The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has attacked a lawsuit filed by Del Monte against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), saying it could have a chilling effect on the willingness of health officials to recall potentially lethal foods.
Del Monte filed the suit against the FDA and Oregon public health officials last month in in a Maryland district court, seeking to lift FDA restrictions on cantaloupe imports, which were put in place due to fears of salmonella contamination. The company said that no health agency has offered any physical evidence of contamination, and claims that restrictions are therefore unwarranted.
CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal said in a statement: “While no one wants FDA to act precipitously, it is vital that FDA and states act on the basis of epidemiologic links to foods purchased and consumed by the affected consumers. After all, contaminated food can be a life or death matter. FDA and Oregon used state-of-the-art techniques to identify the food item, and a lawsuit like Del Monte’s could have a dangerous chilling effect on the willingness of public health officials to recall foods or ban unsafe imports for fear of retaliation in court.”
Del Monte voluntarily recalled 4,992 cartons of cantaloupes in March, due to concerns that they could be contaminated with salmonella. The FDA subsequently halted imports of cantaloupes from the Guatemalan supplier implicated by the illness outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s epidemiological evidence. Twenty illnesses across ten states have been reported that were caused by the outbreak strain.
Del Monte said in court documents that this restriction cuts off about 27% of its supply of cantaloupes imported to United States.
DeWaal said: “Proving that a specific food carries the pathogen strain involved in an outbreak often can’t be done. Backtracking to find the exact food consumed weeks earlier is challenging, and even when products are located, they are often not uniformly contaminated so even a negative test result won’t clear a suspect product. And the law is clear that such a finding is not required.”