Almost a year after reports began of people sickened by Listeria-tainted cantaloupes from Colorado-based Jensen Farms (ultimately killing at least 30 people in 28 states), another deadly melon outbreak has swept the nation. This time, a farm in southwestern Indiana (yet to be publicly identified) has been linked to cantaloupes contaminated with Salmonella that have sickened at least 141 people in 20 states, with two deaths.
According to the New York Times, the Indiana farm has contacted its distributors and is withdrawing its cantaloupe from the marketplace. Questions of traceability remain, however. As FIC reported last year, the tainted cantaloupes from Colorado were sold and resold to retailers unbeknownst to Jensen Farms. People became sick in states not listed as locations the farm shipped the fruit.
There's been no mention so far of previous food safety auditing at the unnamed farm, as the investigation continues. The auditor of Jensen Farms, Primus Labs, shared the blame for last year's outbreak after the company gave the farm an audit score of 96 out of 100 despite evident sanitation issues. FIC explained how third-party auditors often have a conflict of interest, since they're paid by the companies they are inspecting, and that whistleblowers are a more reliable and life-saving defense against food safety threats.
Another cantaloupe farm in North Carolina, Burch Farms, is currently undertaking a recall of its melons due to Listeria contamination, and apparently lacks "any sort of traceability program," according to The Grower. Primus Labs also served as this farm's auditor but did not assess its cantaloupe operation (only its leafy greens). Details of where the melons were shipped are limited, but no illnesses have been reported.
Standards to prevent contamination of produce remain delayed as the Food Safety Modernization Act continues to undergo review by the Office of Management and Budget – leaving whistleblowers a key component of food safety in the meantime. Food outbreaks are clearly not going away. Cantaloupes have been linked to at least 13 Salmonella outbreaks since 1990. As we wait for retailers and government regulators to step up prevention procedures, we must rely on industry insiders to raise the alarm when they believe the public is at risk.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.