like what they hear.

Public health authorities and consumer activists described the complaint filed by Del Monte Fresh Produce as an attempt to intimidate food safety programs across the country.

But experts close to the food industry described it as one large corporation declaring: “Enough is enough.” 

Either way, the lawsuit is a response to a finding by the FDA earlier this year that a Salmonella Panama outbreak that had sickened 20 people in 10 states was likely caused by contaminated cantaloupes grown in Guatemala and imported by Del Monte Fresh Produce.

At the time, the Florida-based company voluntarily recalled nearly 5,000 cartons of cantaloupes, and since then the FDA has banned further cantaloupe imports from the company’s site in Asuncion Mita, Guatemala.

However, public health authorities never established a positive match — a genetic “fingerprint” — linking Del Monte’s cantaloupes to the Salmonella infections. Instead, the investigation was based on established epidemiological procedures — interviews with the victims and a process of elimination that concluded there was a high probability that cantaloupes were the culprit. Traceback information from Costco indicated the suspect brand was Del Monte Fresh Produce. 

The company’s 25-page complaint, filed in Maryland, questions the findings of that investigation and seeks to lift the FDA’s restrictions on cantaloupe imports from Guatemala. And it challenges the federal import alert, which empowers FDA to detain goods without physical examination, and requires the company to show its melons are safe.

The company also served notice it will sue Oregon Public Health, and senior epidemiologist Dr. William Keene, who was one of several investigators from different states who worked on the case last March.

Del Monte Fresh Produce’s complaint says the FDA forced it to recall its cantaloupes or “suffer the consequences of an FDA consumer advisory questioning the wholesomeness” of its product. The subsequent ban on imports is unlawful, the company claims, because it is not supported by the facts.

The company now claims its cantaloupes were wrongly blamed for the outbreak.

One lawyer who represents U.S. companies in food poisoning cases said companies like Del Monte are frequently frustrated with being forced into costly recalls despite a lack of what they consider to be conclusive evidence.

Companies are notified by the FDA with little or no warning, explained the lawyer, who asked not to be quoted by name. “”You get a day or two heads-up that it appears to be your product, and there is not much opportunity to have a conversation … There is not enough collaboration, and it comes across as not even-handed.”

Keene, in particular, has antagonized companies with his outspoken style, the lawyer said.

However, food safety advocates pointed out that the public health system is primarily responsible for protecting consumers, not companies.

“Del Monte appears to be asking for the almost impossible before the FDA can issue an alert,” warned Caroline Smith DeWaal, a lawyer and food safety specialist at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. “The company wants the FDA to require a smoking gun, a positive genetic test, before taking action.  That is unrealistic and it puts a burden on investigators that is unmanageable.”

Dr. Tim Jones, the Tennessee state epidemiologist, does not expect the case to go far.  “But just the threat could have a chilling effect on public health agencies.”

Health departments should not be immune from lawsuits, Jones said. But Keene is an example of a public servant who is also a disciplined scientist.  “He is outspoken, but his comments are always justified,” Jones said. “It’s not a matter of cockiness. His job is to protect the public and that is what he tries to do. He is one of a small group of people willing to be blunt and honest with the industry, and I trust what he says.”

He and others stressed that Keene and others employ investigative tactics that are statistically sound and fully tested after many years of epidemiology.

When they can, authorities use genetic fingerprinting, the popular term for pulsed field gel electrophoresis, or PFGE, to establish a virtually certain link between an outbreak of illness and a specific food. But PFGE is limited because investigations usually occur weeks after the outbreak, and perishable food is likely to have been either consumed or discarded, making it impossible to test for contamination.

Keene explained the problem earlier this year in an interview with Food Safety News. “It would be great if we could just buy the product, take it to the lab and find Salmonella,” he said at the time.  “That’s something anybody can understand.  But when you offer up P values and probabilities, people want to say: ‘That’s just  statistical mumbo jumbo.’ “

In fact, epidemiologists have been tracking outbreaks for decades by interviewing victims, looking for foods that all or most of them have consumed, and employing basic statistics to zero in on a probable source.

