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Opening Arguments

Melon bawl

So now we finally know, though I'm not sure what real benefit the news will be to us:

OWENSVILLE — The Food and Drug Administration has identified a southern Indiana farm that produces cantaloupes linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak and says the operation has recalled its melons.

The FDA says Chamberlain Farms of Owensville could be one source of the multistate outbreak.

A Chamberlain Farms attorney says it voluntarily withdrew its cantaloupes last week and that all its retail and wholesale purchasers complied. Owensville is 20 miles north of Evansville.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that of 178 people infected in 21 states, two have died and 62 have been hospitalized.

Just semi-kidding. As a journalist, I always have to say knowing is better than not knowing, especially when the people's right to know incldues a need to protect ourselves. I'm just not sure how knowing the name of the farm helps me do that.

If you've been following the story, you know that until finally naming the farm, the feds were arguing that they are careful not to make premature disclosure in investigations of food-borne illnesses (i.e. before more conclusive evidence is in) because they don't want to hurt farms, food manufacturers or others who may turn out to have no role in such an outbreak. The counter-argument is that not revealing the name casts suspicion on all cantaloupe producers and distributors. One southern Indiana farmer was quoted yesterday as saying the wholesale market had suddenly dried up and farmers were losing thousands of dollars a day.

But now we know the name, and what do we do with it as consumers? One of the stories said that "most cantaloupes have a sticker identifying where the fruit was grown." Really? I must have been shopping in some scofflaw supermarkets, because a lot of the fruits and vegetables I buy don't even have price bar codes on them. And are we supposed to keep a list of all the problem foods and check all the labels on each of our market visits?

Food safety is one of those areas where we have to depend on the good intentions and competence of others. And the truth is I will, up to a point. I won't be buying any cantaloupes from anywhere until they get this all chased down.