Cantaloupe growers embrace regulation

01/12/2012 07:47:00 PM
Tom Karst

Following the pattern of leafy green growers after the E. coli outbreak in 2006 linked to spinach, California cantaloupe growers appear poised to adapt mandatory food safety regulations in existing melon marketing orders.

That was one tangible outcome of the Jan. 11 Center for Produce Safety meeting “Cantaloupe: Food Safety Priorities” in San Diego. The invitation-only meeting was in response to a listeria outbreak traced to cantaloupes in the Rocky Ford, Colo., area. Thirty deaths have been linked to the outbreak, as well as a miscarriage.

Patricio“The California industry heard the message very loudly, that the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement-type mandatory government audits are needed and necessary,” said Stephen Patricio, president of Westside Produce, Firebaugh, Calif., and chair of the Center for Produce Safety advisory board.

He said the California melon industry is fortunate to have existing marketing orders (the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board and the Melon Research Board). During a Jan. 12 meeting, also in San Diego, California cantaloupe growers reached a consensus go forward with a mandatory statewide food safety program with government oversight — ideally in place before the next season in the spring. He said California wants to make their good agricultural practices available to all cantaloupe growers. Patricio said the industry hopes to have the mandatory food safety program in place before the coming harvest season.

YorkTim York, president of Salinas, Calif.-based foodservice distributor Markon Cooperative and former chairman of the Center for Produce Safety advisory board, said the melon industry needs to pick up the pace.

“My greatest frustration is that if you compare this to the spinach crisis in 2006, which occurred in September in 2006, by April 1 we had a Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement set up in the state of California with metrics that were developed in a very transparent, scientific and collaborative way,” York said.

“I walked away yesterday with a frustration about time that has passed and opportunity wasted,” he said Jan. 12.

York said the tendency in this food safety crisis, is to point the finger at the auditors, Primus Labs; grower Jensen Farms and Frontera Produce, which marketed the melons. He applauded the presence at the meeting of Robert Stovicek, president of Santa Maria, Calif.-based PrimusLabs, and Will Steele, president of Frontera Produce.

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New jersey  |  January, 12, 2012 at 09:10 PM

Bigger government, more regulations, more audits, more advisory boards, are you people insane? Stop trying to turn agriculture into corporate America. Primus and co. have done nothing to eliminate the hazards associated with fresh fruits and vegetables. The public needs to be educated on how to handle and prepare fresh foods. Also, random sampling and inspections would keep farms, packing houses, warehouses, retailers, transporters, etc. all the more vigilant of their food safety policies.

Mexico  |  January, 12, 2012 at 11:24 PM

The real change needs to be in the consumer as well retail sales. We need to be looking at a smooth skin melon, this will eliminate the chances of contamination. For the last couple of Years Salmonella has plaged the melon industry and now listeria, mostly imbedded deep in to the netting. Most of the industry is still field pack, not shed pack, ( west Coast ). We as consumers need to change our propsective concerning Cants. Agreed to formention statement more random inspection, from field level up. The county or State inspectors could double as Food Safety inspectors. They Already go to the all the areas in concern.

Steve Patricio    
Firebaugh  |  January, 13, 2012 at 02:48 PM

I found comments about the melon industry’s need to “pick up the pace” a bit baffling. With yesterday’s announcement that the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board intends to implement a mandatory food safety system based on the LGMA model prior to the beginning of our upcoming harvest season – we are exactly on track to match the speed with which the LGMA was created. We must also add that the California cantaloupe industry is proactively taking this step despite the fact that cantaloupe from our state has never been associated with a foodborne illness outbreak. Further, the cantaloupe industry, as a whole, agreed during this past week’s meeting to immediately take action to bring in the latest science available to shore up existing commodity specific guidance. By February, CPS has plans to develop research priorities and begin the process of conducting important and needed research to make cantaloupes safer (and, they will likely be able to review and use the 20-years of research data on cantaloupe food safety that was conducted by our group as they move forward). Finally industry associations, led by United Fresh Produce Association, have committed to an international education effort to make sure all producers are aware of recommended food safety practices. So, I’m not sure what exactly is “moving too slowly.”

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