April 25, 2008

Finally, but not final - FDA melon report

Melon field photo, La Prensa, Honduras

The FDA finally issued an updated report on their investigation at the Honduran Montelibano melon site. The report indicates that the final results will be issued soon but that there may be 'systemic' problems at Montelibano which contributed to the outbreak.

The entire report from the FDA site is below:
"April 18, 2008: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration expects to shortly complete its investigation of the Honduran cantaloupe grower and packer, Agropecuaria Montelibano. The FDA is working expeditiously to review documents and analyze data related to the investigation.

On March 21, the FDA issued an import alert on Agropecuaria Montelibano after epidemiological and trace-back investigations linked cantaloupes from that company to a salmonellosis outbreak in the United States, with 51 illnesses confirmed in 16 states.

A multidisciplinary team, which consisted of experts from both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently completed an on-site evaluation of Agropecuaria Montelibano in Honduras.

The team worked with Honduran government officials to evaluate the company's melon growing fields and packing facilities. Preliminary information from the investigation team reveals that there might be systemic problems at Agropecuaria Montelibano that could have contributed to the outbreak.

FDA's investigation process is very thorough. It includes the on-site visit to the firm in Honduras, the analysis of laboratory samples, and a review of the firm's documentation of policies and procedures. Next steps could include an on-site verification of the implementation of corrective actions by the firm.

Agropecuaria Montelibano's product will continue to be refused at the United States borders until the FDA's lifts the import alert. For the FDA to remove Agropecuaria Montelibano from the import alert, the FDA needs to verify that the firm has taken the corrective measures necessary to ensure that it is growing, processing and transporting cantaloupes in a way that does not cause the melons to be adulterated, that its product meets U.S. standards for food safety, and that specifically its cantaloupes do not contain Salmonella."

I heard a rumor (I won't say from who, because I'm not sure that he was supposed to repeat it) that Montelibano uses a fertilizer made from chicken manure that wasn't processed/composted properly before applying to the soil. I really hated hearing that as I think that too many chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used in Honduras. Something like this could cause many growers to quit using organic fertilizers out of fear that their products, too, could be black listed. What a shame!

I don't know what the FDA means by 'systemic.' Do they mean systemic in the biological sense that the salmonella is being absorbed through the soil, or systemic in the sense that Montelibano's system of handling the cantaloupes is at fault? Hmmm. Stay tuned.

La Prensa reported on it today here (in Spanish).

Follow up to these articles:

More melon controversy

Honduran melons in the headlines

FDA Inspectors come to Honduras

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