Members of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board unanimously approved a draft of the state’s cantaloupe audit and guidance document Jan. 11.

Steve Patricio, chairman of the board, said the document now goes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for review and approval. The California Department of Food and Agriculture can begin using the document as soon as USDA approves it.

“They (USDA) is expected to OK it in two to three weeks,” Patricio said. “So it should be in effect for planting and the rest of the 2013 season.”

California cantaloupe rule awaits USDA approvalPatricio said the board approved the draft without amendments. He said it incorporates audit practices that the California growers followed for the 2012 season.

It was prepared with input from industry food safety leaders including Hank Giclas, senior vice president of science and technology at Western Growers; Trevor Suslow of the University of California-Davis Extension Office; Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer for the Produce Marketing Association, and Dave Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for United Fresh Produce Association.

Many of those people have also been working on a national guidance document for cantaloupe, which Patricio said is nearing completion.

Both the California and national cantaloupe food safety guidelines are in compliance with requirements in the produce rule released Jan. 4 by the Food and Drug Administration, he said.

“We were happy to get to see the FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) produce rule before we had to formally vote on ours today,” Particio said. “We are fully in compliance with our document. We feel we are out in front of the game.”

Parts of the California “Handler Marketing Order for Mandatory Food Safety” for cantaloupes are patterned after the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which Patricio helped develop after the deadly spinach-related E. coli outbreak in 2006.

California cantaloupe growers unanimously voted to approve a mandatory food safety program in May 2012. That vote came in the wake of a deadly 2011 listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe from Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo. That outbreak killed 33 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.