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.