FDA warning on Honduran cantaloupes after salmonella outbreaks

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Image: USDA photo by Scott Bauer.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States Department of Health and Human Services has issued a warning on cantaloupes from a Honduran company, after salmonella outbreaks in the United States and Canada.

The FDA stated that cantaloupes purchased from Agropecuaria Montelibano, a company which grows and packs cantaloupe in Honduras, should be thrown out because it has been connected to an outbreak of Salmonella Litchfield. The FDA has also blocked imports from the food packer to the United States. The FDA reported cases of fifty people in sixteen states in the United States, and an additional nine in Canada who became ill after eating cantaloupes. As of Monday fourteen people had been hospitalized.

The sixteen states in the United States with reported cases of illnesses are Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. Illnesses in Canada occurred in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick between January 19 and February 22.

An initial alert was released from the FDA on February 22 about an outbreak of Salmonella Litchfield, and the warning about Honduran cantaloupes was issued Saturday. The FDA was aware two weeks ago that the outbreak could be tied to melons, and linked the outbreak to the Honduran supplier on Friday.

On Sunday, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya called the FDA alert "extreme and imprudent", and noted that the contamination from the cantaloupes was on the peel and that they could have come into contact with the bacteria after leaving Honduras. He said the United States did not present evidence that the bacteria originated in Honduras. President Zelaya told reporters: "It's unjust that the (U.S.) has declared a unilateral health alert without any laboratory or clinical tests." Fredys Cerrato, Trade Minister of Honduras called on the FDA to publicize details of its studies on the affected cantaloupe, and told CNN en Español: "This is causing us direct economic damage."

Foodborne illness caused by Salmonella bacteria can lead to symptoms including nausia, diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Higher-risk groups such as children, the elderly and individuals with weakened immune systems can develop more severe symptoms. The FDA is continuing to investigate and monitor the situation with the individual states affected and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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