Focus on the sick people and farm conditions rather than the blame: lotsa time for that later; Indiana says official didn’t blame consumers for cantaloupe outbreak

With at least two people dead and 178 sick from Salmonella linked to cantaloupe in 21 states, Jim Howell of the Indiana Department of Health told growers improper food handling procedures may be to blame for a good portion of the illnesses.

But now the Indiana State Department of Health has insisted to the Evansville Courier and Press the report was inaccurate.

"Consumers are not to blame for the salmonella outbreak, and no member of the ISDH staff has ever stated or insinuated such a claim," said state health department spokeswoman Amy Reel.

Dr. James Howell, an assistant Indiana State Department of Health commissioner who heads the Public Health and Preparedness Commission, visited melon growers Monday at Vincennes Tractor Inc.

He was quoted in the Vincennes Sun-Commercial as saying that "most of the bacteria is on the surface" and that "people just need to clean their produce before they eat it." He also reportedly said consumers are increasingly unaware of how to handle fresh produce, reciting the stand-by that home economics needs to be re-introduced in schools.

Reel said Howell’s comments were misconstrued, stating, "Assumptions were made that could detract from the important health message that consumers should be washing all produce to help reduce their risk of any foodborne illness. The current salmonella investigation is ongoing.”

But washing doesn’t do much, especially with Salmonella on cantaloupe. And what hasn’t been reported anywhere is the food safety precautions undertaken – or not – on the farm; the Food and Drug Administration will figure that out, and I’ll wait for the report.

There’s a rich tradition of people saying dumbass things in the midst of an outbreak.

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About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time