Thursday, October 4, 2012

Melon Farming "Ripe for Litigation"

Today's Indianapolis Star reported on the results of a recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection of Chamberlain Farms, a southern Indiana farm that was believed to be the source of a salmonella outbreak this summer that caused 270 people to get sick, including 101 hospitalizations.  The inspector noted, among other things:
Failure to clean as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food:  On 08/14/2012, while cantaloupes were
 being processed, I observed, multiple locations of the conveyor including rollers and belts, had an accumulation of black, green, and brown buildup.  There was an accumulation of debris including trash, wood, food pieces, standing water, mud,  dirt,  and green buildup observed  beneath the  conveyor belt in the cantaloupe packing shed.
On 08/14/2012, while cantaloupes were being processed, I observed, standing water in the packing shed on the floor directly below conveyor belts of the packing line and on the drip table which is below the bristleconveyor belt where cantaloupes are being washed and rinsed. This water appeared to have algae growing in it.
Read the entire inspection report here:  FDA Chamberlain Farms Investigation

Outbreaks like this can lead to litigation, of course.  A damning inspection report like this gives attorneys evidence needed to show that farm was not maintaining best practices.  The National Law Journal recently reported that litigation is already underway from the recent canteloupe contaminations, citing an example from Michigan.

The plaintiff, Angela Compton, claimed that she bought three cantaloupes on July 12 from Wal-Mart and fed them to her children over the next few days. One child got sick on July 16, suffering from cramps, diarrhea and fever and was hospitalized for three days. The other child developed diarrhea, cramps, vomiting and a high fever a few days later and was twice taken to the emergency room.
The Journal points out that in many cases, farms are under-insured and end up filing bankruptcy as result of such claims.  Plaintiffs are still left with claims against the retailer, however.

The National Law Journal article, "Ripe for Litigation," is not available publicly but can be obtained through Lexis or other legal research sites.

There are a lot of lessons in this story.  I'll avoid trying to educate anyone on food preparation in the kitchen, and just give my advice to farmers who raise melons and other fresh produce.  First, maintaining clean and orderly production facilities is essential to food safety.  Second, make sure that you are adequately insured in the event of a disaster.  This also applies to the farmer that sells at a road-side stand or farmer's market.  You need adequate insurance too.  

1 comment:

  1. It is best if they have roller conveyor when harvesting their melons. This will keep the freshness of the fruit.


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