In a definite first for the produce industry, a probable first in the food safety industry, and a possible first for just about any industry, California cantaloupe growers have voted unanimously to support a mandatory food safety program to be implemented by the state commodity board.
A number of commodities grown in California have their own marketing boards, but only cantaloupes will have their own mandatory food safety program.
The California Cantaloupe Advisory Board will enforce a food safety certification program based on inspection to a set of production and handling metrics. Noncompliance will be considered an unfair trade practice. The program will impose specific regulations for growing and packing cantaloupes in California, including specifics on cooling cantaloupes to prevent condensation and preparing them for packing.
A number of commodities grown in California have their own marketing boards—such as milk and almonds—but only cantaloupes will have their own mandatory food safety program.
“Food safety has never been a mandatory requirement of any California or USDA marketing order program,” said Steve Patricio, chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, who has been pushing for the new requirements ever since last summer’s deadly 28-state Listeria outbreak. The outbreak, which killed 32 people, was traced to tainted cantaloupes from Colorado’s Jensen Farms. “That’s what is the most monumental thing about this vote—that the producers were so convinced that they voted unanimously to impose these mandatory compliance regulations on themselves.”
Even though California cantaloupes had no role in the Colorado outbreak, Patricio said the incident tipped the balance in favor of making food safety mandatory. “Food safety and traceability have been something we’ve dealt with within our marketing order for years, but we’ve never been able to get it to the point of being a mandatory, verifiable compliance program before.”
He predicted that the next commodity to see a similar outbreak will enact comparable requirements. “It’ll have to be something that impacts California, because California has the most stringent marketing order program. I believe the template has been set, and now if somebody has a problem, they’ll find their quickest avenue to solution and mandatory compliance within the marketing order scheme that already exists.”