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A produce safety scare is in the air, as press coverage has been gathering steam over the last few days due to a national recall of some Honduran-grown fresh cantaloupe linked to salmonella.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has linked a Honduran brand of cantaloupes to a multi-state outbreak of salmonella, which in turn has triggered Central American Produce, Inc. to issue a national recall of cantaloupes grown, packed, and shipped by an independent third-party grower, Agropecuaria Montelibano of San Lorenzo Valle, Honduras.
The Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Central American Produce said it had distributed the cantaloupe in the U.S. and Canada.
Thus far, at least 50 people have reportedly gotten sick from salmonella poisoning in 16 states, while another nine fell ill in Canada. The 16 affected U.S. states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
The suspect cantaloupe products were distributed for sale in medium brown cardboard cartons with the brands "Mike's Melons" or "Mayan Pride," all displaying "PRODUCE OF HONDURAS" on each of the four side panels of the carton.
State health departments received an alert about an unusual strain of Salmonella Litchfield as long ago as Feb. 22. The FDA then issued a warning about the cantaloupes over the Easter weekend, about a month after an initial alert, after learning two weeks ago that the outbreak might be tied to melons. However, the agency was not able to link it to a supplier until the day before the consumer warning went out, according to press reports.
The FDA now is advising U.S. grocers, foodservice operators and produce processors to remove the cantaloupes from their inventories, as well as any cantaloupes grown packed and shipped from the company. The FDA said it was continuing to investigate the outbreak with affected states and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency also advised consumers who have recently purchased any cantaloupes to check with the place of purchase to determine if the fruit came from this specific grower and packer.
Honduran officials, meanwhile, are apparently up in arms over the recall and its impact on its cantaloupe exports to the U.S. The country's trade minister, Fredys Cerrato, has demanded that the U.S. compensate the Hinduran grocer-shipper involved, because he claimed the FDA had not proved scientifically that the fruit was first infected in Honduras, reported the Associated Press.
Officials at Agropecuaria Montelibano estimated that it had lost $8 million as a result of the recall, with about 320,000 crates of melons detained at U.S. ports.
The recall is potentially a big blow to the Honduran cantaloupe industry, which had made good headway in the U.S. market after a similar food safety scare hit imports of Mexican cantaloupe in 2002. The USDA has said Honduras shipped 247.2 million pounds of cantaloupes to the U.S. in 2007.