OWENSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Federal regulators are pressing a southwestern Indiana cantaloupe farm linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak to detail the steps it has taken to address unsanitary conditions inspectors found last summer at the farm's fruit-packing operation.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent Chamberlain Farms a "warning letter" Dec. 14 that chided the Owensville farm for not providing the agency with "any information demonstrating long-term corrective actions" at the farm since inspections were conducted there in August.
The agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched their investigations last summer after the start of an outbreak of the illness that ultimately sickened 261 people in 24 states and killed three people in Kentucky.
The FDA's letter states that among the problems found in the farm's fruit-packing building was bird excrement on the building's rafters directly above conveyor belts, a fruit-grading table and brushes used to clean melons. Inspectors also found salmonella on one conveyor belt and carpet used on a fruit-grading table to prevent fruit from being bruised.
The letter also said samples collected in September in fields at the farm more than a mile apart contained multiple salmonella samples "indistinguishable" from the salmonella found in patients stricken with the food-borne illness and on cantaloupes the farm had packaged.
"FDA does not expect melons to be grown in a Salmonella free environment; however these findings suggest a source of contamination that is widespread and not consistent with background contamination," the letter states.
FDA spokeswoman Pat El-Hinnawy said Thursday the agency sends warning letters when its investigators find problems "that cannot be corrected easily."
She said the FDA's investigation of the salmonella outbreak is still under way and she could not comment on whether Chamberlain Farms has responded to the agency's letter seeking information on the steps the farm has taken to address the packing building's unsanitary conditions.
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