(UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 20) An unidentified Indiana cantaloupe grower has recalled cantaloupes that are linked to two deaths and 141 illnesses from salmonella.
Three states' health officials linked salmonella cases to melons from Southwest Indiana. The deaths were in Kentucky.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. began pulling cantaloupe from the suspect region Aug. 17, according to spokeswoman Diana Gee. Officials from the Kroger Co., Cincinnati, and Schnucks Supermarkets, St. Louis, made simialr announcements.
Lori Willis, Schnucks spokeswoman, said the regional chain pulled all cantaloupes from southwest Indiana and has coordniated with its suppliers to procure cantaloupes from other regions so that supplies would not be disrupted for consumers.
Kroger's manager of publc affairs for its Delta Division in Memphis, Tenn., said the company's stores do not have cantaloupes from the area of Indiana where the investigation is ongoing. In his statement, Joe Bell said Kroger's Delta Division is selling cantaloupes sourced from California. He said the investigation does not include any suppliers that the chain has used this year.
In an outbreak report, officials with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the grower stopped shipping cantaloupes for the rest of the season.
Kraig Humbaugh of Kentucky's Department for Public Health told Reuters that watermelons from the same region in Indiana are also being investigated as another possible source of a smaller salmonella outbreak.
The United Fresh Produce Association, Washington D.C., issued a member alert with talking points for members in an attempt to minimize negative impact.
"United Fresh, working in cooperation with other produce industry organizations, advises members to be prepared to address questions from customers, business partners or consumers about the outbreak," according to the e-mail.
Information that United Fresh suggests members to cover include:
- Only cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana (and most likely a single farm) have been linked to the salmonella outbreak;
- The FDA is expected to identify the farm linked to the outbreak, helping locate product in the supply chain;
- The cantaloupe industry follows stringent, science-based guidance to minimize contamination; and
- The produce industry is committed to the highest standards of food safety, and considers consumer safety to be the highest priority.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the cantaloupe-related outbreak spans 20 states and has sickened at least 141 people, killing two in Kentucky and sending 31 to hospitals.
"FDA officials are actively investigating potential sources of the outbreak, and will continue to update the public as more specific information becomes available," according to a statement on the FDA's Coordinated Outbreak and Response (CORE) Network website.
"In the course of their investigation, state officials in Kentucky and Indiana found evidence that they believe indicate cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana may be a source of the ongoing Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak," the FDA notice states.
As of Aug. 17, the FDA reported states included in the outbreak and the number of illnesses were: Alabama 7, Arkansas 3, California 2, Georgia 1, Illinois 17, Indiana 13, Iowa 7, Kentucky 50, Michigan 6, Minnesota 3, Missouri 9, Mississippi 2, New Jersey 1, North Carolina 3, Ohio 3, Pennsylvania 2, South Carolina 3, Tennessee 6, Texas 1 and Wisconsin 2.
The Indiana Department of Health issued a consumer alert Aug. 17 urging consumers to throw out all Indiana-grown cantaloupes they bought since July 7.
"The Indiana State Department of Health is investigating farms in Southwest Indiana as well as distributors and retailers, as potential sources of the outbreak," according to the alert.
Amy Reel, director of public affairs for the Indiana Department of Health, said one grower voluntarily began a "market withdrawl" and had stopped shipping cantaloupes.
"We don't call it a recall because it is voluntary and we don't want anyone to mistakenly think the grower is being forced to take this action," Reel said. "But the process has begun."
Indiana officials said 14 residents and more than 140 people nationwide have been sickened by the same strain of salmonella found in the Southwest Indiana cantaloupes.
Before Indiana's alert, Kentucky health officials announced they linked a salmonella outbreak to cantaloupes from Indiana.
Tennessee health officials said that at least six salmonella cases in the state are from the same strain. No cantaloupes grown in Tennessee or Kentucky have been linked to the outbreak.
"Cantaloupes grown on one farm have tested positive for the same type of salmonella causing illnesses in Tennessee and several other states," according to the alert from the Tennessee departments of health and agriculture.
State and federal officials apparently identified at least one Indiana grower whose cantaloupe have tested positive for the specific strain of salmonella, but the grower has not been named.
“It is an ongoing investigation so we are not yet releasing the names of any growers,” said Beth Fisher, public information officer with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Officials are not sure if any of the implicated cantaloupes are still available for sale, Fisher said.
The salmonella outbreak began in early July. Fisher said investigators linked it to cantaloupes from southwestern Indiana by patient interviews, lab tests on patients and tests of cantaloupes matching the specific strain of salmonella affecting Kentucky residents.