Although the new, mandatory California cantaloupe food safety rule became effective earlier this year, retailers and consumers won’t notice anything outwardly different about California cantaloupes this season.
“There won’t be stickers on each cantaloupe once they’re certified, and you won’t be seeing that in the stores this season,” said John Gilstrap, manager of the Dinuba-based California Cantaloupe Advisory Board.
What growers and handlers will notice are required inspections by California Department of Food and Agriculture personnel trained to U.S. Department of Agriculture standards.
The beefed-up inspections are part of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, which last year became the first state marketing order to approve a mandatory food safety program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture signed off on the program with only a few changes before the start of this season, Gilstrap said.
The California Cantaloupe Advisory Board includes a food safety certification program that requires inspection to a set of best practices and science-based handling metrics.
Growers and handlers must pass a checklist of 156 points with 100% compliance. If they don’t, they have to go back, make corrections and be reinspected.
In addition, the rule requires handlers to have a traceback system.
Handlers who buy or accept cantaloupe from growers who do not follow approved best practices, haven’t been inspected or don’t have a traceback system will be in violation.
The marketing order also makes it an unfair trade practice not to comply.
The food safety plan is based on the Food and Drug Administration’s guidance for cantaloupe.
With input from Western Growers, University of California extension research specialist Trevor Suslow and food safety scientists at risk management firm Intertox, the board tailored the FDA recommendations to fit California conditions.
Should retail customers require food safety inspections by a private third party, Gilstrap said handlers would have to undergo additional audits.
“We hope someday that retailers will accept the California audit and not require them to have any others,” he said.
Assessment pays for program
The certification program is funded by handler assessments of 2 cents per 40-pound carton.
The cantaloupe board just launched its website, www.calcantaloupes.com, which contains the program’s guidelines and performance metrics and the names of all handlers who must comply.