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FDA sends warning letter to farm linked to salmonella in cantaloupes

By Joe Whitworth , 04-Jan-2013

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent a warning letter to the farm at the centre of a salmonella outbreak that led to three deaths and sickened more than 250 people.

In the letter sent to Tim Chamberlain, president of Chamberlain Farms, the FDA outlines the results of an inspection of the produce packaging house and two of the growing fields as a result of epidemiological and traceback investigations, and analytical results that linked cantaloupes grown and packed on the farm to a nationwide outbreak.

It calls for the firm to provide the FDA with specific steps it has taken to correct the violations found and how they plan to prevent these violations occurring in the future.

Three dead 261 sickened

The outbreak of Salmonella enterica: Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Newport killed three and sickened 261 people in 24 states between 6 July and 16 September, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

From 14 to 31 August the FDA conducted an inspection of the produce packinghouse and growing fields and further inspected the growing fields between 19-21 September.

“Further, we note that environmental samples collected from your growing field during the inspection conducted September 19 - 21, 2012 yielded multiple isolates of Salmonella, including isolates that were indistinguishable by PFGE analyses from clinical isolates and cantaloupes that you packed,” the FDA said in the letter.

In an August inspection, the FDA found Salmonella Newport with a PFGE pattern indistinguishable from that of the outbreak strain was isolated from seven of 50 these environmental swabs and Salmonella Anatum was isolated from two of 50 environmental swabs.

“Although these corrections were made at the time of inspection, you have not provided FDA with any information demonstrating long-term corrective actions throughout your firm,” the agency continued.

No expectation of Salmonella free

FDA does not expect melons to be grown in a Salmonella free environment; however the findings suggest a source that is wide-spread and not consistent with background contamination.

Investigators documented seven conditions and practices that may have contributed to the contamination of the products with Salmonella.

However, it also noted two corrective actions while the inspection was on going. The full letter can be read HERE .

Chamberlain Farms sent a response to the FDA yesterday (Thursday).

In a seperate statement sent to FoodQualityNews.com the farm said it would not grow cantaloupes in 2013 and had dismantled and disposed of its cantaloupe packing equipment.

It added that sampling performed by a food safety microbiologist revealed that the bacterium linked to the outbreak was found in the surronding area.

"In short, while there was bacterial contamination present in CFP growing fields and produce, the identical strains of salmonella were sampled and isolated from various sources adjoining CFP fields.

"This means that that the source of the bacterial contamination was not CFP’s packing facilities, equipment or operations," added the statement. 

"The overwhelming evidence is that the bacterium that caused human illness was found in the growing fields from sources off of the CFP fields and was unrelated to any observed conditions of the CFP packing equipment, facilities or as a result of CFP operating procedures in connection with cleaning or packing its produce for distribution to the market."

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