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FDA Warning Letter to Chamberlain Farms Linked to Salmonella Cantaloupe Outbreak

According to the CDC, epidemiological investigations, traceback investigations, and analytical results that linked cantaloupes grown and packed on Chamberlain Farms to a nationwide outbreak involving two strains of Salmonella enterica: Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Newport. As of October 4, 2012 this outbreak sickened approximately 261 persons, including 3 deaths, in 24 states between July 6, 2012 and September 16, 2012.

During the FDA inspection, the FDA investigators documented the following conditions and practices that may have contributed to the contamination of cantaloupes with Salmonella:

1. Accumulated organic material on multiple locations of the cantaloupe conveyer, including rollers and belts (which are food contact surfaces). These are likely harborages for pathogenic organisms such as Salmonella. Specifically, Salmonella Newport was found on the belt of 2nd conveyer, below the final belt, and on the north and south belt kicks.

2. Debris including trash, wood, food pieces, standing water, mud, and dirt beneath the conveyer belt in the cantaloupe packinghouse.

3. Standing water, apparently containing algae, on the floor of the packinghouse, directly below the first four conveyer belts of the packing line and on the drip table below the bristle conveyer belt where cantaloupes are being washed and rinsed.

4. Bird excrement in the rafters above food contact surfaces (e.g., brush rollers, conveyor belts, grading table) and directly on the processing line itself. Allowing birds to roost in your packing facility could allow them to defecate directly on to food products during conveyance, grading, and sorting.

5. The roof of the cantaloupe packinghouse was sloped such that any water washing from the roof, along with any debris present on the roof, would flow onto the brush washer and conveyor belt directly under the roof overhang.

6. Materials that could not be effectively cleaned or sanitized and may trap and harbor water, organic materials, and pathogens were used as food contact surfaces (i.e., carpeting and wood used as cushioning or directional mechanisms for conveyances). Specifically, Salmonella Newport was found in environmental sample taken from carpet at the northwest end of the middle grading table.

7. Some wellheads were not capped; wells that were capped were not appropriately sealed; there was no apparent grouting of the annular spaces of well shaft; and the wells were not protected from intrusion by standing water. We note that FDA water samples from the wells and spigots utilized for cantaloupe processing were positive for Coliforms and Escherichia coli. A properly protected well should not have any coliforms or Escherichia. coli.

Read the full letter here.