As California’s Westside cantaloupe industry kicks off its second season under a stringent safety inspection program, nearly all of the state’s cantaloupe handlers have received the required certification, said John Gilstrap, manager of the Dinuba-based California Cantaloupe Advisory Board.
Gilstrap said that, to his knowledge, the cantaloupe marketing order that took effect in 2013 is “the only one in the produce industry that invites government auditors to inspect all aspects of the operation.”
To be certified, growers and handlers must comply with a 156-point checklist. If they don’t, they have to make corrections and be reinspected.
They’re also required to have a traceback system.
Names of certified handlers are listed on the board’s website, calcantaloupes.com. Companies that are decertified also will be listed, Gilstrap said, but companies that are pending certification will not be.
The California Cantaloupe Advisory Board is the certifying body. The auditors, from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, are trained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program is overseen by CDFA and USDA.
The cantaloupe advisory board has informed retailers about the program, Gilstrap said.
“Each handler can use that in his own way in his own market.”
Gilstrap estimates that 99% of the California cantaloupes on retail shelves has been certified under the program, which, he emphasized, is a proactive one.
“There’s never been a food safety issue with California cantaloupe,” he said. “It is a very safe product.”
The certification program shows how important the state’s cantaloupe handlers believe food safety is, he said.
“The industry is amazingly committed to the program,” he added. “They are people who believe so much in this program that they are taxing themselves to make it happen.”
The program is funded by handler assessments of 2 cents per 40-pound carton.
Food safety has long been a priority of Steve Patrichio, president of Westside Produce Inc., Firebaugh, Calif., and chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board and its food safety committee.
Westside Produce has been following the practices since 2000, he said.
“It’s not very painful,” Patrichio said. It’s a matter of documenting food safety procedures and “verifying that you’re saying what you’re doing and doing what you say.”
Growers who may have been intimidated by the program are coming to realize that “it’s not as onerous as they might have thought,” he said.