The spate of illnesses caused by seemingly innocuous cantaloupes is becoming a serious issue. A listeria outbreak linked to the tainted fruit has reportedly accounted for 24 deaths and 112 illnesses in 25 states so far, and the number continues to grow.
While it pales in comparison to the people affected by the poxy fruit, the number of lawsuits related to the cantaloupe recalls is rising at an almost equal rate. Reports indicate that at least six lawsuits have been filed so far, with two involving wrongful death claims.
At least one of the six lawsuits was filed against Jensen Farms, which is responsible for the Rocky Ford cantaloupes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled on Sept. 14. The Rocky Farms cantaloupes sickened at least 22 people across seven states. The FDA’s recall was expanded to include 594 pounds of Carol’s Cuts cantaloupe on Sept. 23, which at the time was responsible for eight deaths and 55 illnesses.
But not every company is happy about the FDA’s recent intervention. In late August, Del Monte Fresh Produce sued the FDA after it had stepped in to stop the import of cantaloupes from Guatemala because the FDA was concerned they may be tainted with salmonella. This case is significant because the threat of litigation could make the FDA hesitant to intervene when it has concerns over the safety of food going to market in the U.S.
In March, Del Monte issued a voluntary recall of some Guatemalan cantaloupes because they had the potential to be contaminated with salmonella. The company said the FDA’s restriction of Guatemalan cantaloupes is not based on any scientific evidence the fruit is actually dangerous.
"Responsible government agencies must be careful to protect public confidence and not inflame public fears by making statements about the safety of a particular food product or producer without sufficient evidence or without conducting a reliable investigation," Dennis Christou, a vice president at Del Monte, said in a statement.