INDIANAPOLIS -- Food safety advocates called on federal officials Tuesday to release the name of an Indiana farm that recalled its cantaloupes amid a salmonella outbreak that's killed at least two people and sickened dozens of others in 20 states.
Advocacy groups said people have a right to know the farm's name and the details of its cantaloupe distribution network so they can protect their families from the outbreak that's killed two Kentucky residents and stricken at least 140 others, including about 30 who have been hospitalized.
Barbara Kowalcyk, chief executive officer of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, said health officials usually are careful not to point fingers early in investigations of foodborne illnesses because they don't want to hurt farms, food manufacturers or others who may later turn out to have no role in an outbreak.
But she said her group believes it's crucial to get information to the public "in a timely manner."
"When you have people who are getting sick and hospitalized and even dying, in my opinion as a consumer advocate, that takes precedence," Kowalcyk said. "You need to give people the information they need to make informed decisions for their families."
Indiana health officials issued an advisory Friday telling residents to discard any cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana that they bought on or after July 7. The Food and Drug Administration also has advised consumers to throw out any cantaloupe that may be from that area.
The state's advisory said a farm in that region – where most of Indiana's cantaloupes and melons are grown – had voluntarily recalled its cantaloupes and stopped shipping them as a "precaution." It did not name the farm, and officials have declined since then to release additional information about the farm, saying the investigation being led by the FDA isn't complete.
FDA spokeswoman Shelly L. Burgess said Tuesday that until investigators have pinpointed the source or sources of the salmonella, the agency won't release the name of any farm suspected of being involved.
"We want to be sure," she said. "We don't want to falsely or prematurely name someone."
Amy Reel, a spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Health, said test results from samples taken from a farm suspected as the source of contamination are expected early next week. But she also said officials are also looking at multiple other possible sources of contamination, "including a number of farms, retailers and distributors."
Identification as the source of a disease can put a farm out of business. Jensen Farms in Colorado filed for bankruptcy soon after its melons were identified as the source of a listeria outbreak that killed 30 people last year. Its owner, Eric Jensen, now faces multiple lawsuits related to the outbreak.
Indiana ranked fourth in the nation in cantaloupe production last year, and growers are worried about the consequences of the latest outbreak.
Hubert Etienne, who co-owns Etienne Farms near Washington, Ind., said his wholesale customers began canceling orders for cantaloupe as soon as last week's advisory was issued.
"It was immediate. The wholesale market just dried up," he said. "It wasn't a big hit for us, but some of the big farmers had to dump all of their cantaloupes. They're losing thousands of dollars a day. I really feel bad for those big growers."
Etienne said his farm's cantaloupes were tested and found to be free of salmonella, but there are few takers for them now at the farm's market.
Most cantaloupes have a sticker identifying where the fruit was grown, and consumers should ask retailers about any fruit that's not labeled, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised on its website. The agency urged consumers to throw out any fruit with unclear origins.
Melon growers outside Indiana say they too are feeling the effects of such warnings.
Sales are down at Westside Produce, which ships about 2 million boxes of cantaloupe each year from California's San Joaquin Valley, said Garrett Patricio, the company's vice president and general counsel.
Patricio said retailers are already wary of cantaloupe after last year's listeria deaths and the public sometimes fail to pay attention to the details of foodborne illness outbreaks.
"Oftentimes, if someone says don't eat cantaloupe, people don't eat cantaloupe regardless of where it's from," Patricio said.
Charles Wilson in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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A common bacterial infection producing severe gastrointestinal upset that can hang around as long as two weeks. It's rarely fatal in healthy people. <strong>The culprits: </strong>Improperly slaughtered or processed meat not thoroughly cooked, contaminated vegetables, milk or water. Pets can also shed the bacteria through their "business." <strong>What it feels like: </strong>You'd pay closer attention to the flulike symptoms (fever, aches and pains) if you weren't running to the bathroom every 15 minutes of your life. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have: </strong>Plucked that mass-processed pack of pork chops out of the "manager's special" bin. Also, if you really need to be told, leave seagulls alone. They're neither friendly nor tasty and are known to harbor higher concentrations of the bacteria. Common sense and decent kitchen cleanliness should protect you from needless downfall. <strong>Related: <a href="http://www.foodrepublic.com/2011/08/31/are-these-5-foods-trying-kill-you?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=food-poisoning" target="_hplink">Are These 5 Foods Trying To Kill You?</a></strong> <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuartwebster/5829527553/" target="_hplink">StuartWebster</a></em>
Contrary to what literature might have you believe, there will be no love in the time of cholera, only misery, woe and lots of diarrhea. <strong>The culprits:</strong> Contaminated water and eating raw or undercooked seafood that was hanging out in that water. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> Being slowly dried in a dehydrator that looks surprisingly like your bathroom while your abdomen is squeezed by a giant godlike fist. You might just want to set up shop in there for a spell, the toxin in the cholera bacteria causes any water in your body to "release." Replenish as you might, it likely won't stay in there very long. Keep at it diligently, though, and you'll be fine in about a week. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Splashed around in a stagnant portion of the Meekong Delta for so long, or eaten those Mexican oysters with quite as much gusto. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/philosophygeek/3964899327/" target="_hplink">philosophygeek</a></em>
E. Coli Enteritis
The black sheep of the food poisoning world, E. coli's the one with a strain that'll actually kill you regardless of treatment attempts. How subversive. <strong>The culprits</strong>: Escherichia coli, or E. for short, has one incredibly powerful strain: O157:H7, although other related strains can cause infection as well. This bacterium is found in mass-processed ground beef and on vegetables that were improperly cleaned or handled by contaminated fingers. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> You've been stabbed in the colon, which would explain the crippling cramps and other things that might happen if one were actually stabbed in the colon, including blood. Not that there's a "better" food poisoning to get, but this is one you really want to avoid. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Eaten that rare burger of questionable origin while chugging raw milk in that crazy crowded public pool, all of which have been known to harbor the bacteria. <strong>Related: <a href="http://www.foodrepublic.com/2011/06/06/update-new-e-coli-culprit-europe?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=food-poisoning" target="_hplink">Update: New E. Coli Culprit In Europe</a></strong> <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/khawkins04/5969315133/" target="_hplink">khawkins04</a></em>
Ciguatera (Fish Poisoning)
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