Federal inspectors found “poor sanitary practices” and three types of salmonella on cantaloupes and packing equipment at Chamberlain Farms two days before the farm began recalling its fruit, which was eventually linked to outbreaks that have killed at least three.
Testing was done Aug. 14 and not made public until Oct. 3 by the Food and Drug Administration. The report is on file in the FDA’s Freedom of Information Act electronic reading room.
Officials with FDA did not immediately respond to requests for comments Oct. 3. As of its last update on Sept. 13, FDA reported the salmonella outbreak had reached 26 states sickening 270 people and killing three in Kentucky.
Tim Chamberlain, owner of the Owensville, Ind., farm said in August he began recalling his fruit Aug. 16, but officials characterized it as a “voluntary market withdrawl” and the FDA did not name Chamberlain Farms as the supplier until six days later.
A list of wholesalers and retailers who received the fruit has still not been released. Chamberlain said the fruit did not have lot numbers for traceability.
Inspector Meisha Waters recorded numerous problems in her Aug. 14 report. It is not clear when inspectors initiated their food safety review at Chamberlain Farms. The inspection was conducted while the packing shed was still operating.
“On 08/14/2012, while cantaloupes were being processed, I observed, standing water in the packing shed on the floor directly below the first (word blacked out in report) conveyer belts of the packing line and on the drip table, which is below the bristle conveyer belt where cantaloupes are being washed and rinsed. This water appeared to have algae growing in it,” Waters wrote in the inspection report.
Waters reported she “observed indications of poor sanitary practices demonstrating contamination in the firm’s cantaloupe packing shed through environmental swabs and product samples which tested positive for Salmonella.”
Salmonella Newport, Typhimurium and Anatum were found, but only the first two types have been linked to outbreaks. The pathogen was on cantaloupes collected from the fields and a cardboard bin in the packing shed.
Waters reported multiple instances of standing water where pathogens could breed as well as buildups of debris and green, brown and black material on packing equipment. Rust and other dirt was found on multiple pieces of packing equipment.
The packing shed, which does not have walls on the north and south sides, also had porous food contact surfaces such as wood and carpeting on the pack line, Waters reported, making it virtually impossible for the surfaces to be sanitized.
Water lines to the pack shed were also problematic.
“The processing water line is not constructed in such a manner as to prevent food contamination … while cantaloupes were being processed, I observed the pipe used to supply well water into the dump tank and spray nozzles over the conveyer belt were leaking and appeared to have an accumulation of rust. This water comes into direct contact with the cantaloupe as they are traveling along the processing line,” the report states.
The FDA inspector also found Chamberlain and his employees were not monitoring the effective levels of the chlorine sanitizer in the water in the concrete dump tank of the cantaloupe processing line. Chamberlain could not provide any records regarding the water sanitizing process.
Reports from Kentucky and Indiana health departments regarding salmonella illnesses in people who had eaten cantaloupe from the farm apparently spurred the FDA’s inspection of Chamberlain Farms. Kentucky health officials went public with information Aug. 17 when they announced two people were dead from salmonella infections linked to cantaloupes from a farm in southwestern Indiana.