The Indiana grower who recalled cantaloupe in August after it was linked to a salmonella outbreak that has killed two is now recalling watermelons because of possible contamination with a different type of salmonella.
Indiana health officials said no illnesses had been linked to the watermelons as of Sept. 13, but they are investigating an outbreak of Salmonella Newport found on the Chamberlain watermelons, said Amy Reel, director of public affairs for the state Department of Health.
Tim Chamberlain, owner of Chamberlain Farms, Owensville, Ind., released a statement via his attorney, Gary Zhao of the Chicago law firm SmithAmundsen LLC.
“We are continuing to cooperate fully with authorities at the FDA and the Indiana State Department of Health to determine the full facts about the source of the salmonella found on our watermelon,” Chamberlain’s statement said.
“... We promise that we will continue to evaluate the available evidence, work closely with the investigating authorities and do all that we can to protect the well being of the consumers of our produce.”
Leaders in the watermelon industry said they support the federal and state investigations of “this isolated incident on one farm,” according to a written statement from Mark Arney, executive director of the National Watermelon Promotion Board, Orlando, Fla.
However, Arney stressed that “this is not indicative of our industry as a whole.”
Food safety is foremost for the industry, said Robert Morrissey, executive director of the National Watermelon Association, Lakeland, Fla.
Morrissey said the association’s 2009 release of the second edition of its food safety protocols for the watermelon industry was described by FDA as “the most comprehensive food safety protocol in the produce industry.”
“Our mantra remains … implement both food safety and traceability into your operations. Perform them without delay,” Morrissey said.
Morrissey said growers and shippers should not rely on the watermelons to protect themselves.
“We do not rely on the rind as a natural protectant of the edible meat inside a watermelon,” Morrissey said. “Nor do we rely on the previously unblemished record of no production-related outbreaks or recalls.”
Indiana health officials said they found Salmonella Newport contamination on watermelons still in the field at Chamberlain Farms during their investigation of a separate Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak linked to the farm’s cantaloupe.
Reel said Indiana officials collected watermelon samples “well after” the initial Aug. 14-16 cantaloupe investigation at the farm. The volume of watermelons distributed by Chamberlain is unknown, Reel said.
“But I know it was much less than the number of cantaloupes distributed,” Reel said.
Reel stressed that the situation with Chamberlain’s watermelon is separate from the recall of cantaloupes from the farm. The cantaloupes have been linked to a 25-state outbreak that has sickened 240 people, including three deaths in Kentucky.
Reel said Indiana officials are working with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on investigations of Chamberlain’s watermelons and cantaloupes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 2,000 kinds of salmonella that can cause disease in humans. Of those varieties, three — Newport, Typhimurium and Enteritidis — account for about half of the confirmed salmonella illnesses reported by the public health laboratories.
Salmonella Newport has “increased markedly since 1995 and is now the third-most frequent serotype,” according to the CDC website.