For related coverage see "Recalled Chamberlain cantaloupes did not have lot numbers."

Outbreak linked to Chamberlain Farms cantaloupe(UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 23, 12:30 p.m.) An official recall notice for Chamberlain Farms cantaloupes linked to an ongoing multi-state salmonella outbreak that has killed two lists the locations of retailers and wholesalers who bought the fruit.

Owner Tim Chamberlain said the FDA is still working on compiling a list of names of retailers who received and sold the suspect cantaloupes. He did not say why he didn't issue an official recall Aug. 16 when he voluntarily began withdrawing his cantaloupes from the supply chain.

"We wanted to be pro-active and work with the government," Chamberlain said when reached at noon Aug. 23.

"We voluntarily withdrew our product and went out and picked it up and disposed of it."

Chamberlain said he had planted about 100 acres of cantaloupe for this season. He said he wasn't sure how many melons he had shipped or how many acres were left unharvested when he stopped distribution for the season. He said the farm was incorporated in 2004 and has grown cantaloupe every year since then.

Food and Drug Administration officials posted the Chamberlain recall notice on the agency's recall Web page Aug. 23, about 12 hours after issuing a press release naming Chamberlain Farms, Owensville, Ind., as the grower linked to the outbreak.

"Chamberlain Farm Produce Inc. marketed cantaloupes to four retail grocery stores with grocery store retail outlets in Vanderburgh, Warrick, Gibson, and Dubois County, Indiana, and Wabash County, Illinois; and also to four wholesale purchasers located in Owensboro, Ky., St. Louis, Peru, Ill., and Durant, Iowa, respectively," the recall notice states.

The notice also said the grower notified all of the purchasers of its cantaloupes to take immediate action to remove all Chamberlain cantaloupes from the marketplace, "and all of the purchasers confirmed compliance with that request."

Federal officials named Chamberlain Farms, Owensville, Ind., in a cantaloupe recall news release issued late Aug. 22, increasing the number of confirmed illnesses to 178.

“The investigation into this outbreak continues in order to determine whether there are other possible sources,” according to the news release, which was issued via e-mail at 10:40 p.m. Aug. 22.

Neither the news release nor the recall notice included the volume of melons being recalled.

No descriptions or photographs of product stickers, packaging or labels were provided.

The FDA did not mention traceability information in the recall. The news release included a list of states where the cantaloupes were initially distributed.

“Records available currently indicate that this product was initially shipped to Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin, although further shipment was likely,” the Aug. 22 release stated.

Owners Tim and Mia Chamberlain withdrew their cantaloupe from the supply chain Aug. 16-17, according to FDA.

On Aug. 17 health officials in Kentucky announced their state laboratory had confirmed that the salmonella outbreak strain was identical to that found on two cantaloupes grown in Southwest Indiana and collected by investigators at retail. 

However, no state or federal officials would reveal the farm’s identity or the retailers that were known to have received Chamberlain cantaloupe.

Repeated calls to Chamberlain Farms from Aug. 19-22 went unanswered.

“After officials from the FDA and the state of Indiana briefed Chamberlain Farms on the current status of the investigation, Chamberlain Farms made the decision to recall its cantaloupe from the market place,” the FDA news release states.

“Earlier Chamberlain Farms had agreed to withdraw the cantaloupe from the market, and to cease distributing cantaloupes for the rest of the growing season. However, the decision to formally recall the product will facilitate removal of the product from the market and ensure the widest possible awareness of this action.”

The FDA did not immediately post the recall information on its official recall website.

Salmonella may be present on the inside and outside of the Chamberlain Farms cantaloupe, the news release states. It warns consumers against trying to wash the bacteria off the cantaloupe, instead advising them to throw away suspect cantaloupes.

The release did not explain why FDA officials believe the contamination might be present in the fruit's flesh as well as its exterior.

The most recent outbreak numbers, posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed the outbreak in 21 states, with 178 illnesses and two deaths, both in Kentucky. Sixty-two people have been admitted to hospitals because of the salmonella. The CDC also added Massachusetts to the list of states involved.

Outbreak linked to Chamberlain Farms cantaloupeThe number of ill persons identified in each state is: Alabama (13), Arkansas (3), California (2), Georgia (3), Illinois (21), Indiana (18), Iowa (7), Kentucky (56), Massachusetts (2), Michigan (6), Minnesota (4), Mississippi (5), Missouri (12), New Jersey (2), North Carolina (3), Ohio (4), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (3), Tennessee (6), Texas (2), and Wisconsin (4).

Legal action began hours before recall

Hours before Chamberlain Farms was named as the grower of the suspect cantaloupe from Southwest Indiana a Michigan mother filed a civil suit against Wal-Mart because her two minor daughters are victims of the outbreak.

The suit filed in Michigan's state court seeks financial damages for the Battle Creek, Mich., mother and her children. She bought cantaloupe at a Battle Creek Wal-Mart on July 12 and her children became sick within three days of eating it.

Seattle attorney and food safety advocate Bill Marler is handling the lawsuit against Wal-Mart for the Michigan mother. He also represents dozens of victims and victims' families who are suing Jensen Farms, Holly, Colo., in relation to the 2011 listeria outbreak linked to Jensen cantaloupes.

The Michigan mother's lawsuit mentions that Wal-Mart pulled all cantaloupe from Southwest Indiana. Several grocers took similar precautions, including Schnucks Markets, St. Louis, and Kroger Co., Cincinnatti.

Impact on cantaloupe industry

Local media reports from across Southern Indiana in the days before Chamberlain Farms was named described frustrated cantaloupe growers whose customers stopped buying their fruit.

Dan Egel, a plant pathologist at Purdue University and treasurer of the Southwest Indiana Melon and Vegetable Association, said Aug. 21 some growers had abandoned melons in their fields.

“One grower I spoke with has already plowed them under,” Egel said. “Others are saying they won’t plant any next year. One man had $15,000 worth in his cooler and he said he was just going to throw them out because no one wants to buy from the area.”

Egel said in his 17 years in the region the number of small cantaloupe growers has declined.

“It used to be if you grew watermelon you also grew a few acres of cantaloupe. That has changed,” Egel said. “Retailers started asking for the melons to be washed and then they started wanting them to be pre-cooled. ... That kind of equipment costs money that smaller growers just don’t have.”

Small or large, growers should be held to the same food safety standards, said Steve Patricio, chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, and Dan Vache, vice president of supply chain management for united Fresh Produce Association, Washington D.C.

Patricio said he is angry and frustrated by the current cantaloupe news. He said the California cantaloupe growers have been working on food safety techniques for their commodity for 20 years and have developed guidelines and materials for growers.

But Patricio and Vache said other entities along the supply chain have responsibilities, too.

Links in the food safety chain

“I’d like to believe that there would be unanimity with retailers on food safety requirements," Patricio said.

Vache said retailers and distributors not only need to require their suppliers to use good food safety practices, but they need to have traceability programs in place for instances such as the current salmonella outbreak.

“Some of these issues will go away when we achieve whole-chain traceability,” Vache said. “Once it leaves the grower’s hands it’s up to the rest of the chain.”

Vache also said retailers need to be diligent about buying from suppliers and distributors who have proven food safety programs. When regular suppliers run low, giving into the temptation to use a source with lower standards can lead to problems.

“It is incumbent upon them to have more discipline in their buying practices,” Vache said.