Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Inc. has sued the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), seeking a declaration that the agency has “engaged in a pattern or practice that constitutes agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed” in connection with several cantaloupe shipments from Guatemala. Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Inc. v. U.S., No. 08-02161 (D.D.C., filed December 11, 1008).

According to the complaint, the FDA denied release of the shipments until it completed testing for salmonella. The FDA has purportedly failed to respond to company requests for expedited testing and has yet to release the fruit, which is “overripening” and will cost the company more than $4.5 million in losses. A 10-day hold in 2007 allegedly cost the company almost $1 million.

Del Monte claims that independent tests have failed to show that the shipments are infected with salmonella and contends that it “has never had a positive test for salmonella on its imported cantaloupes.” According to Del Monte, the company “adheres to the highest food standards and sources its cantaloupes from related party farms that are owned and operated by Del Monte Fresh Produce Company. Del Monte’s cantaloupe farms produce and pack fruit in accordance with the best practices as defined by FDA, and as stated in certificates issued by FDA to Del Monte. The farms test irrigation and packing house water and employ a hot water treatment facility in the packing houses for additional food safety benefits.”

In addition to declaratory relief, the company asks the court to issue an injunction “compelling FDA to cease unreasonable and/or unlawful delay in inspecting, examining and releasing food that Del Monte seeks to import into the United States.”

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