(April 1, 9:07 a.m.) Cantaloupe from Agropecuaria Montelibano tested positive for salmonella freetown during the Food and Drug Administration’s traceback investigation of an outbreak of salmonella litchfield.

The FDA issued an import alert March 22 after traceback evidence linked product from Honduran grower-shipper Agropecuaria Montelibano with a salmonella litchfield outbreak that caused 50 reported illnesses in 16 states between Jan. 18 and March 5.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a health hazard alert on the same day, saying the product had been linked to nine illnesses in five provinces.

Agropecuaria Montelibano and Honduran government officials protested after the U.S. blocked imports of the melons, saying the FDA had no physical evidence.

FDA spokesman Sebastian Cianci, however, said the agency started to escalate its melon sampling as reports of illnesses increased. The positive test for salmonella freetown was taken from an import sample of Agropecuaria Montelibano’s product on March 12, he said.

Cianci said March 31 that the positive test supports the need to for an import alert, though it was for a different strain of salmonella.

NOT TO PUNISH THE COMPANY

Inspectors from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in Honduras the first week of April to meet with the company and government officials and to look at the company’s growing and packing operations.

“It’s not about punishing the company,” Cianci said. “The FDA’s mission is to ensure that we have safe food. We’re trying to find out at what point the pathogen got into the food and what will be needed to prevent it from happening again.”

A spokesman for Agropecuaria Montelibano could not be reached for comment March 31. The Associated Press reported that the company, which estimates it could lose up to $21 million because of the import ban, has laid off 1,800 of its 5,000 workers.

The grower-shipper said on its Web site that it produces nearly 3 million cartons of cantaloupe per year, and 2.5 million of that is shipped to the U.S.

IMPORTERS

The FDA has identified 10 U.S. importers who received cantaloupe from Agropecuaria Montelibano during the outbreak:

  • Bounty Fresh LLC, Miami;


  • C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn.;


  • Central American Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.;


  • Chiquita Brands International Inc., Cincinnati;


  • Dole Fresh Fruit International, Westlake Village, Calif.;


  • Legend Produce LLC, Firebaugh, Calif.;


  • Pero Vegetable Co. LLC, Delray Beach, Fla.;


  • T.M. Kovacevich International Inc., Philadelphia;


  • Tropifresh Inc., Los Angeles, and


  • Wuhl Shafman Lieberman Corp., Newark, N.J.

BRANDS

In addition to Chiquita and Dole, brands affected are:

  • Chestnut Hill Farms,


  • Perfect Melon,


  • Mike’s Melons and


  • Mayan Pride.

PROCESSORS

Product also was recalled by processors:

  • Charlie’s Produce Spokane, Spokane, Wash.;


  • Sun Rich Fresh Foods Inc., Richmond, British Columbia;


  • Simply Fresh Fruit, Los Angeles;


  • Spokane Produce Inc., Spokane, Wash.; and


  • JARD Marketing Corp., Lawrence, Mass.

The FDA has posted information related to the recalls and the outbreak at www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/cantaloupe.html