Food safety at the forefront for melon industry

06/01/2012 10:43:00 AM
Melissa Shipman

After last year’s cantaloupe outbreak in the Rocky Ford area of Colorado, the melon industry is still recovering but is hopeful for this season.

“I think we’re over the hump of the issues in Rocky Ford,” said Atomic Torosian, managing partner and co-owner, Crown Jewels Produce Co., Fresno, Calif.

Garrett Patricio, vice president of operations and general counsel for Westside Produce, Firebaugh, Calif., is optimistic about this year.

“As time has passed, consumers and retailers have come back to the category. That’s a positive step for how we see this coming year,” Patricio said.

The efforts to move forward are still ongoing, something Torosian thinks is a good thing.

“It’s something that needs to be constantly monitored with the whole industry moving forward together to have an established standard of how the melons are grown, picked and shipped,” he said.

California is also working on developing an industrywide, mandatory food safety plan.

The California Cantaloupe Advisory Board “is moving forward with mandatory food safety. We’ve passed the greatest hurdle, which was expanding the reach of the board, and we’ve prioritized food safety to allow for mandatory regulation,” Patricio said.

The board also has completed its review of comprehensive cantaloupe draft guidance and is working on metrics for growers and shippers, Patricio said.

The specific aspects of handling the product currently are being put in place.

The plan for cantaloupes will follow the example set by the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and California Tomato Farmers, which uses inspectors trained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the supervision of the California Department of Agriculture.

“The tools that we are considering have been shown to work across the board, particularly with LGMA and CTF. The major difference is that our marketing order is mandatory for anyone that wants to grow and ship cantaloupes in the state of California,” Patricio said.

The new guidance will focus primarily on cantaloupes because netted melons have a different risk profile than slick-skinned melons, but other melons likely will benefit as well, according to Patricio.

He said that when companies implement a new food safety program, it isn’t just based on the commodity, but rather on the entire operation.

Although these added food safety measures will add new financial responsibilities to those in the industry, there hasn’t been much resistance.

“We work closely with the industry and organizations to make sure the protocol is aware of and implemented above and beyond, from handling and all the way through the supply chain,” said Monique McLaws, new product and marketing director for Dulcinea Farms LLC, Ladera Ranch, Calif.

“At this point, that’s just part of our protocol,” she said.

“There will be additional costs, but you can’t put a price tag on human life and food safety. Growers and shippers and retailers have all been supportive,” Patricio said.

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Mark Arney    
Orlando  |  June, 01, 2012 at 12:29 PM

The word "melon" is used in this article's headline and within the text of the article. Research shows that most people associate "melon" with watermelons. The watermelon industry, and rightly so, is trying to distance itself from the crisis that has befallen the cantaloupe industry. By nature of its smooth skin, watermelons are less susceptible to the growth of pathogens than cantaloupes. We hope that The Packer's reporter's will refrain from using the word "melons" in future articles on this topic.

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