Leaders of California’s cantaloupe industry expect the state’s good agricultural practices to be approved by state and federal officials soon, and it’s likely they’ll be used in the formulation of new GAPs from the Food and Drug Administration.
Steve Patricio, chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board and president of Westside Produce in Firebaugh, Calif., said the new GAPs approved by the board are in the hands of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“They have been in contact and have some minor phrasing adjustments,” Patricio said Feb. 28. “We expect to get the final version any day now.”
The new GAPs include announced and unannounced audits, beginning this spring, Anyone growing, packing and shipping cantaloupes in California will be subject to the audits.
“Guidance is a moving target and will change as audits and research show what we need to do,” Patricio said.
He said FDA officials have been in touch with him concerning federal GAPs, and national guidelines will adopt most of the California guidelines.
“They are awaiting the California GAPs to be approved by USDA,” Patricio said, adding that he has been in discussions with FDA’s Jim Gorny, senior advisor for produce safety at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Gorny was not available Feb. 28 for comment.
Regional groups welcome FDA inspections
Patricio and Charles Hall, interim executive director of the new Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association, said they were pleased with the FDA’s plan to increase inspections of cantaloupe packing sheds. The move comes after deadly listeria and salmonella outbreaks linked to packing shed cantaloupes in 2011 and 2012.
Patricio said California and Arizona each have one cantaloupe operation that uses a packing shed. All others in those two states pack fruit in the field, he said.
Trevor Suslow, an extension research specialist for the University of California-Davis, confirmed that western-grown cantaloupes show few pathogens. The university and the Center for Produce Safety tested thousands of cantaloupe in 2012 for salmonella, listeria and E. coli.
“We have not found detectable levels of these pathogens on approximately 2,000 packed cantaloupe collected at shipping points during 2012 season spanning nine dates and multiple handlers,” Suslow said Feb. 28. “The project will continue for 2013 season in California and Arizona.”
Different conditions east of the Rockies provide good growing environments for cantaloupe and pathogens, Hall said.
“In the eastern regions rain splash and higher humidity make it necessary for us to clean the cantaloupe before packing,” Hall said.
The Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association includes all of the country east of the Rocky Mountains, Hall said.
“We’ve already heard strong support from retailers,” Hall said, adding that the association is still in the startup phase. “Some have said that they won’t buy cantaloupe unless it’s from a member of the association.”
To become a member of the new association, growers-shippers must have successfully completed a Global Food Safety Initiative audit.
They also must provide the association with results from monthly tests of irrigation water and daily tests of wash water. Association members are also subject to unannounced audits. Cantaloupes from association members will carry identification stickers.