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updated: 8/22/2012 8:18 AM

Health advocates want Indiana melon farm linked to salmonella identified

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Associated Press

WASHINGTON, Ind. -- A southwestern Indiana farm that grew cantaloupes linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak must be identified, along with its distribution network, so the public can make informed decisions about their purchases, health safety advocates said.

The salmonella outbreak is blamed in the deaths of at least two people in Kentucky and has sickened another 150 people in 20 states including two dozen in Indiana.

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State health officials have advised Indiana residents to discard cantaloupes bought since July 7, but are withholding the farm's name because it voluntarily recalled its produce last week, adding that the source of the outbreak is still under investigation.

"We want every bit of information possible," Nancy Donley, a spokeswoman with STOP Foodborne Illness, told The Indianapolis Star for a story Tuesday.

"We are very concerned that the health and welfare of businesses can be put at higher priority than that of the public health and safety," Donley said.

Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who represents more than 40 victims of a listeria outbreak traced to melons from Colorado last year, said the refusal to name the farm is a disservice to consumers and other growers.

"If they know where that cantaloupe came from, that farm should not only be notifying the public itself, but the restaurants and stores where that product went should be named," Marler said.

Indiana Department of Health spokeswoman Amy Reel told the Evansville Courier & Press that authorities need to investigate more before releasing information on the sources of the salmonella.

"Once we have identified all sources of this outbreak, then we will release this information to the public," Reel said. "We don't want to narrow the public's focus when there could be multiple sources."

Marsh has removed Indiana-grown cantaloupes from its supermarket shelves, and Walmart has stopped selling cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana. Both companies say there is no indication that any of their cantaloupes are contaminated. Kroger and Sam's Club said they hadn't purchased cantaloupes from the region.

Washington, Ind., melon farmer Hubert Etienne told the Evansville Courier & Press that his sales are down even though tests show his cantaloupes are not infected.

"It was immediate, as soon as the word got out. It's one of those things that just snowballs," Etienne said.

Indiana farmers earned nearly $6.2 million from cantaloupe in 2010, according to the USDA.

Most persons infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days although it can be fatal.

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