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FDA’s Strong Arm Tactics

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, March 28, 2008

Although most of the melons subject to the “import alert” regarding cantaloupes produced by Agropecuaria Montelibano are on the east coast and in the Midwest, the product is everywhere.

Another recall was announced by a Los Angeles firm that is a subsidiary of Productos Agricolas Del Campo of Costa Rica:

TROPIFRESH, INC. RECALLS WHOLE CANTALOUPE PRODUCTS
BECAUSE OF POSSIBLE HEALTH RISK

Los Angeles, CA — March 26, 2008 — Tropifresh, Inc. of Los Angeles, CA, is recalling Agrolibano’s Produce Brand whole Cantaloupes because they appear to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.

Whole cantaloupe fruits subject to this recall carry a “Mike’s Melons” sticker or may be unlabeled because this sticker has fallen off. Whole cantaloupes fruits subject to this recall were sold in approximately 1100 pound cardboard bin containers and were distributed to wholesalers in Southern California, Pennsylvania and Canada.

No illnesses have been reported to Tropifresh, Inc. to date.

These cantaloupe products were supplied from Agropecuaria Montelibano, a Honduran grower and packer, to Tropifresh. This recall was initiated when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an import alert regarding cantaloupe from this grower, because, based on current information, fruit from this company appears to be associated with a Salmonella Litchfield outbreak in the United States and Canada.

Consumers who have purchased these products are urged to return them to the place of purchase. Customers with questions may contact Luis Alvarado of Tropifresh, Inc.

We were told that the key executives from Tropifresh were out of the country. We did, however get a play by play from someone very close to the situation:

Last Friday some lady from the FDA department came into the [office] and gave the company a notice. She said the company had to provide a voluntary recall letter to its customers because of potential contamination with salmonella. Everyone at the company was in shock. The key executives weren’t even in the country.

Once reached out of the country, the executives told the LA-based employees to be helpful. The FDA lady explained the reports of illness. She asked if the company had any of this grower’s cantaloupes in its warehouse, and she was told no, as the company basically drop-ships everything. Whatever comes in goes directly to the customers — mostly distributors or wholesalers, and they sell to mainly retailers.

The company only deals in whole melons. Nobody at the office would even see the product. It goes from the port directly to customers.

Right now the company has been getting melons from Honduras; it is believed just this one grower. The people at the company believe the grower is reputable, it has labs and testing is done often. There’s nothing certain yet from FDA saying, definitively, cantaloupes from this company are contaminated. It’s just an assumption.

When media gets involved, they blow it out of proportion, it’s good to warn the public.

I’m the public, I want to know, but I want the information to be accurate, not an assumption.

This will hurt the industry. It’s a big program now, January through April/May. It’s the season for cantaloupes and honeydew. People become cautious. If I have pink roses with a bug and want to sell white roses, the customer says no to all my flowers.

The Honduras provider is saying their cantaloupe is being questioned by FDA, but the FDA is not sure if it’s contaminated. Our vendor doesn’t want anyone to get worried.

The most interesting point here is this line: “Last Friday some lady from the FDA department came into the [office] and gave the company a notice. She said the company had to provide a voluntary recall letter to its customers because of potential contamination with salmonella.”

This is the way the FDA is functioning — as if it has the authority to order recalls. That is a power Congress has not elected to give the FDA. But in company after company, we hear the situation being presented as “an offer you can’t refuse.” There is something quite wrong with this.

Maybe FDA should insist its people tape record their meetings, so there can be no question that they are not presenting things as if they are mandatory, when they are not.

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