Now that national and regional guidelines for cantaloupe growing and handling are available, produce industry leaders and food safety advocates say there is no excuse for cantaloupe growers to be unaware of food safety procedures.
The California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, the Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association and an ad hoc group with international participants have issued the guidelines in an attempt to avoid a third consecutive year of deadly foodborne illnesses, said Ray Gilmer, vice president for issue management and communication for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington D.C.
In 2011, cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Holly, Colo., were linked to a listeria outbreak that killed 33. In 2012 a salmonella outbreak linked to cantaloupe from Chamberlain Farm Produce, Owensville, Ind., killed three people.
Authors of the recently released guidelines said they are encouraging smaller growers to review the documents and implement changes to avoid similar outbreaks.
The national guidelines, developed and published by the ad hoc industry group — led by representatives from Western Growers, the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association — are now available for free download, the authors said March 7. The guidelines are at tinyurl.com/Cantaloupe-safety.
Although the guidelines don’t carry the weight of a government document, they were developed with input from U.S. regulatory agencies as well as food safety officials in Canada and Mexico. The guidelines cover a variety of growing regions and conditions, as well as discussing safety procedures for field packing and packing shed operations.
“There have been simultaneous efforts in the industry to get food safety guidelines into the hands of growers because of the outbreaks associated with cantaloupes in 2011 and 2012,” Gilmer said. “We don’t have a preference which guidelines growers use, we just want them to be aware of what they can do.”
“My personal opinion is that any producer or handler who follows any one of the documents will likely have a good food safety program, said Giclas, who is vice president for science, technology and strategic planning for Western Growers, Irvine, Calif.