Fields at Chamberlain Farm Produce tested positive for salmonella — and showed signs of wildlife activity — likely causing the initial contamination of cantaloupe linked to a deadly outbreak in 2012, according to federal officials.
The company’s failure to use basic food safety practices at an outdoor packing shed then likely caused cross contamination and led to further pathogen growth, according to a Food and Drug Administration environmental assessment released March 1.
Owner Tim Chamberlain has consistently denied the operation was the source of the contamination, including a statement in January from his attorney, Gary Zhao.
Zhao did not immediately respond to a request for comment on March 4.
Chamberlain said in the January statement that he had an independent microbiologist investigate the situation. He has said he will not grow cantaloupe for the 2013 season.
Courtesy Indiana State Department of HealthAn inspector from the Indiana State Health Department took this photo of the Chamberlain Farm Produce Inc. cantaloupe packing line in August 2012. The inspector noted porous wood surfaces and carpet-coverings as prime breeding grounds for salmonella and other deadly pathogens.Chamberlain contends the salmonella responsible for the 2012 outbreak “was present on surrounding lands and ... the source of the bacterial contamination was not (his) packing facilities, equipment or operations.”
In the March 1 report — http://tinyurl.com/FDA-Chamberlain — FDA investigators confirmed that multiple types of salmonella and other pathogens were found in Chamberlain’s fields, packing shed and water.
The FDA has not revealed what distributors and retailers received cantaloupe from the Owensville, Ind., farm in July and August 2012. However, the March 1 report states “29 consignees in eight states” received 222,000 cantaloupes from Chamberlain Farm.
The salmonella outbreak linked to the company’s cantaloupe killed three people in Kentucky and sickened 261 people in 24 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Many of the problems cited at Chamberlain Farm echoed bad practices the FDA reported in an investigation of Jensen Farms, Holly, Colo. That farm’s cantaloupes were linked to a 28-state listeria outbreak in 2011 that sickened 147 and killed 33.
Both the Jensen and Chamberlain packing sheds were outdoors and had equipment that could not be properly cleaned, according to the FDA. Equipment at both sheds had buildups of “filth” the FDA reported. The floors of both sheds allowed water to pool, providing a breeding ground for pathogens.
Both operations also failed to properly pre-cool cantaloupe, according to the FDA. The Chamberlain packing shed had evidence of birds roosting above packing equipment and bird droppings throughout the shed, the FDA reported.