Legal action began hours before recall
Hours before Chamberlain Farms was named as the grower of the suspect cantaloupe from Southwest Indiana a Michigan mother filed a civil suit against Wal-Mart because her two minor daughters are victims of the outbreak.
The suit filed in Michigan's state court seeks financial damages for the Battle Creek, Mich., mother and her children. She bought cantaloupe at a Battle Creek Wal-Mart on July 12 and her children became sick within three days of eating it.
Seattle attorney and food safety advocate Bill Marler is handling the lawsuit against Wal-Mart for the Michigan mother. He also represents dozens of victims and victims' families who are suing Jensen Farms, Holly, Colo., in relation to the 2011 listeria outbreak linked to Jensen cantaloupes.
The Michigan mother's lawsuit mentions that Wal-Mart pulled all cantaloupe from Southwest Indiana. Several grocers took similar precautions, including Schnucks Markets, St. Louis, and Kroger Co., Cincinnatti.
Impact on cantaloupe industry
Local media reports from across Southern Indiana in the days before Chamberlain Farms was named described frustrated cantaloupe growers whose customers stopped buying their fruit.
Dan Egel, a plant pathologist at Purdue University and treasurer of the Southwest Indiana Melon and Vegetable Association, said Aug. 21 some growers had abandoned melons in their fields.
“One grower I spoke with has already plowed them under,” Egel said. “Others are saying they won’t plant any next year. One man had $15,000 worth in his cooler and he said he was just going to throw them out because no one wants to buy from the area.”
Egel said in his 17 years in the region the number of small cantaloupe growers has declined.
“It used to be if you grew watermelon you also grew a few acres of cantaloupe. That has changed,” Egel said. “Retailers started asking for the melons to be washed and then they started wanting them to be pre-cooled. ... That kind of equipment costs money that smaller growers just don’t have.”
Small or large, growers should be held to the same food safety standards, said Steve Patricio, chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, and Dan Vache, vice president of supply chain management for united Fresh Produce Association, Washington D.C.
Patricio said he is angry and frustrated by the current cantaloupe news. He said the California cantaloupe growers have been working on food safety techniques for their commodity for 20 years and have developed guidelines and materials for growers.