FDA cites unsanitary conditions at cantaloupe operation - The Packer

FDA cites unsanitary conditions at cantaloupe operation

10/03/2012 10:45:00 AM
Coral Beach

CantaloupeFederal 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.

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Government Gumby    
Washington D.C  |  October, 03, 2012 at 08:18 PM

What happeneed to all of the third party audits? Krogers audits? Walmart audits?

USA  |  October, 03, 2012 at 10:10 PM

The retailers realize the 3rd party audits are only a one day snapshot and is not worth much, but audits are costly to the growers. The disturbing fact in this and other cases is, FDA was there, had seen the filthy operation, knew the product will hurt consumers and didn’t used their power they have now with the FSMA law since July 3, 2011 to shut down the place and keep the contaminated food out of the market place until the testing was done. It looks like only Michael Taylor from FDA knows what’s in FSMA but not the inspectors out in the field: Mike Taylor, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods said: “Rules took effect July 3, 2011. The first rule strengthens the FDA’s ability to prevent potentially unsafe food from entering commerce by allowing the agency to administratively detain food the agency believes has been produced under unsanitary or unsafe conditions.” “This authority strengthens significantly the FDA’s ability to keep potentially harmful food from reaching U.S. consumers,” As we can see almost daily on different recalls. FDA is not using the mandate given and to protect the consumers and a whole industry from being hurt. Recalls are not only costly for everybody in the supply chain, good producers can’t sell their product either.

glendale  |  October, 03, 2012 at 10:33 PM

when are the retailers stop buying from these small insigificant growers who give the cheapest prices to retailers to reel them in? When these shippers have no inspections in place that's the first sign something is wrong. It gives the rest of melon growers a bad name.

Nogales Az  |  October, 04, 2012 at 10:21 AM

Barry any point of sale should also be held responsible for the well being of consumers that pay them money. Any person or business in that supply chain who received money in exchange for food or services associated with that specific commodity, should be held accountable for anything related to the food. If that food made the customer feel happier more power to them for the return sales and the viral propaganda, however if they became ill or worst dead, shame on them for foregoing the extra step to ensure that it complied with 100% GAP from farm to fork. There are levels and there are levels. Growers, shippers, food service suppliers, restaurants, retailers & institutions. Unfortunately human lives will be the price to pay before this gets any better.

salinas, california  |  October, 04, 2012 at 10:49 AM

Growers/packers/shippers all need to be held accountable that they strictly follow good growing practices, GMP's, and have established SOP's that reflect today's necessary food safety standards,,,,,,,,,and document that these procedures are strictly adhered to. Just as importantly, all company's procurring product need to be responsible for doing their due dilligence and making sure all suppliers of product they use have current, documented, and implemented food safety programs. It needs to be a shared performance (between seller and buyer) in regards to food safety, a common denominator that precedes price, transportation miles, buy local pressure, or any other variables. Food safety first and foremost.

Chuck Niwrad    
Fresno, CA  |  October, 04, 2012 at 10:49 AM

Responsible packers use third party audits and inspections as a tool for evaluating and improving their operations. Irresponsible packers view passing an audit as an end in itself and operate differently the other 364 days of the year. I don't want the FDA closing down facilities, that's too much power given to a government agency and what we all agree is a clear and present danger now, may morph into something not so clear in the future, but I sure do want somebody to have the power to severely punish irresponsible packers like Chamberlain Farms. Chamberlain farms may be blacklisted by retailers, but besides losing business, the principals of that operation need to feel real pain for allowing those conditions to exist. There is absolutely no excuse.

USA  |  October, 04, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Chamberlain Farms has more then 500 acres melon fields. I don't consider them small. Same with Burch Farms and Jensen's. The problem we have seen is the same, dirty and filthy conditions, no recordkeeping how preventions is done because there wasn't anything to record, no labeling and a traceback system in place, to get the contaminated stuff out of the supply chain. This is what's hurt and will hurt in the future the industry. We can wait for the next incident if it's produce or any other product. All recalls boil down to the mentioned reasons. In the Chamberlain case the additional problem was FDA didn't used their power to shut the facility down, seeing the problem, writing it down and let them send contaminated melons for days into the market. They didn't have to wait until the test came back and confirm what they have seen and documented.

GA  |  October, 04, 2012 at 01:13 PM

Unacceptable that FDA did not immediatly stop operations including shipping at this facility when finding like these are present. This is no different than finding arsenic or some kind of poison, whether intentional or not, operations have to stop immediately. These are literaly poisons that kill and can kill many at a time. In this day and age with technology and all, this is very hard to believe.

C. Borboa    
Central Arizona  |  October, 05, 2012 at 06:26 PM

You left out the most important level and that is the diligent consumer. I've been in Produce areas of a lot of stores, and I've seen customers cough, handle, sneeze, and put back produce on the table. How sanitary is that. Do they wash the fruit when they get it home? What about knives that are used to peel and then slice without washing. Just thought I'd ask.

Alvaro Ramirez    
Silicon Valley  |  October, 08, 2012 at 03:33 PM

The article mainly points out the FDA failure to protect the consumer. If it's telling of anything is that the FDA as any other regulatory agency to divert the heat it will overstep, mandate and shut businesses down to show they are protecting consumers. The problem I see in making consumers the responsible party is that while they we as consumers must be careful, as a business you don't want to see yourself in court against a consumer. In the banking industry there is an old saying, "Never go to court against grandma. Even if you are right, jurors will only see grandma being hurt." As organizations we must assure our customers our products are safe to consume. If retailers were really serious about food safety - they should have a food safety department that is constantly visiting their vendors unannounced to conduct their own safety audits granted there is a set of guidelines everyone knows about - oh right, PTI is here.

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