The salmonella outbreak linked to cantaloupe from Chamberlain Farms Produce Inc. that killed three in Kentucky and sickened people in more than 20 states “appears to be over,” federal officials say.
In its final update on the outbreak that lasted from July 6-Sept. 16, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the number of victims from 270 to 261. Ninety-four were hospitalized. The Oct. 5 update reduced the number of states involved from 26 to 24.
The Food and Drug Administration moved the outbreak out of the “current” category, assigning the case to the agency’s “post-response” team.
However, as of Oct. 10, FDA’s investigation into the growing and packing operation owned by Tim Chamberlain continued, with officials considering whether to take any disciplinary action in the case, FDA spokeswoman Pat El-Hinnawy said.
She said FDA’s last inspection of the farm was Sept. 21, but a report hasn’t been completed. FDA has not taken any regulatory action against Chamberlain or the farm, in Owensville, Ind.
Indiana reports ‘alarming’ situation
Indiana officials completed their own investigation at the farm, with a 42-page report mentioning “several alarming findings.” Many of the Indiana Health Department findings mirrored those included in a preliminary FDA report.
In his report, Indiana food scientist David Schmidt noted:
- “Stagnant” water in the pack shed and on equipment;
- Buildup of food, mud and debris in the shed and on equipment;
- Porous material, including wood and carpeting, on food-contact surfaces;
- Leaking water valves and pipes;
- Well water used in wash basin was 56 degrees;
- Cantaloupe harvested with bare hands;
- Cantaloupe stored for up to 48 hours in a 50-degree refer trailer, then re-washed and re-graded; and
- No ongoing testing or records of monitoring chlorine in the wash water.
“Mr. Chamberlain did not have test strips and was using a calculation of his own to achieve adequate concentrations of chlorine,” according to the report. “He had calculated that he should add X amount of chlorine every 45 seconds while filling the (wash) basin.”
Schmidt said Chamberlain was cooperative and corrected most of the problems after the first day of the state inspection Aug. 14-16.
No traceability measures
As for traceability, Chamberlain could not provide Indiana or FDA officials with much information. Chamberlain told The Packer in August that he did not use lot numbers. A list of distributors and retailers who received Chamberlain cantaloupe has not been released.
“Once the melons leave on shipping trucks, Mr. Chamberlain is unaware where they are heading,” according to the Indiana report.
Chamberlain, who began recalling his cantaloupe Aug. 17 continues to maintain there is no link between his fruit and the salmonella outbreak.
“While we acknowledge that the FDA report notes certain conditions allegedly observed at Chamberlain Farms, there is nothing in the report to indicate the conditions are a source of or contributed to any reported illnesses,” Chamberlain said in a written statement issued through his attorney.
The Indiana report states Chamberlain said he “will not be doing cantaloupes in the future and was planning on selling his cantaloupe equipment."
The CDC also issued a final statement about watermelon from the farm, which tested positive for a strain of salmonella that was “indistinguishable” from salmonella that sickened another 25 people in eight states, The CDC, however, could not verify a link between Chamberlain’s watermelons and the illnesses.
“Interviews did not identify a clear link between these illnesses and consumption of melons,” the CDC reported.