For the latest update see "CDC declares Chamberlain cantaloupe outbreak over."
Inspectors found “poor sanitary conditions” at his packing shed — and three types of salmonella on cantaloupes and equipment — but the owner of Chamberlain Farms contends there isn’t any link between his fruit and an outbreak that has killed three.
“While we acknowledge that the FDA report notes certain conditions allegedly observed at Chamberlain Farms, there is nothing in the report to indicate the conditions are a source of or contributed to any reported illnesses,” owner Tim Chamberlain said in a written statement issued via his attorney Oct. 4.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, reports 270 people in 26 states have been sickened by two strains of salmonella that are “indistinguishable” from the salmonella at the farm. The illnesses began July 6.
Also, the Kentucky Department of Health confirmed the match of one strain in August on Chamberlain cantaloupe collected at retail. The CDC later matched two strains on Chamberlain cantaloupes and watermelons at the Owensville, Ind. farm to the outbreak strains.
The Food and Drug Administration released a report Oct. 3 on findings Aug. 14-31 at the farm. It details a variety of “poor sanitary conditions.” It is on file in the FDA’s Freedom of Information Act electronic reading room: tinyurl.com/Chamberlain-report.
The investigation is ongoing, FDA officials said Oct. 4, but agency policy bars them from discussing details.
Inspector Meisha Waters recorded numerous problems in her Aug. 14-31 report. She did the inspection while the packing shed was operating.
“I observed, standing water in the packing shed on the floor … and on the drip table … This water appeared to have algae growing in it,” Waters wrote in the inspection report.
She reported that swabs of surfaces in the packing shed and on cantaloupe from the field and in a cardboard bin in the shed tested positive for three kinds of salmonella.
Waters also found multiple instances of standing water and buildups of debris and green, brown and black material on packing equipment. Rust and other dirt was found on multiple pieces of packing equipment.
The packing shed, which does not have walls on two sides, had porous food contact surfaces including wood and carpeting on the pack line, Waters reported, making it virtually impossible for the surfaces to be sanitized.
Water lines carrying well water to the pack shed were leaking and covered with rust buildup.
“This water comes into direct contact with the cantaloupe,” according to the report.
The inspector reported no one was monitoring the effective levels of the chlorine sanitizer in the packing line water. Chamberlain could not provide any records regarding the water sanitizing process, according to the report.
Chamberlain said in August he began recalling his fruit Aug. 16, but officials characterized it as a “voluntary market withdrawl.” The FDA did not name Chamberlain Farms as the supplier until six days later. A list of wholesalers and retailers who received the fruit has still not been released. Chamberlain said the fruit did not have lot numbers for traceability.