Cantaloupes: ruining things for everyone since 2011. Right now we have Listeria-infected domestic cantaloupes doing some major damage, but some may remember that a Salmonella outbreak forced Fresh Del Monte Produce to recall 23,000 lbs of cantaloupes imported from Guatemala earlier this year. What’s more, the February outbreak marked the Del Monte’s third Salmonella related cantaloupe recall in as many years. What’s a food producer and distribution company to do?
For Fresh Del Monte Produce, the answer is getting in the ring against food safety regulators, fighting to block additional restrictions on melon imports and suing the FDA on the grounds that increased regulations could damage the company’s reputation. Del Monte is also threatening legal action against the food-borne pathogen investigators in Oregon who first linked the Salmonella outbreak to the company’s cantaloupes.
Del Monte’s stance, according to the New York Times, is that their cantaloupes didn’t make anyone sick and were only singled out because of a shoddy investigation on the FDA’s part. Through this lawsuit, Del Monte hopes to improve food safety overall by pointing out flaws in current standards and methods.
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“It’s got to be a comprehensive and reliable investigation, and in our opinion this was neither,” Del Monte Fresh Produce VP of Marketing Dennis Christou told the Times. “There’s absolutely no basis in the claim that this was done intentionally to intimidate or bully anyone.” Del Monte has gained significant support from many within in the food production industry who feel that FDA and USDA regulations have overextended their reach and are getting in the way of business. These supporters have expressed approval that a company with financial and political clout (the biggest produce marketer in the United States, in this case) is standing up to increasing regulations.
Food safety advocacy groups, on the other hand, support the FDA who counters that its investigation turned up clear links between illnesses and the purchase of cantaloupes that came from Fresh Del Monte Produce’s Asuncion Mita farm. These groups are calling this action an example of Del Monte throwing its significant weight behind intimidation tactics to prevent state-level regulators from enacting future recalls. Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Times: “The chilling effect [of the lawsuit] is real, and it could have serious implications for consumers who may be exposed to more tainted products because of delays in announcing the results of these epidemiologic investigations.”
With so much passion from both points of view, and a paralleled theme in recent political positions, we think it’s safe to say that the food safety issue is starting to heat up and both sides have only just begun to fight.