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FDA warns cantaloupe grower Chamberlain Farms linked to 24-state salmonella outbreak

OWENSVILLE, Ind.A farm behind a deadly salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 260 people in 24 states last year has been warned by the Food and Drug Administration to address unsanitary conditions.

The FDA sent a warning letter to Chamberlain Farms of Owensville requesting specifics on fixing problems found by inspectors, including "accumulated organic material" on conveyers and standing water on the floor with apparent algae.

Investigators also found trash, food pieces and dirt below the conveyor belt at the cantaloupe packing house, along with bird excrement in the rafters above areas directly above the food products.

"Allowing birds to roost in your packing facility could allow them to defecate directly on to food products during conveyance, grading, and sorting," the FDA's letters said.

The agency said last summer's outbreak sickened at least 260 people in 24 states and killed three people in Kentucky. Ninety-four people were hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The FDA noted that Chamberlain Farms pressure washed and sanitized some areas following an August investigation of the facility, but the agency said the company has yet to offer any long-term actions to prevent a future outbreak.

Chamberlain Farms attorney Gary Zhao didn't have an immediate response Thursday, saying he expected to release a statement later in the day.

Last August, federal health officials warned Americans to avoid cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana, where the farm is located until they could rule out other possible sources of the contamination.

Shortly after, a DNA test confirmed suspicions that Chamberlain Farms was the source of at least some of the salmonella responsible for the outbreak.

In September, the farm voluntarily recalled watermelons from the market, following an inspection of the farm prompted by the cantaloupe salmonella outbreak.

Salmonella bacteria can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 72 hours of infection. The illness, called salmonellosis, typically lasts a week but young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems may require hospitalization for severe illness.

The warning letter dated Dec. 14 gives Chamberlain Farms 15 working days to respond after it was received.

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