Contaminated Cantaloupes Gone – Consequences Linger On

It has been more than one month since Jensen Farms recalled its cantaloupes from the marketplace. By now, any melon that was not eaten, discarded or returned to the store should be “spoiled” beyond edibility. But this doesn’t mean that the public – and public health officials – can let down their guard.

CDC routinely updates the illness and death toll racked up by Listeria monocytogenes116 ill, 23 dead, one stillborn, as of October 12th. After a while, however, the numbers lose their ability to shock. It’s the individual tragedies that catch our attention.

Missy had this to say last week:

My granddaughter was stillborn this past Sunday (Oct 9th) in Ohio. Cultures showed mass amounts of Listeria in the placenta. Walmart is saying their cantaloupes did not come from this farm. Any chance that isn’t true? Trying to figure out what happened!

As of last Friday (October 14th), the mother of this stillborn baby girl was still in hospital on IV antibiotics.

The suffering that goes hand in glove with an outbreak of listeriosis has not let up – and it will continue for some time to come. Missy is not the only one who is trying to figure out what happened.

While consumers ask repeatedly in which stores the recalled cantaloupes were sold, the FDA, Jensen Farms, Walmart and Whole Foods Market remain silent.

While pregnant women wonder whether they were served Jensen Farms cantaloupe at their favorite restaurant or salad bar, the FDA and Jensen Farms remain silent.

While cantaloupe growers in Arizona and California watch the demand for their melons shrivel, the FDA continues its “root cause” investigation into Jensen Farms’ practices – and hasn’t released any new information since September 30th.

I have said this again and again. Consumers should not have to play detective in order to find out whether or not they have been exposed to the risk of infection from a recalled food. They should not have to rely on blogs like eFoodAlert for information on where a recalled food was sold.

Let me spell this out one more time.

  • USDA publishes retail distribution lists for all Class I (highest risk category) recalls within seven days of the recall.
  • California – a state that is struggling with huge budget deficits – publishes retail distribution lists, including for restaurants.
  • FDA, when asked directly where the recalled Jensen Farms cantaloupes were sold, replied that consumers should “ask their retailer.”

When is FDA going to wake up, put the health and safety of American consumers ahead of industry interests, and provide us all with timely and complete information?

7 thoughts on “Contaminated Cantaloupes Gone – Consequences Linger On

  1. I completely support your contention that the FDA has a moral, ethical and legal obligation to publish retail distribution lists in cases like Jensen Farms, as does, I have no doubt, EVERY cantaloupe grower, packer, processor and distributor NOT directly involved in the recall does.

    Your contention that this is because the FDA is putting “industry interests” ahead of “the health and safety of American consumers” makes no sense. How does any cantaloupe grower, packer, processor or distributor other than those who were processing or distributing Jensen Farms’ cantaloupes benefit? They don’t! Just as with spinach in 2006 and tomatoes in 2008, the cantaloupe “industry” is being devastated by the incompetence of the FDA.

    The injury being done to all of the other growers, packers, processors and distributors has been well documented by large mainstream media. For example, see the AP’s “Listeria outbreak devastates Calif. cantaloupes” ( Millions of dollars of cantaloupes will be wasted and thousands of people working in agriculture are having their income reduced—some, catastrophically.

    And your lumping them in with the phrase “industry interests” injures them further. It also reduces the chance of us forcing the FDA to do its job.

    I urge you to rectify this mistake in your analysis.


    1. @Harry Hamil – I understand your point completely. But when I refer to “industry interests” I am thinking about the many past recalls during which FDA justified its inaction in releasing retail distribution information by saying that it considered this to be proprietary commercial information that belonged to the recalling company, and that the company could be harmed by releasing its list of customers. I agree that California and Arizona growers have been badly harmed by this recall/outbreak. I’d be interested to know whether those growers would have resisted the release of their retail distribution info had the shoe been on the other foot.

      Thanks for visiting and for your always thoughtful comments.



      1. Thanks, Phyllis, for the clarification of your usage and reminder of the FDA’s previously expressed rationale. It is great to be able to actually discuss an issue for a change.

        In this case, it seems to me that rationale is totally specious. The list would include all of the retailers from all of the distributors so no single distributor’s list would be apparent. As for helping competitors identify new prospects, give me a break. Every good salesperson knows who her/his competition is on a given account and retailers post recall notices.

        As you are a well established pundit on food safety matters, it seems to me that you may be able to advance this issue by making 3 phone calls and reporting the results here.

        The first would be to the White House asking why the Obama administration has different policies for the FSIS and FDA on the release of retail distribution lists. The second and third calls would be to the Western Grower Assn. and Produce Marketing Assn. asking their positions on the release of this info.


        1. Harry, I’ve never had any success in eliciting anything other than a “canned” response from the White House. I have sent an email to the WGA, the PMA and the GMA, soliciting their position on the subject, and shall include their responses (if any) in a future post. Thanks for the suggestion.


  2. The FDA is too busy trying to shut down supplement companies these days and take away our rights to bother with publishing safety info.


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