Del Monte Withdraws Lawsuit Against FDA

In a legal maneuver many felt was tantamount to bullying and intimidation, Del Monte Fresh Produce recently filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The divisive move was made in an attempt to stop some food inspection practices and reduce recent restrictions the FDA placed on food imports into the U.S. As we’ve written, health investigators concluded that Del Monte cantaloupes are the source of a Salmonella outbreak that began earlier this year.

Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. dropped its lawsuit on the same day the agency lifted its ban on cantaloupes supplied by a Guatemalan farm in Asunción Mita, said Cronkite News. The lawsuit was filed a month ago; the import alert was in place since July 15.

The ban was implemented when a prior shipment from the farm appeared to be tainted with the dangerous Salmonella pathogen. Meanwhile, said Cronkite News, although an FDA spokeswoman said she could not comment on if the ban lifting was related to Del Monte’s lawsuit, Del Monte said simply that both actions signified an “amicable resolution” to the matter.

Del Monte still has a pending legal action filed against the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division and its senior epidemiologist, Dr. William E. Keene on August 29, in connection to the issue, noted Cronkite News. Keene was the official who advised Del Monte of its part in the outbreak. The notice and lawsuit have both been described by health officials as “unprecedented,” said Cronkite News.

In March, we wrote that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—which collaborated with the FDA and several state health departments—announced a multi-state Salmonella Panama poisoning outbreak that originated in Oregon and was linked to tainted cantaloupe that sickened 20 people in 10 states; 3 required hospitalization. Del Monte Fresh Produce recalled nearly 5,000 cartons of cantaloupe distributed from the Del Monte farm via wholesale warehouse Costco clubs in 7 states.

The lawsuit, said former FDA Associate Commissioner of Foods, David Acheson, in a September interview, calls into question the role of epidemiology when tracing foodborne illness outbreaks, wrote Cronkite News. Acheson, as well as state health department scientists, expressed concern that the legal actions could adversely affect how consumers are advised of health risks linked to food, noted Cronkite News.

On July 15, the FDA issued an import alert for Asuncion Mita cantaloupes; on August 15, Del Monte wrote an 84-page letter to the FDA with findings from an external review of its safety practices and results indicating its products tested negative for Salmonella contamination, Cronkite News explained. The lawsuit was filed the next week in U.S. District Court for Maryland; the following week, Del Monte filed its notice to sue Keene and the Oregon department. The company argued that the evidence connecting its melons to the Salmonella poisoning outbreak was based on “erroneous speculation.” Del Monte also accused the FDA of not investigating other possible contamination points, including retailers and transporters, added Cronkite News.

According to Del Monte, the restrictions could have adversely affected its reputation and has challenged prevailing food safety investigation processes.

Del Monte Fresh Produce maintains it melons did not sicken anyone.

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