To date, we know that 141 people were sickened by salmonella from cantaloupes. We know that at least 50 of those people, including 2 who died, were from Kentucky. We know that the kind of Salmonella involved is Typhimurium. We know that the CDC cannot say for sure, at this point, that the outbreak is over; additional cases will likely be reported soon, and, after all, the outbreak was only announced 5 days ago. And we know, from past experience, that recalled food has a bad habit of staying on store shelves.
But what we do not know (although many public health agencies do) is who grew the contaminated cantaloupes.
We also know that businesses–in fact, entire industries–sometimes take a big financial hit when a product is recalled, or is the cause of a large outbreak. We know, too, that not every grower/producer in this or any other outbreak is the cause of the outbreak. If I were a cantaloupe grower–particularly one from Indiana who had nothing to do with the cantaloupe salmonella outbreak–i’d be more than upset that public health is favoring the financial and business interests of one farm over not only the public’s health, but also the financial well-being of an entire regional industry.
The various calls for CDC to release the name of the grower responsible for this outbreak will continue to fall on deaf ears. The CDC is firmly entrenched in its stance on disclosing the identities of businesses that cause outbreaks, and nothing short of an error in judgment that results in additional illnesses, or the perpetuation of an outbreak that should have been stopped, will change the CDC’s course. See:
- Public Health–time to stop hiding the ball
- So does the CDC not like Jimmy Johns sandwiches or just like Taco Bells tacos more?
- What if in 1982 Mcdonalds had been named as the source of forty seven sickened by E. coli O157:H7
- Towards a policy of secrecy or transparency in public health
Ultimately, the grower in the cantaloupe salmonella outbreak will be identified, but it will only be because a state, like Kentucky with dozens of confirmed illnesses, will step up to the plate and act in the public’s interest. It has been done before, most recently by Oklahoma in the 2011 Taco Bell outbreak, which the CDC called “an unnamed Mexican restaurant chain.” Either that, or the grower of the salmonella contaminated cantaloupes could also protect its Indiana cantaloupe-growing brethren and publicly identify itself. Again, not an unprecedented action.
Either that, or James Andrews at Food Safety News will figure it out.