FDA begins inspecting cantaloupe operations

05/09/2013 04:38:00 PM
Coral Beach

Federal inspectors have begun checking cantaloupe packing operations, with the first inspection at an unnamed facility in Florida.

Michelle Danyluk, food safety researcher and assistant professor at the University of Florida, discussed the inspection May 9 during a Web seminar sponsored by the Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association and the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

She said the owner was notified May 3 and the inspectors were at the facility on May 6 and 8.

Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association The inspections are in response to the deadly multistate outbreaks linked to cantaloupe in 2011 and 2012, according to a letter posted Feb. 25 by the Food and Drug Administration. Presenters for the seminar said they believe the agency will only be testing for listeria.

FDA officials said May 9 they could not identify what facilities had been inspected. They plan about 50 packinghouse visits this year.

“State officials will be notified in advance of the inspections and will be invited to join,” said FDA spokeswoman Catherine McDermott. “Environmental sampling will be done during the course of the inspection visits, but the number of swabs is determined by factors such as the type and size of the operation.”

McDermott said FDA investigators will complete a questionnaire based on observations and discussions with the responsible parties at the facility, but a copy of the questionaire “is not publically available at this time.”

The agency will collect cantaloupes from each operation for testing, McDermott said.

Georgia Fruit and VegetableGrowers AssociationDanyluk and Beth Bland Oleson of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association said test results would likely take at least two weeks.

“Some of our members have reported that retailers have said not to ship them any fruit packed while FDA was present and collecting samples until they get an all clear,” Oleson said.

Danyluk recommended packinghouses consider holding fruit regardless of customer demands to avoid possible recalls in the event of positive test results. She also recommended packers reduce the amount of fruit they run while FDA inspectors are present.

“You might want to consider running only half of what you would normally pack,” she said.

Danyluk also suggested packers reduce volumes of fruit stored in coolers prior to an FDA visit.

Georgia officials expect three to eight inspections, Oleson said. Danyluk said she was told North Carolina officials are expecting three inspections.


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RH    
Georgia  |  May, 10, 2013 at 12:19 PM

SGE can offer water treatment systems and sanitation washers to help with this issue. There is a solution available to help. Call SGE to see how we can help with sanitizing your packing house or facility.

MIke    
florida  |  May, 10, 2013 at 12:31 PM

I wonder if they send a bill for the inspection fee. And are there fines associated with changes needed or do they just shut you down until you comply?

John    
Florida  |  May, 10, 2013 at 02:34 PM

Mike, to my knowledge, the first inspection is free(tax-payer funded). If problems are found that require immediate attention, then any required follow-up inspections would be charged to the company. Usually, when FDA or USDA takes samples from our cooler, they offer to purchase the samples at fair market value. Of course, the few dollars they pay is nothing compared to the damage they cause due to the holding of entire lots. They take multiple weeks or sometimes months to send you your test results, even when they detect problematic bacteria. All of the fresh produce spoils and must be thrown away during this time. Some lots can contain multiple thousands of bushels of produce. They essentially create unwarranted financial hardship that can be devastating to any farm trying to turn a profit during these times.

Vance    
Arizona  |  May, 10, 2013 at 05:05 PM

Personally, I think intentionally reducing the amount of product packed and stored results in an inaccurate assessment of an operation. How can an auditor fully comprehend what is going on there if you are not following the status quo? The status quo is where errors and mistakes are more likely to be found. Doing less is not a fully accurate picture. The reason for the audits and inspections should be to protect the public health and the growers and vendors from unnecessary lawsuits and not to be sure you have a clean audit. Do it the right way, train, train, train and train again your employees. Make sure they know the reason why these changes are made and why they have to wash their hands 50 times a day. I have a compromised immune system due to diabetes and kidney failure. I don't want to think that a melon that comes into my home is going to make me sick and possibly kill me. I have 3 kids under the age of 12. The oldest also has Type 1 diabetes. If the attitude of the industry is only to pass an audit, then perhaps I won't be buying any melons again. Thank you.

Peter    
California  |  May, 13, 2013 at 01:00 PM

Agree 100% with Vance. Use these audits as a free opportunity to improve the sanitation levels of your facility. I consider each auditor to be a Free Employee and it brings our sanitation department to a First Class operation. Show me what needs to be improved and we will follow that path.

Mike    
florida  |  May, 17, 2013 at 02:14 PM

I grew up eating fruit and vegetables grown on chicken and turkey and cow manure. We never got sick, we ate dirt, we drank out of water hoses and swam in ponds. Our soils are alive with ecoli and the like. We have more testing now than we ever did, yet the problems seem to get worse every year. Is our society to sanitized now? Are we damaging our bodies every year we are alive because our country is being sterilized to death? Are these outbreaks like everything else in the media being blown out of proportion and to bolster the government programs funding levels?

MM    
AZ  |  May, 20, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Our food supply is safer than ever. Food-borne illnesses are at ridiculously low levels. What has changed is our ability to identify trends and patterns of illnesses making it easier (not EASY) to identify the source. Before there was mass-media and hyper-media, people would get sick but not be able to relate their own sickness to a larger pattern of sickness, now called an "outbreak." Because there is now form and association with these illnesses, it is easier to publicly identify both the cause of the illness (specific pathogen) and often times the source of the product (this aspect of the process still needs quite a bit of work).

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