Two deadly foodborne illness outbreaks one year apart were both were caused by cantaloupe and similar food safety violations, according to inspection reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Poor sanitation in the packing shed, equipment that was difficult to clean, buildup of dirt and grime on food contact surfaces and pooling water on the floor of the packing shed were all cited in FDA inspection reports of Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado last year and Chamberlain Farms in Owensville, Indiana, this year.
The cantaloupe Listeria outbreak of 2011 linked to Jensen Farms sickened 147 people and killed 33. The cantaloupe Salmonella outbreak linked to Chamberlain Farms, has sickened 270 people, hospitalized 101 and killed three, according to the latest information from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sanitation problems prior to the outbreaks were similar on both farms, according to FDA reports.
At Chamberlain Farms, here are the specific findings noted by the inspector: Environmental swabs collected from growing and packing areas tested positive for Salmonella. Food contact surfaces are made of materials that cannot be cleaned properly such as “porous food contact surfaces including carpet and wood used throughout the cantaloupe processing line which does not allow for adequate cleaning. Apparent rust and corrosion on multiple pieces of equipment throughout the processing line was also observed.” Conveyer rollers and belts were not clean and in some areas had “an accumulation of black, green, and brown buildup.”
Beneath the conveyer, there was “an accumulation of debris including trash, wood, food pieces, standing water, mud, dirt, and green buildup.” The water supply line to the cleaning “dump tank” was leaking and rusty. The chlorine level of the dump tank was not monitored. And, finally, failure to remove garbage from the area could create a “breeding place, or harborage area for pests, within the immediate vicinity of the plant buildings or structures. On 08/14/2012, the Finn’s garbage receptacle (located on the outside west wall of the packing shed approximately 15 from the processing line) was overflowing with garbage. The north and south sides of the processing shed do not have a wall and is exposed directly to the outside environment.”