Suing for cantaloupes

We’re always hearing about salmonella outbreaks and the like and the investigations to narrow down the culprit(s), but this is something new: Del Monte Fresh Produce plans to sue William Keene, Oregon Public Health’s senior epidemiologist, for, well, dissing its canteloupes. The company filed an ethics complaint and tort claim alleging Keene made misleading statements about the cantaloupes and Del Monte Fresh Produce’s Guatemalan farm, which produced the cantaloupes. Del Monte Fresh Produce is also suing the Food and Drug Administration, which issued a recall of the cantaloupes.

Let’s go back a bit. Early this year there was a salmonella outbreak in a number of states. The strain of salmonella in question turned out to be a pretty rare one: Salmonella Panama. Oregon Public Health got involved when several people were sickened. Investigators discovered that all had eaten at the same church function. The outbreak also sickened people in other states, and it was revealed that about a dozen of those sickened had eaten cantaloupe purchased from Costco. Oregon Public Health traced Costco’s deliveries back to the Guatemalan farm, but they were unable to secure conclusive evidence, which is the norm in cases where the questionable food has already been shipped out and eaten.

Del Monte Fresh Produce ended up recalling about 60,000 melons from their Guatemala facilities that were sold at Costco because the Food and Drug Administration alerted the public to a connection between the outbreak and the cantaloupes. This was in March. The FDA in July then issued a ban of cantaloupe from Del Monte Fresh Produce’s farm in question until the company can prove the fruit is safe and free of contamination.

Now, as far as I can tell, Del Monte Fresh Produce has not provided proof that their cantaloupes were NOT the cause of the outbreak, nor has the company shown the cantaloupes are safe. However, it seems the company believes it cannot be proven that their cantaloupes actually caused the outbreak. Confused yet? The company claims Keene and Oregon public health officials did not fully investigate its claims against Del Monte Fresh Produce. Further, Del Monte Fresh Produce says there were other supplies who sold cantaloupe to Costco, yet they were not investigated.

For more information, see this article. Who do you believe?