California cantaloupe handlers overwhelmingly approved the state's first mandatory food safety program implemented by a commodity board.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture, which conducted the referendum, announced yesterday that 100 percent of the state's cantaloupe handlers favored establishing a mandatory food safety program, according to a news release.

Most California candaloupe growers and handlers already had implemented a voluntary food safety program. The vote now formalizes the process for handlers by amending the state cantaloupe marketing order.

The program will include a food safety certification program that requires handlers be inspected and meet a set of production and handling metrics. It will be considered an unfair trade practice not to comply with the metrics.

The cantaloupe program follows in the footsteps of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, California Tomato Farmers and the newly established Colorado Cantaloupe Growers Association.

The California cantaloupe food safety program will be administered by the existing Dinuba-based California Cantaloupe Advisory Board.

The board plans to elect officers from new growing regions and determine how to best implement the food safety program.

California produces about 70 percent of the nation's cantaloupe.