Del Monte threatens to sue Oregon health authorities

A Florida-based fruit company is targeting health officials in Oregon after what it considered to be a hasty and unfounded investigation accusing the company of being responsible for an outbreak of salmonella.

Oregon Public Health investigates a number of food-borne illness outbreaks each year, but this is the first time it attracted litigation. The fruit giant Del Monte Fresh Produce is crying business defamation after Oregon health authorities and the state's head epidemiologist traced a salmonella outbreak to cantaloupes produced at Del Monte's farm in Guatemala.

The company, which leads the United States in importing cantaloupe, was forced to institute a recall of nearly 60,000 melons earlier in the year. Del Monte argued that the investigation that led to the conclusion was shoddily executed and the results proved to be misleading. It also wants Oregon and its officials to stop making statements about the cantaloupes. The company has threatened a lawsuit, but has not yet filed.

Del Monte also sued the United States Food and Drug Administration over the recall.

At least 20 people around the country, including some in Oregon, grew ill from the outbreak, but there were no casualties. Oregon officials became privy to the outbreak when some of their citizens grew ill from Salmonella Panama after eating at a specific social function.

The ensuing investigation traced the illness to Del Monte's cantaloupes, which were distributed through the supermarket Costco. However, this investigation did not include tests to pair the illness with the Del Monte melons. Other fruit companies stocked Costco with cantaloupes during that period of time as well.

Oregon officials retain that their findings were based on sufficient evidence.

Source: The Oregonian, "Florida company intends to sue Oregon health authorities over salmonella outbreak," Lynne Terry, Aug. 29, 2011.

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