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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Burch Farms: Unsanitary Conditions, Positive Listeria Test, No Audit and No Traceability – Hell of a way NOT to Grow Cantaloupe

burch_farms_logo.jpgCoral Beach of the Packer is on the Listeria Cantaloupe trail today.

Unsanitary Conditions and Positive Listeria Test

Burch Equipment LLC, doing business as Burch Farms, originally recalled about 5,200 cantaloupes July 28 after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Data Program (MDP) found listeria on one melon at retail during a random sampling.  The grower expanded the recall to include 188,900 cantaloupes Aug. 3 and corrected the variety from athena to caribbean golds. That expansion came after the FDA revealed it had found “unsanitary conditions” at the Burch packing shed.  Listeria contamination has been confirmed at the Burch Farms melon packing facility in Faison, N.C., according to the Food and Drug Administration.  In an update posted on its website late Aug. 13, FDA officials said the listeria finding spurred Burch to expand its recall to include all cantaloupe and honeydew melons shipped this season. No illnesses have been reported in relation to the recalled melons.

No Audit and No Traceability

Burch spokeswoman Teresa Burch said it has not had its cantaloupe operation audited by a third party for food safety practices, and although the company has traceability programs for other items, there is none in place for its melons.

Primus Labs Audit – Not for Cantaloupe

Burch said he uses the sanitizer SaniDate in his packing facility’s water. According to the Burch Farms website, the operations are audited by PrimusLabs.  PrimusLabs in-house counsel Ryan Fothergill confirmed that the company has audited the leafy greens processing and field operations at Burch Farms but not the cantaloupe operation. Fothergill said Primus records show its staff was last at the Burch operation in March.

Can you believe this is less than one year after the deadliest Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe?

Let’s hope no one gets sick and thank the MDP.

  • Although inspections are just a snapshot in time they are still a valuable tool if used effectively. The same can be said for audits. What can not, I repeat can not be done is to only come in and find things wrong and leave. The inspector needs to know about food safety and the laws and explain WHY it is a violation. If the facility doesn’t know why it is a violation or wrong they have no incentive to change it. If the inspector doesn’t do any education or help with how to correct the problems they will just continue to exist.
    That said, one would think with deaths associated with a known problem a company would make any and all changes needed to reduce the risk. If not then I believe the company doesn’t care, may not have been properly educated, or doesn’t know how to fix the problem. Not caring is hard to fix and in my experience usually results in violation letters/summons/closure in that order. However, I’ve been able to turn an uncaring attitude to one of caring if the facillty is educated on the benefits of food safety and my willingness to help them in their endeavors. Food safety is a lot less expensive than facing someone like Marler in court.
    Food safety needs to have all parties involved working together, this includes the consumer DEMANDING safe food. I know if someone said this costs 2 dollars more to buy but this is what we do to make the product safe that others do not do,, I would pay more.

  • Paul F Schwarz

    Doesn’t anyone at Burch Farms read? Obviously they must think that this can’t happen to us? Are the Jensens involved? Are they disciples of the Jensen Farms processing?
    Just hearing about Primus makes me shudder! Hopefully this will not rise to last years outbreak. Remember there is an incubation period of up to 70 days. What a way to observe a 1st anniversary. Maybe is FMSA is enacted these sloppy practices will come to an end!
    Paul A Schwarz
    December 18, 2011
    Section 51 Row 1 Grave 3 Ft Leavenworth/Leavenworth National Cemetery

  • Hector Chaparro

    All consumers say that they will pay more but sorry that is not the reality of things you want your food safe but you want it cheap

  • Mary

    In defense a bit of inspectors, I will say that I always tried to educate the people I dealt with. Most people do not listen and/or do not have the knowledge (despite food safety certification) to understand or follow through. I’ve told this story before, but after my state required food safety certification, I talked to many, many people who had (somehow) taken and passed the certification test. Those same people would complain to me about all the time spent on chemicals during their class, and insist that they had no chemicals on the premises. I’d then ask if they had sanitizer and cleaners on the premises. They’d say, “Of course!”

    Another factor is that the owner or manager may be trained and/or knowledgeable but does not pass on that knowledge to employees. Sometimes the knowledge is passed on, but employees develop their own ways of doing things because it is easier, they don’t want to speak up about equipment that isn’t functioning, etc.

    Quite honestly, because of the nature of foodborne illness, a food establishment or processor can get by with doing things the wrong way for years. The people start to get complacent in their operations and defensive with inspectors. “I’ve never made anyone sick, and we’ve always done things this way.” Unfortunately, because you can mess up and not sicken or kill anyone mulitple times, people think they can keep on keepin’ on and never have problems.