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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Ode to the Microbiological Data Program (MDP)

I was going to take the weekend off.  It has been a long few weeks of long days, and more than a few nights, working on putting the cases together of the 22 injured people and the families of 20 who died in the 2011 Listeria cantaloupe outbreak that I represent.  We have a court imposed deadline of September 14 (ironically, one year to the date of the recall) to present every client’s story.  Every person and family has a story – all of them quite horrible and heroic – that they would take up every page of Food Safety News through the end of the year.  But, let my tell you one fact – these families collectively have incurred to date over $8,000,000 in medical bills.  If you count in future medical bills and lost wages, you are now well into eight figures.  If you then add in the pain of the loss of a spouse or living your life with the after effects of Listeria meningitis, you are talking real money.  And, that is only 42 of the 147 the CDC counted.

After 20 years of doing this kind of work it is easy to estimate that this one tragedy from last summer will cost business, government and the victims well over $100,000,000.

So, I really was going to take the weekend off and then Food Safety News reporter Helena Bottemiller (a.k.a. Lois Lane) wrote a story for this morning about this summer’s cantaloupe, and now honeydew recall prompted by the Microbiological Data Program (MDP).

Burch Equipment LLC in North Carolina is expanding its recent recall of nearly 189,000 cantaloupes to now include all of this growing season’s cantaloupes and honeydew melons distributed in 18 states because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

In the U.S. Food and Drug Administration update, issued very early Saturday morning, the agency noted that here have been no illnesses reported to date — the recall expansion is based on FDA’s recent finding of Listeria monocytogenes on a honeydew melon grown and packed by Burch Farms.

The original recall of cantaloupes was initiated on July 28 after a MDP in New York found contaminated cantaloupe. Two days later, the recall was greatly expanded and the FDA warned the public to not eat the recalled melons after agency officials reported unsanitary conditions at the company’s packing shed. 

Now, more than 10 days later, the company and FDA are casting a wider net on the potentially-contaminated melons, including honeydew, which were not previously part of the recall. Earlier this week, the company clarified that although it had originally identified Athena cantaloupes as the variety it was recalling, it was actually recalling Caribbean Gold variety. 

So as Food Safety News Editor, Dan Flynn, said a few months ago, let us thank United Fresh Produce Association for:

-       Killing the nation’s only (real) produce surveillance program (it is on life support until the years end and FDA has a small program).

-       Turning Congress against the only (real) program to collect data on the prevalence of foodborne pathogens in domestic and imported produce.

-       Leaving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state health departments in the dark about the incidence of pathogens in fresh produce commodities.

-       Keeping tainting products in the marketplace – MDP testing has been responsible for 23 produce recalls during 2010 and 2011 alone, and 15 of these involved human illnesses.

Did I tell you that the MDP costs us taxpayers only $5,000,000 per year?