Cantaloupe Food Poisoning Outbreak

Listeria linked to cantaloupe killed at least 33 Americans and sickened another 147 last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a new cantaloupe food poisoning outbreak involving salmonella is under way in 21 states, with 204 confirmed infections and two deaths.

The tainted cantaloupe came from Jensen Farms in Colorado, where FDA investigators found listeria in pools of water on the packing facility floor, dirty equipment, and improper cooling methods. Retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and The Kroger Co. allegedly sold the tainted fruit.

People stricken with listeriosis generally suffer a fever and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms. The bacteria are invasive and can also cause meningitis, convulsions, septicemia and, in about 20 percent to 30 percent of cases, death. It also causes pregnant women to miscarry.

Two salmonella-related suits have already been filed, and dozens of cases stemming from the 2011 listeria outbreak are pending. The suits seek to hold the cantaloupe growers, as well as retailers, liable for this outbreak.

The complaint against Indiana cantaloupe grower Chamberlain Farm Produce Inc. and Wal-Mart filed in Calhoun County, Mich., Circuit Court on Aug. 23 is illustrative.

The plaintiff, Angela Compton, claimed that she bought three cantaloupes on July 12 from Wal-Mart and fed them to her children over the next few days. One child got sick on July 16, suffering from cramps, diarrhea and fever and was hospitalized for three days. The other child developed diarrhea, cramps, vomiting and a high fever a few days later and was twice taken to the emergency room.

Both children’s stool samples tested positive for Salmonella Typhimurium — the particular strain associated with the tainted cantaloupe, which authorities traced to Chamberlain Farm.

To food safety advocates, the back-to-back cantaloupe outbreaks underscore a regulatory failure. When Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act almost two years ago, the idea was to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more power to prevent food-borne illnesses. But key regulations implementing the law — including one dealing with produce safety — have stalled at the White House Office of Management and Budget, where they have been under review for nearly 10 months.

Last week, the Center for Food Safety sued the FDA and OMB in San Francisco federal court for failing to issue timely regulations. “FDA has missed not one, not two, but seven critical deadlines, and counting, in failing to implement [the law’s] major food safety regulations,” the complaint states. The FDA’s “failure to promulgate final regulations is not only a violation of the law but is putting human health and safety at imminent risk.”

For more information, see the article by Jenna Greene entitled, “Cantaloupe illnesses are ripe for litigation” published in The National Law Journal. If you or a loved one believe you have suffered serious injuries and illnesses from salmonella as a result of the cantaloupe food poisoning outbreak, or suffered from other types of food poisoning, contact the experienced litigation attorneys at Suthers & Harper.

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