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Industry reacts quickly to recall notices for Salmonella contamination

by Tim Linden | September 07, 2009
Quick industry action in late August resulted in the recall of potentially tainted cantaloupes and green onions with no reports of illnesses by Sept. 1.

In separate incidents, some cantaloupes from a Florida farm and some green onions from a Mexican farm tested positive for Salmonella, which resulted in the removal of the products from supermarket shelves and distribution centers. The shippers and retailers involved acted quickly, which appeared to limit exposure to consumers and isolate the problem lots.

The cantaloupe problem involved cantaloupes sold by Melon Acres in Oaktown, IN, and produced by Farm-Wey Produce in Lakeland, FL. Random sampling by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Aug. 11 found one cantaloupe in 20 testing positive for Salmonella. USDA revealed the test results to Melon Acres Aug. 21, which immediately triggered the recall. The affected lots had been shipped via bin Aug. 13 and 14 to a few different Midwest retailers.

The traceback numbers used by the firm allowed Melon Acres and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to identify both the shipped product and the field from which it was harvested. Melon Acres announced that no further shipments would be made from the identified field as the company and the FDA searched for the source of the contamination.

In California, the USDA also found the Salmonella pathogen on some iceless green onions produced by Circle Produce in Calexico, CA, and distributed by Steinbeck Country Produce in Salinas, CA. Just as in Florida, the tainted product was found through random sampling by the USDA, and Steinbeck immediately announced a recall of the lots involved. Additionally, other shippers, such as Ocean Mist Farms in Castroville, CA, that had also purchased iceless green onions from Circle Produce, also initiated recalls of the potentially affected lots.

The green onions were harvested and shipped between Aug. 4 and Aug. 22, with the recall announcements coming on Aug. 27.

Afreen Malik, manager of food safety for Ocean Mist Farms, said that the situation points out that the food-safety systems in place work just as they are supposed to work.

"Through our traceback system, we were able to identify the lots involved and where the product was shipped within hours of notification of the problem, and we were able to recall the product quickly," she said.

As of Sept. 1, she said, all the product involved was either past its expiration point or had been recalled, and she noted that there had been no reports of illnesses.

Steinbeck Country spokesperson Mike Rose relayed similar findings from that firm. He said that there had been no reports of illnesses, and he believed that all the product that could be removed from commerce had been recalled. The exact source of the contamination is still being investigated, and Circle Produce was no longer shipping products from the suspect fields as of late August.