August 27, 2012
The man whose farm is at the center of an investigation into a deadly multistate outbreak of salmonella in cantaloupe said he doesn’t believe his farm was the source of the contamination.
Tim Chamberlain of Owensville, IN, who owns Chamberlain Farms with his wife, said in a telephone interview he doesn’t think cantaloupe from his 500-acre farm had the bacteria on them when they left the farm. “If a person thought they did, they never would have picked it or shipped it out,” he said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last week that the southwestern Indiana farm “may be one source of contamination” in the salmonella outbreak that has killed two people in Kentucky and sickened 178 people in 21 states.
Chamberlain said authorities notified him Aug. 16 that his farm was a potential source. The farm immediately ceased production and issued a voluntary market withdrawal, he said. “We wanted to err on the side of safety of the consumer,” he said. “We’re fully cooperating with government agencies.” Authorities have told him there was a “link” to his farm but have provided no additional details, he added.
The outbreak comes at the end of the cantaloupe season but right in the middle of the watermelon season. Chamberlain said he grows about 100 acres of cantaloupe. Most of the other 400 acres are dedicated to watermelon, and he doesn’t raise any livestock or other crops. “We’re at a standstill with everything,” he said.
He said the financial impact on him was “insignificant” compared with what people who have been infected are going through. “The dollars and cents don’t mean anything,” said the 48-year-old Chamberlain, who has been operating his midsized farm for about 30 years.
Dan Egel, a Purdue University Extension plant pathologist, has known Chamberlain for years. Chamberlain was the first farmer Egel met when he started working at the extension service 17 years ago. Chamberlain has worked closely with the extension service on disease and pest control, though not specifically on food safety, he said. “They have a good sized operation, one that had a good following and a good reputation,” Egel said.
Federal officials say cantaloupe from Chamberlain Farms were shipped to Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin, although there may have been other shipments. The FDA also is investigating whether there are other sources of the outbreak.
Initially, public health officials withheld the name of the farm, sparking complaints from food-safety advocates. Instead, health officials said the outbreak was linked to cantaloupe from southwestern Indiana.
Indiana is the nation’s fifth-largest producer of cantaloupe, with more than 2,300 acres harvested in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cantaloupes generate more than $6 million annually for Indiana farmers, according to the USDA.
Despite the naming of Chamberlain’s farm as a potential source of the cantaloupes, other farmers in southwestern Indiana are still hurting. The cloud that hung over the region’s cantaloupe growers for six days has already done its damage, said Vernon Stuckwish of Stuckwish Family Farms in Jackson County, IN. ‘That doesn’t make any difference anymore,” he said of the new information. “It’s already pretty much destroyed our market.”
Most cantaloupe growers pick daily, so a six-day shutdown was financially painful for many farmers, Egel said. “All the production from those days is gone,” he said.
The financial implications for farms cited as the source of contamination can be devastating. After Colorado-based Jensen Farms was linked to a listeria outbreak in cantaloupe that killed more than 30 people last year, the farm filed for bankruptcy protection.
Quality News Today is an ASQ member benefit offering quality related news
from around the world every business day.