In a move that many say amounts to bullying and intimidation, Del Monte Fresh Produce has sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a controversial effort to stop some food inspection practices and reduce recent restrictions the FDA placed on food imports into the U.S. Health investigators have concluded that Del Monte Fresh Produce cantaloupes are the source of a Salmonella outbreak that began earlier this year.
In March, we wrote that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a multi-state Salmonella poisoning outbreak that was linked to tainted cantaloupe which sickened 13 people in Oregon, Washington State, California, Colorado, and Maryland. Three people required hospitalization in that outbreak, which was linked to the Salmonella Panama strain. Del Monte Fresh Produce recalled nearly 5,000 cartons of cantaloupe over concerns about Salmonella contamination. The recalled melons were distributed from a Del Monteâ€™s farms in Asuncion Mita, Guatemala, via wholesale warehouse Costco clubs in seven western states.
Del Monte agreed to a recall; however, the food giant is seeking to stop any other restrictions on melon imports, said The New York Times. According to Del Monte, the restrictions could adversely affect its reputation. Not unexpectedly, industry applauds the move, saying that regulators typically overreach. Consumer and safe food advocates say Del Monte is harrying regulators.
Del Monte has also threatened legal action against Oregon Public Health and its senior epidemiologist, William Keene and is challenging prevailing food safety investigation processes, such as using patient memories of what they ate prior to falling ill.
â€œThis clearly looks like an attempt to intimidate state-level investigators,â€ said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), told the Times. â€œThe chilling effect 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.â€
Del Monte Fresh Produce claims its melons did not sicken anyone and says it is simply attempting to improve food safety, the Times said. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland this August.
Previously, Business Week reported that the lawsuit could cause ramifications over how regulators remove contaminated food from the market and could make officials wary about advising consumers about potentially contaminated food.
â€œIf this case is successful from an industry perspective, it will change the attitude of regulators,â€ said former FDA assistant commissioner David Acheson, who is now a food safety consultant. â€œThey will obviously be more reluctant,â€ Acheson added, reported Business Week.