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March 27, 2008

Honduras denies export cantaloupes are salmonella-contaminated

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya showed on March 25 that he can attack a cantaloupe and U.S. government claims in a single motion.

"It's not in our fruit," he said about last week's report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that some Honduran cantaloupes may be contaminated with salmonella. "It's not true what they are saying. Logically, we believe it is an error."

Then, the 55-year-old father of four asked his viewers to indulge him as he engaged in a show-and-tell demonstration. "Permit me a second," he said as he stretched his left arm across the tabletop and outside the view of the camera, then pulled into view a box of fruit.

"Here I have the box of melons that we are exporting to the United States; here are the protective bags," he said.

Zelaya lifted a cantaloupe from the box, placed it in front of him, then grabbed a knife and a fork.

"Permit me to make a demonstration," he said, then cut open the fruit, sliced off a chunk, put it in his mouth and chewed vigorously. "I eat this fruit without any fear," he said with his mouth full. "It's a delicious fruit. Nothing happens to me!"

Though the symptoms of salmonella infection -- nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps -- typically do not occur for several hours after eating tainted food, the point was made.

The demonstration came three days after the FDA said it had linked 50 cases of salmonella in 16 states and nine in Canada to melons from Agropecuaria Montelibana, a grower and packer in San Lorenzo, Honduras.

Though there have been no reports of fatalities, 14 people have been hospitalized in several US states, the FDA said.

While the company has continued exporting to Europe and Central America and has received no reports of illness, the daily export of 45 containers of melon to the United States has halted, a company official said. As a result, some 1,500 workers have been laid off, most of them single mothers, and company losses have exceeded $3 million, company officials said.

The FDA alert advised U.S. grocers, food-service operators and produce processors to remove from their stock any cantaloupes from the company.

The agency also recommended consumers throw away any cantaloupes determined to be from the company.


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