National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

An evenly split vote this morning on a LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group poll, which asks "Should the cantaloupe industry open their food safety meetings to the public and the press?"

United Fresh said this Feb. 27 in a member communication about the food safety meetings:

Responding to the need for updated guidance on the growing, handling and processing of fresh cantaloupe, produce industry leaders across the nation will hold four regional meetings throughout the U.S. to develop guidelines designed to improve the safety of cantaloupe. The guidance will address all operations within the supply chain and the diverse regions and processes in which netted melons are produced and handled.

The meetings will be held on:

    * March 29-30, Phoenix, Ariz.
    * April 26-27, Western Growers headquarters, Irvine, Calif.
    * May 30-31, Southeast region
    * June 20-21, Denver, Colo.

Further communications in the coming weeks will provide detailed Information on registration, exact locations, hotels and agendas.

The meetings are open to growers, buyers, auditors, academic experts as well as regulators from state agencies, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 Meetings are restricted to industry stakeholders; however, each event will be followed up with a conference call with news media and those unable to attend to ensure additional questions are answered.

TK: Is the "industry" correct in restricting the food safety meetings to industry stakeholders, excluding the press and members of the public? The LinkedIn poll shows the diverging views on the question. In limited voting, 50% say the meetings should be open, as it would signify good faith. However, half say no, it would hinder progress on the task.

I noted in the poll question that food safety lawyer Bill Marler has written in his blog about the issue.

Marler gathers perspectives from some of his clients. A Jennifer Exley wrote:

I am disturbed and upset by the news that the general public, (i.e. the people that were affected) are not allowed in the upcoming industry meetings on the recent Listeria outbreak. As the daughter of one of the victims, this has been a life changing event, not only for my father who no longer leads the quality lifestyle he once had, but for our entire family, especially my mother, who now has to assist, supervise and monitor him on a daily basis. They need to hear our stories. People that have been affected should be allowed to speak about what we all have been through and are continuing to go through so the seriousness of foodborne illnesses can be relayed in a personal manner. Why should anyone get sick from eating a cantaloupe?


TK: In my view, at least one of the meetings should be designated an "open" meeting for members of the public to attend and to comment. All meetings should be open to the press. Organizers shouldn't assume that just because a meeting is open to the press and to the public that chaos will ensue. A more likely scenario would be that budgets and time constraints would preclude both the press and the public from attending the meetings in any significant way.  Such meetings would allow the industry to see the "human" side of those affected, and would also provide the public a chance to appreciate the earnestness of the industry's effort to address cantaloupe food safety issues.