Statistically, those findings can be just as powerful and persuasive as the lab results, according to food safety experts.

Their credibility was damaged, however, by the 2008 Salmonella outbreak that was originally blamed on tomatoes in a Mexican salsa, but later turned out to be peppers used in the same salsa. That error cost the tomato industry millions of dollars, and soured relations between the food industry and health agencies.

“I still don’t think the wrong thing was done there,” said Jones of the tomato misidentification. “There were nuances over how information was communicated.  But no one was being malicious or irresponsible. We would not be able to live with ourselves if a child died from food poisoning in the three days that we dilly-dallied around looking for that last piece of  conclusive evidence.”

Americans contradict themselves, he said, in that they “want their food to be 100 percent safe and they get angry when it isn’t…. and they also want 100 percent conclusive evidence before issuing a recall.”

(Marler Clark, the food safety law firm that sponsors this site, has filed suit against Del Monte Fresh Produce on behalf of several people sickened in last spring’s Salmonella outbreak.)

Del Monte Fresh Produce says it will file another lawsuit over the March recall of its imported cantaloupes, this one against the Oregon Public Health Division and its senior epidemiologist.

The second complaint follows one filed Aug. 22 in which the Coral Gables, FL-based company demanded that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lift an import alert that essentially bars cantaloupe grown at its Asuncion Mita farm in Guatemala from entering the U.S. 

The produce giant alleges there is no basis for the import ban, nor was there reason for its own recall of cantaloupes implicated in an outbreak of Salmonella earlier this year.

In its latest news release, the produce giant said it notified Oregon officials on Friday of its intent to sue, claiming that the state’s public health authority and one of its officials made “misleading allegations” regarding Del Monte Fresh Produce’s Asuncion Mita cantaloupes as the likely source of a cluster of illnesses. 

Del Monte voluntarily recalled the Guatemalan cantaloupes on March 22, after it was notified of an epidemiologic link between the melons and several cases of Salmonella Panama infection. Public health officials in Oregon, Washington and Maryland, among other states, were involved in making that connection between their case patients and what likely made them sick.

Twelve of 16 ill people had reported eating cantaloupe in the week before they became ill, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on the outbreak investigation. Eleven of those 12 people had purchased cantaloupes from eight different Costco stores and traceback information indicated the melons were from a single farm — Asuncion Mita in Guatemala.

The Oregon official who helped conduct that investigation wasn’t identified in the release, but a Del Monte Fresh Produce executive confirmed to the Packer that it is Dr. William Keene, one of the most highly regarded epidemiologists in the country.

“The Notice to Sue alerts the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division of its conduct and misleading allegations regarding Del Monte Fresh’s imported cantaloupes as the source of a Salmonella outbreak earlier this year despite the lack of sufficient factual basis,” Del Monte officials said in their news release.

Blaming Del Monte Fresh Produce cantaloupe for the outbreak of Salmonella Panama was based on speculation, the company claims. It characterized the investigation as “apparently cursory.”

Eventually at least 20 people, including three who were hospitalized, were reported to be infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella linked to cantaloupes, according to the CDC. The case patients were from Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington.

Although Del Monte Fresh Produce maintains that the FDA investigation “ultimately found no connection between its cantaloupes and any cases of Salmonella Panama, including in Oregon,” the federal agency imposed an import alert on the melons on July 15.  The import alert requires the company to show that its product is safe.

In its complaint against the FDA, Del Monte Fresh Produce said tests of sample cantaloupes from the Guatemalan farm were negative in April for Salmonella. But Del Monte Fresh Produce had announced the recall in March, after the suspect melons had passed their shelf-life date. It is not clear whether any of the cantaloupes tested were actually the suspect melons. In foodborne illness investigations, samples of the food from the same batch eaten may no longer available by the time the connection to an outbreak is made. Epidemiology, rather than a contaminated sample, is the evidence that points to a likely source.

Seattle-based Marler Clark, the law firm that sponsors Food Safety News, has filed suit against Del Monte Fresh Produce on behalf of clients who were sickened in the outbreak of Salmonella Panama linked to cantaloupes.