Food safety, crisis planning open watermelon convention

02/24/2012 11:21:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

Doug OhlemeierGordon Hunt (left), director of marketing for of the National Watermelon Promotion Board, Orlando, Fla., talks with Robert Morrissey, executive director of the National Watermelon Association, Lakeland, Fla., during a Feb. 24 general session at the association's convention at Amelia Island, Fla. AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — The National Watermelon Association opened its convention with a look at a food safety crisis in the United Kingdom.

During the Feb. 24 general session opening the industry’s 98th convention, a representative of the Orlando-based National Watermelon Promotion Board discussed the group’s upcoming marketing efforts and how grower-shippers and marketers worked to prevent panic from spreading to the U.S. after a U.K. salmonella outbreak linked to Brazilian watermelons.

Seventeen people became sick, and one death might be linked to the case; the last victim was reported in early February.

Stephanie Simek, the board’s director of public relations and social media, said the U.S. industry took proactive steps to inform consumers the outbreak didn’t involve U.S. product and said growers and marketers acted to keep the food safety crisis from landing on U.S. shores.

“We had a near-crisis with it,” Simek said. “It didn’t hurt us but we had some feathers ruffled." “We did have some retail accounts that have operations here and there contact some of our board member growers asking if they needed to be worried about it.”

Simek said U.S. marketers haven’t imported Brazil watermelon in two years.

Conference participation

Robert Morrissey, executive director of the Lakeland-based National Watermelon Association, said 400 participants came from 21 states, Canada and Mexico.

At a Feb. 25 general session, Reggie Griffin, former vice president of produce and floral for The Kroger Co.; and Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association; and others are scheduled to discuss industry issues.

Later that day, the National Watermelon Queen will be crowned during the group's annual awards banquet.

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