Suslow said he is concerned about the signal the justice department is sending. He said he does not question the need for high standards of food safety requirements and agrees that pre-cooling and sanitizing washes are part of that for some cantaloupe, but he doesn’t believe the grower only should be liable.
“If the near-term standard for due diligence is that every farmer has a personal working knowledge to conduct a microbiological hazard analysis and operational risk assessment sufficient to prevent criminal charges if adulterated product enters the market, regardless of root-cause, we are all in big trouble,” Suslow said.
The justice department cites a number of deficiencies at the Jensens outdoor packing facility.
According to inspection reports from the Food and Drug Administration, those deficiencies include water pooling on floors, dirt and plant material on equipment, a floor that was difficult to clean, inadequate trench drains and equipment that could not be properly cleaned.
“… it is likely that the contamination occurred in the packing facility,” the FDA report states. “It is also likely that the contamination proliferated during cold storage.”
The FDA inspectors reported all samples from the growing field were negative for listeria monocytogenes. The samples included soil, wild animal excrement, perimeter and furrow drag swabs, agricultural water, pond water and cantaloupes.
In its conclusion that the Jensens cantaloupe was contaminated in the packing shed, the FDA pointed to a possible contamination source.
“Another potential means for introduction of listeria monocytogenes contamination into the packing facility was a truck used to haul culled cantaloupe to a cattle (feeding) operation,” the FDA report states.
“This truck traveled to and from a cattle operation and was parked adjacent to the packing facility where the contamination may have been tracked via personnel or equipment, of through other means into the packing facility.”