The Indiana farm last month pulled its watermelons from the market after salmonella was found on some of those fruits, but the farm's attorney has said that no illnesses had been linked to any of its watermelons.
One food safety advocate said she was disappointed but not surprised by the FDA's inspection report, which also found that farm managers were not monitoring the level of chlorine in a water-filled tank that's part of the cantaloupe processing line and had no documentation of the sanitizer's past use.
Barbara Kowalcyk, chief executive officer of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, said she and others pushing for tighter food safety regulations have seen many similar inspection reports over the years.
She said one of the most disconcerting findings in the report is that the packing building used sections of carpet in its cantaloupe processing line — a material the FDA report noted is difficult to adequately clean.
Kowalcyk said many of the nation's fruit and produce growers are “well-meaning” but don't fully understand the safety implications of some of their processing techniques.
“From their perspective, using carpet is a good way to prevent bruising so that they don't have as many losses, financial losses. But carpet is just a huge sponge; it's a really good environment for trapping and growing bacteria,” she said. “The reality is that these types of conditions are found at other establishments across the country.”
Daniels noted the FDA is under no mandate to inspect farms such as Chamberlain Farm, unlike with food manufacturing plants. Instead, such farm inspections “are conducted on a case by case basis as the situation warrants,” she said.