August 21, 2012 — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state health department officials are refusing to name the farm in southwestern Indiana where a deadly outbreak of cantaloupe salmonella food poisoning originated. Some consumer advocacy groups are calling on the officials to name the farm in the interest of transparency. At least two people have died and nearly 150 have been sickened by the cantaloupe salmonella outbreak.
“We want every bit of information possible,” said Nancy Donley, spokeswoman for STOP Foodborne Illness, a food safety advocacy group. “We are very concerned that the health and welfare of businesses can be put at higher priority than that of the public health and safety.”
Several health officials said they will not release the name of the farm. “We do not have a definitive source for this outbreak,” said Gregory Larkin, Indiana Health Commissioner. Amy Reel, another spokeswoman, said, “We don’t want to narrow the public’s focus when there could be multiple sources.” The name of the farm is not being released because the recall was not mandated. The farm voluntarily tested their produce, notified their distributors, and informed the FDA and health departments of the voluntary recall. Negative publicity could dissuade other farms from taking similar steps to stop an outbreak of salmonella.
The southwestern region of Indiana is one of the nation’s most important cantaloupe growing areas. In 2010, about 2,300 acres of cantaloupe were harvested in the region, bringing in $6.2 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The salmonella outbreak originated on a farm in this region.
It is unknown exactly how the cantaloupes became contaminated with salmonella. It could be either sloppy agricultural practices, or an unavoidable inherent problem with cantaloupes, or both. The bumpy, porous surface of a cantaloupe is difficult to clean and can easily contain bacteria or dirt. The melons are grown on the ground, where they can easily be contaminated with soil or manure. Salmonella exists in the intestines and manure of many livestock animals. Run-off from livestock fields, or failure to segregate produce-growing fields from livestock fields, could potentially transmit salmonella to the melons. Once the cantaloupes are purchased, consumers rarely wash them thoroughly. When a knife slices through the skin, it can carry bacteria from the outside of the melon to the inner flesh.
At least 20 states have been affected by the cantaloupe salmonella outbreak. Both of the deaths and dozens of hospitalizations occurred in Kentucky, and health officials are recommending that consumers dispose of any cantaloupes purchased in that state until the outbreak is over.
Salmonella food poisoning can be deadly, especially for young people, the elderly, the fetuses of pregnant women, or people with a weak immune system. Health adults usually recover within a week, after suffering from severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, fever, and other unpleasant symptoms.
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