California cantaloupe handlers have voted overwhelmingly in support of the state’s first mandatory food safety program to be implemented by a commodity board. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced yesterday that 100% of handlers voting in a statewide referendum are in favor of amending the existing California Cantaloupe Advisory Board to establish the new food safety program.
“California cantaloupes have never been associated with a foodborne illness, yet the industry is unanimously in favor of a food safety program that will provide an additional layer of assurance for consumers that our product is safe,” said Steve Patricio, chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board. “This program will formalize 20 years of food safety leadership by the California cantaloupe industry.”
Patricio noted that California cantaloupe handlers, who represent 70% of the cantaloupes grown in the U.S., have been working all winter in preparation for the passage of these amendments. They have already taken steps to revise existing federally-approved food safety guidance for melons to make it specific to growing and packing conditions for California cantaloupe. The group has also been working to contract for science-based risk assessment, is funding research through the Center for Food Safety, and has joined with other industry associations to develop international cantaloupe food safety guidance.
“Now that these amendments to our marketing order are official, the first order of business will be to call a meeting of the Board, elect officers from new growing regions, and determine how the food safety program will be implemented,” he said. “We fully anticipate that our program will follow in the footsteps of other commodity-based programs like the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, California Tomato Farmers and the newly established Colorado Cantaloupe Growers Association who have been working diligently to establish effective food safety programs. We applaud the past work of these groups and plan to learn from their efforts.”
According to the announcement from the CDFA, the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board will now include a food safety certification program that requires inspection to a set of production and handling metrics and will make it an unfair trade practice not to comply with the metrics.
“CDFA has provided oversight for a very similar program involving leafy greens for the past five years. We know first-hand how effective these types of programs can be,” said Karen Ross, CDFA Secretary. “There is clearly overwhelming support among the California cantaloupe industry for a food safety program that operates with government oversight. We look forward to working with cantaloupe growers and handlers to provide additional safety assurances for their customers and to implement an effective food safety program.”
The new board will affect all cantaloupes produced and marketed in the state, expanding from the previous order which included only cantaloupes grown to the north and west of the San Gorgonio Pass in Riverside County, California. With the approved amendment, growing areas in the southern desert district will be added to the program. CDFA will appoint members and alternates for this new district from nominations received during public hearings held in March.
Under the California Marketing Act, the statute that governs marketing orders, major amendments can be approved if at least 40% of those affected cast votes, with at least 65% of those voting and at least 51% of the volume represented vote to approve. In this case, over 70% of all cantaloupe handlers in the state cast votes with 100% voting in favor, thus signaling nearly unanimous support for the amendments.
“It is just great to see the incredible amount of support for this food safety program” said Tim York, president of Markon Cooperatives, a produce procurement operation and an outspoken advocate for food safety programs in the produce industry. “Produce buyers across the country should support the efforts of suppliers who are willing to provide the additional assurances we have been asking for in light of last fall’s listeria outbreak associated with Jensen Farms cantaloupe. I applaud the efforts of California cantaloupe farmers to adopt this new system so quickly.”