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It’s enough to make you resort to vegetables. Cantaloupe is making
bad news yet again, as the FDA announces another recall, this time for
contamination with salmonella. The situation is extremely grave, with
CDC’s Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella page reporting that 178 people have been infected in 21 states. Two people
have died from eating the contaminated fruit, and another 62 have been
hospitalized.

I am a lawyer handling bacteria cases such as salmonella outbreak lawsuits,
and so I know just how rare it is than an illness is traced to a particular
source as the FDA and CDC are doing here. Here, however, the FDA has determined
that the cantaloupe were grown on Chamberlain Farms in Owensville, Indiana,
about 20 miles north of Evansville, Indiana, and sold to grocery stores
in Indiana and Illinois. Wholesalers in St. Louis, Missouri, Owensboro,
Kentucky, Peru, Illinois and Durant, Iowa also bought the fruit. Chamberlain
Farms has issued a recall for the fruit, and the FDA is cautioning consumers
to throw the fruit out and not to eat it. The FDA warns that the “contamination
may be both on the inside and outside of the cantaloupe”, and even
where the contamination is on the outside of the fruit, “[c]utting,
slicing and dicing may also transfer harmful bacteria from the fruit’s
surface to the fruit’s flesh.”

Chamberlain Farms may or may not be the only farm involved in the outbreak.
According to the FDA, the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and
Evaluation (CORE) network and the FDA field offices are trying to determine
whether there are other possible sources, leaving open the question of
whether other farms may also be shipping and selling contaminated cantaloupe.

Salmonellosis can be an extremely dangerous illness. Victims may experience
diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. The diarrhea may become extremely
severe, and the salmonella infection may ultimately spread to the bloodstream,
“and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with
antibiotics.” The incubation period tends to be short relative to
some other bacterial infections, running from 12 to 72 hours.

The disease disproportionately affects children. The FDA says children
are five times more likely to be diagnosed with salmonellosis. The disease
is also especially risky for the elderly, and anyone with a compromised
immune system.

CDC is reporting cases from 21 states:

  1. Alabama
  2. Arkansas
  3. California
  4. Georgia
  5. Illinois
  6. Indiana
  7. Iowa
  8. Kentucky
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Michigan
  11. Minnesota
  12. Mississippi
  13. Missouri
  14. New Jersey
  15. North Carolina
  16. Ohio
  17. Pennsylvania
  18. South Carolina
  19. Tennessee
  20. Texas
  21. Wisconsin

CDC has information about 121 of the victims so far, and it is finding
that the onset of the illnesses have occurred between July 7, 2012 and
August 9, 2012. The victims include children (or a child) under the age
of 1, and one person who is 100 years old. The median age of the victims
is 48. More of the victims – 59% — have been female. A whopping
51% have been so sick that they have been hospitalized. Two deaths have
occurred so far, both in Kentucky. The number of cases in Kentucky far
outstrips the number in every other state. Fifty-six of the 178 cases
have been in Kentucky.

According to CDC, the public health investigators are using high-tech DNA
“fingerprinting” to link cases of Salmonella illness to the
Salmonella bacteria found in the tainted cantaloupe. The testing is done
with “pulsed-field gel electrophoresis” (“PFGE”).
CDC is using the data found on a national database housing information
submitted by state and local public health laboratories as well as federal
food regulatory laboratories. The system is called PulseNet.