Gilstrap said a list of certified handlers won’t be published on the site until after the season ends to avoid possibly putting handlers of later-season fruit at a competitive disadvantage.
“These people have been producing a safe product for a long time,” he said.
There has not been a single foodborne illness linked to California cantaloupe, he said.
“We decided this was the best way to handle it,” Gilstrap said.
“Everybody is starting out pending (certification). Until we have a season of audits, people won’t be certified. Audits will be going on this season, but there won’t be certified California cantaloupe in the stores.”
Westside Produce, Firebaugh, Calif., has made food safety its top priority for years, said Jim Malanca, senior vice president.
Company president Steve Patricio serves as chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board and its food safety committee. Patrichio also serves as chairman for the advisory committee for the Center for Produce Safety and sits on Western Growers’ food safety committee and the Produce Marketing Association’s foods safety committee.
Even before the mandatory rule, Patricio said many Westside handlers had been following voluntary food safety guidances for years.
“California, in general, has been at the forefront of this for years because food safety and quality go hand in hand,” he said. “We were recommending best practices and dealing with commodity-specific food safety guidances for close to two decades, so it’s certainly not new for anyone in Northern California.”
Malanca said Westside Produce already has hosted food safety inspectors from major retailers who want to conduct their own inspections, and it has passed a third-party audit this season.
Rod Rosales, marketing director for Devine Organics LLC, Fresno, Calif., said representatives from the grower-packer-shipper have been attending meetings to make sure they’re up to date on the new rule.
As a handler of organics, he said the company already had adopted many of the procedures within the new marketing order.
“We’re a little bit ahead of the curve because we do organic,” he said. “There are some test procedures that are being required that we’ve been following because we are organic.”
Top of mind
Brian Wright, sales manager for Del Mar Farms, Patterson, Calif., said food safety is top of mind of buyers with whom he deals.
“It’s one of the first things they ask,” he said.