The North Carolina grower who expanded a listeria-related cantaloupe recall to more than 188,000 melons in recent days says the cantaloupes are actually Caribbean Golds — not Athenas — as the original and expanded recalls stated.
No illnesses have been reported, but it can take from two weeks to two months for listeria symptoms to develop after exposure, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The melons shipped July 15-27 to 10 states.
Caribbean Gold cantaloupes have a much longer shelf life than Athenas and they could pose a longer-term threat because consumers may still have them in their home refrigerators, said Trevor Suslow, extension research specialist at the University of California-Davis who volunteers at the Center for Produce Safety.
The recall by Burch Farms, operating under the name Burch Equipment LLC, began July 28 with 5,200 melons distributed to two states. On Aug. 2 the farm expanded the recall.
In the expanded recall notice, Burch warned retailers and consumers that some of the cantaloupes carried stickers from Cottle Strawberry Inc., but Cottle and its crops are not included in the recall.
Jimmy Burch Jr., of Burch Farms, Faison, N.C., said a government inspector made the error about the variety of melons being recalled while filling out a form during collection of random test samples for the Microbiological Data Program at retail in New York.
“The FDA was breathing down our necks so hard and threatening legal action when my dad was proof reading the notice they sent he just read over the word Athena and didn’t notice it was the wrong variety,” Burch said Aug. 6. “There’s still only one melon that has tested positive.”
Officials with the Food and Drug Administration say they can’t discuss details about an ongoing investigation.
Regarding the Cottle Strawberry Inc. stickers on the cantaloupes, Burch said his packing facility ran out of their own stickers and had some Cottle stickers with the same Price Look-Up code, so they used them.
“We shouldn’t have done that, but we had an order we needed to get out. We won’t do that again,” Burch said of the Cottle stickers.
Burch said inspectors had been at his packing facility and growing fields the week of Aug. 1 and he expected them to return Aug. 7.
“We’re running business as usual as much as we can,” Burch said, adding that the farm handles a variety of commodities, each with their own separate packing facilities.
“At the point they notified us about the positive listeria test on the one melon, we had already shipped everything for the season.”
Burch Farms shipped the recalled cantaloupes to retailers in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina. The initial recall notice July 28 said they were shipped to Maine and New York.
In a July 30 warning to consumers and retailers, the Food and Drug Administration stated that “the cantaloupes were shipped in sweet potato cartons,” but Burch said Aug. 6 that the farm uses sweet potato bins for the field harvesting of cantaloupes. The melons then go to a packing shed specifically for cantaloupe and are shipped in cantaloupe cartons and bulk bins.
He said the farm has been growing cantaloupes for about five years. They planted about 115 acres of cantaloupes for this season.
“We may not plant any next year,” Burch said.