For an updated report, please see: Burch says recalled cantaloupes are Caribbean Golds, not Athenas.
A recall of about 5,200 Athena cantaloupes in two states ballooned to more than 188,900 cantaloupes distributed in 10 states after inspectors found “unsanitary conditions” at Burch Equipment LLC’s cantaloupe packing facility.
The Faison, N.C., grower, which operates under the name Burch Farms, initially recalled 580 cases of cantaloupes July 28. A positive result for listeria from a random sampling by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Data Program sparked the recall.
The voluntary recall expanded Aug. 2 to include 13,888 cases and 581 bulk bins of the Athena melons. No illnesses had been reported, according to the Aug. 2 recall notice. The cases each hold nine melons and the bins each have 110 cantaloupes.
“The recall expansion is based on unsanitary conditions found at the cantaloupe packing shed during FDA’s ongoing inspection that may allow for contamination of cantaloupes with listeria monocytogenes,” the Aug. 2 notice states.
Although all of the recalled cantaloupes were grown at Burch Farms, some may carry stickers with the name Cottle Strawberry Inc. and a produce lookup code of 4319, according to the Food and Drug Administration notice. Cottle is not involved in the recall.
Some of the Burch Farms cantaloupes were packed in sweet potato boxes, according to a public warning issued by FDA on July 30. The recall notice said the Burch cantaloupes each had oval-shaped red stickers with the words “Burch Farms” and Product Look-Up codes of 4319.
FDA officials did not respond to questions regarding the investigation or traceability of the cantaloupes. It is not known if the grower is still harvesting melons.
Repeated calls to the Burch Farms phone number listed on the recall notice as the consumer contact were answered by an unidentified woman who said the company had no comment.
The initial recall notice stated the Burch melons had been shipped to retailers in New York and Maine. However, there were reports that some ShopRite retail stores in New Jersey had some of the cantaloupes.
Hannaford Supermarkets, Scarborough, Maine, issued its own recall notice for the Burch Farms melons July 28. The chain has 181 stores in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said Aug. 2 that he could not comment on the recall or what kind of containers the cantaloupes had been shipped in. He referred all questions to Burch Farms.
The expanded recall notice states the more than 188,900 cantaloupes were distributed in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia. The recalled fruit was shipped July 15-27.
One day before the recall was expanded, some cantaloupe growers were optimistic that the recall would not have much impact on sales, especially if no illnesses are connected to the melons.
“I don’t know how aware the general public and buyers elsewhere are of the situation,” said John Gilstrap, manager of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board in Dinuba. “I haven’t heard of anything in the way of a ripple effect yet.”
Steve Patricio, a cantaloupe grower who is also the chairman of the California advisory board and chairman of the Center for Produce Safety, said Aug. 1 the industry is watching the recall carefully, hoping that mainstream media won’t sensationalize the story.
Note on correction: The original headline on this story was incorrect. The FDA reported inspectors found "unsanitary conditions" at Burch Farms cantaloupe packing shed that "may allow for contamination of cantaloupes with listeria monocytogenes."