Not that anyone should be surprised.
Who can deny that as a nation we’re more selective in how we get our news, and how we respond to it? We often choose to believe what we want, and there are media sources that cater to us.
And the best part is that we can contribute to the “conversation” on media sites. The Packer encourages this on our site.
It’s no surprise that many “reader reaction” comments posted on media websites, whether it’s the Huffington Post, The New York Times or The Packer, paint issues as black or white to suit their own bias.
That includes comments on recalls in recent weeks, from romaine lettuce to mushrooms, and, of course, cantaloupes.
Obviously, this is a food safety issue. According to consumers, who have varying degrees of understanding of how melons are grown and distributed, cantaloupe recalls from Jensen Farms, Holly, Colo.; Burch Farms, Faison, N.C.; and Chamberlain Farms, Owensville, Ind., represent much more than a food safety issue.
I’ve read more than a few comments that seem to come from importers or Mexican growers. But who can tell, with the ability to hide identities on the Internet?
They point out that the U.S. cantaloupe industry needs to get on top of this problem. That’s true, but there is some gloating involved as well.
We’re coming up on the 10-year anniversary of the Food and Drug Administration’s import alert on Mexican cantaloupe, enacted after outbreaks three years in a row (and two deaths) traced to those melons. In doing so, the FDA basically killed Mexican cantaloupes to the U.S. for a few years, giving rise to offshore melon deals in Central and South America.
The clampdown on Mexican growers forced U.S. import partners to work on food safety protocols for fields and packinghouses in Guerrero, the origin of the banned cantaloupes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Mexican counterpart, SAGARPA, had to sign off on each facility before it was allowed to ship to the U.S. again.
I wonder what those inspectors would find if they visited every U.S. cantaloupe field and packinghouse.
It’s clear that in the case of Jensen Farms and Burch Farms, they would not have been allowed to ship cantaloupes.
According to the FDA, both companies had conditions that led to the presence of pathogens. In the case of Chamberlain Farms, those test results are pending.
Most of the media attention has been focused on the growers, but increasingly, members of the industry are looking to the retailers who bought the cantaloupes.
A common refrain we at The Packer hear from growers is that they are increasingly burdened by the costs of third-party audits mandated by customers, and, in some cases, larger firms selling to multiple retailers must contract with more than one food safety auditing company.
In the Burch Farms case, on-site audits did not include the 115 acres of cantaloupes grown this season. At Jensen Farms, the audit was done before the season was in full swing, so there was no true measure of the company’s food safety performance.
More information on practices at Chamberlain Farms will likely be coming out soon.
How closely are buyers checking to see if suppliers are truly toeing the line when it comes to food safety? As in the case of Jensen Farms, it’s evident that a piece of paper declaring a clean bill of health one week doesn’t hold true throughout the season.
This will no doubt fuel grower unease as they write a check — or two or more — to third-party certifiers. But those audits are necessary, regardless of how many acres they ship from.
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