FDA plans to increase cantaloupe inspections

02/25/2013 05:45:00 PM
Tom Karst

(UPDATED COVERAGE, Feb. 28) In the wake of foodbornce illness outbreaks over the past two years, the Food and Drug Administration is increasing inspection of cantaloupe farms and testing more of the fruit for pathogens.

Foodborne illness outbreaks linked to Colorado, North Carolina and Indiana cantaloupe in 2011 and 2012 sickened 400 and killed 36. The FDA released a letter Feb. 25 to cantaloupe grower-shippers, packers and processors, on the new food safety checks, said Michael Landa, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Citing continuing concerns with Listeria monocytogenes and salmonella, Landa said the FDA intends to start inspections with a sampling component at what the agency called a “subset” of cantaloupe packinghouses in the U.S.

“Our investigations in these outbreaks and in follow-up to (a Listeria monocytogenes) cantaloupe sample result revealed, in part, multiple findings of insanitary production, handling conditions and practices in packinghouses,” according to the letter.

After reading the FDA letter, Steve Patricio, co-founder of Westside Produce, Firebaugh, Calif., said the increased FDA inspections make sense. The rise of many new local melon deals throughout the country, including the East and Southeast, have complicated oversight food safety responsibilities for the FDA, said Patricio, chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board. Some of those newer operators are doing things in ways they shouldn’t, he said.

“It doesn’t surprise me in the least,” he said. “I think FDA knows what they are doing and they are going to be addressing it.”

Cantaloupe field packing is the norm in California and Arizona, with just one cantaloupe packing shed in California and one in Arizona, he said.

The FDA noted that it issued a letter to the cantaloupe industry in 2011 about the listeria-linked outbreak and acknowledged that many cantaloupe industry organizations have taken actions to address food safety issues.

“The aim of these inspections is in part to assess the current practices by this segment of the produce industry and to identify insanitary conditions that may affect the safety of cantaloupe destined for distribution to consumers,” Landa said in the letter.

The agency said regulators will take “action as needed” to protect the public health. Landa said the FDA will continue to target imported cantaloupes at the border for sampling and perhaps undertake other inspection activities.


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Daniel Torres    
Gonzales Ca.  |  February, 25, 2013 at 07:52 PM

say what? Will Primus be conducting the audits/inspections? say what?

tom ambrosia    
pa  |  February, 26, 2013 at 10:51 AM

Stop blaming Primus for what happened. Primus audit was accepted into GFSI. When an auditor is not properly trained or possibly in a hurry or any number of reasons, the auditor is at fault, not the audit tool, unless the audit tool is not up to snuff. Since GFSI said the audit standard met their requirements then was it the tool or the person using the tool. Now if the CB told the auditor or guided the auditor to ensure the client got a good score and all, well then that would be very bad. an auditor must use the tool, his/her training and basic common sense when auditing. It would appear this auditor was not properly/thoroughly trained and he has to live with the fact what some 39 people died. Auditor wrong, yep, CB to some degree, Farmer/Pack House, yep. Cantaloupes like most fruits and vegs are loaded with bacteria. One must clean and re-clean and check. can it still happen yes even with best programs. BUT that is why you constantly stand on guard and check your systems daily and more frequently to ensure you are doing everything possible to control the potential. You use food safety experts in your field to help look at your systems and where they could fail and improve on that. Its a constant QA issue that capital must be used to help prevent such tragedies. FDA, USDA just as guilty in many cases for lack of guidance or guidance after the fact. To every company, it is your ethical and moral duty to ensure your products are properly cleaned, protected and checked. Maybe the Chinese have it right, you screw up they shoot you, as they did with their "sec of ag" and executives with the tainted baby millk/food. It sure will get any food processors attention, no? Training @ every level is most important and follow up!

Ginny    
Pennsylvania  |  February, 26, 2013 at 09:23 AM

So who really wants to grow canteloupe anymore in the USA? One more product that will be brought in from outside the USA. Whatever happened to the old fashioned method of washing fresh produce at home before you eat it. That went out the day the first pre-packed, pre-washed produce went on the shelf. Teach your sons and daughters how to prepare fresh produce, (even the pre-washed type) by washing it first, and maybe we'll still get to eat some produce grown and packed in the USA. But not if the FDA has anything to do with it.

    
Dinuba, Ca  |  February, 26, 2013 at 08:49 PM

Growing up and living on the farm, we like to eat our fruit and veggies right out of the field. I eat lots of dirty fruit and never get sick from it. The reason we have so many sick people is that they dont eat enough natural fruit right out of the field.

Levi    
USA  |  February, 27, 2013 at 10:14 AM

The Chinese incident really is not an apt comparison. It was a case of deliberate adulteration for economic benefits.

Ben H    
NY State  |  March, 02, 2013 at 07:58 PM

No it wasn't adulteration, it was corruption. The Chinese action was correct and should have been taken with Bernie Madoff, Ken Starr, and Ivan Boesky. That's how you end corruption. Had Ivan Boesky been shot, Bernie Madoff would probably be an accountant for the New York Public School System and his Son's would be alive.

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