Food safety is an issue that will never go away and federal regulations will be coming, probably in the near future. Unfortunately, those regulations will come at a cost to the grower, and those costs will be difficult to pass along to the consumer. As a result, those expenses have the potential to present a significant burden for some growers.
That is why the National Watermelon Association (NWA) is aggressively pleading its case to FDA in regard to the agency’s classification of watermelon. Watermelon currently is grouped in the melon category, which is one of the seven high-risk categories based on outbreaks traced by FDA, states NWA Executive Director Robert Morrissey in a letter to the watermelon industry last month. Watermelon, however, has had no outbreaks related to production practices.
In the letter to the industry, Morrissey asks producers and others in the industry to contact FDA and ask the agency to reconsider how it views watermelon in relation to food safety. “FDA has verified that watermelon has no outbreaks related to production or industry practices,” states Morrissey. “Yet, many of our farmers and handlers are required to invest ‘unnecessarily’ in additional audits and other food safety programs by their customers due to the inclusion in the melon category.
“We are following GAPs and good handling principles and expect to continue to do so, in many cases doing more than what is expected on our farms and in our packingsheds,” he continues. “What we need to do is to separate our ‘safe’ crop from unnecessary protocols and audits that are required of high-risk categories.”
In a letter drafted for its members to send to their representatives in Congress to make them aware of the watermelon situation, the NWA cites comments made by United Fresh Produce Association that point out the differences in the melon category: “The industry recognizes that netted skin melons, like cantaloupe, have a different contamination risk profile from waxy skin melons, like watermelon, and this is reflected in the relative frequency that each has been associated with illness outbreaks.”
What Growers Can Do
NWA is encouraging growers to plead their case to FDA, but time is running out. The deadline for comments is May 24. To submit comments, growers can visit the docket FDA has opened to gather information on current practices and conditions for fresh produce production and packing at www.regulations.gov (The ID number is FDA-2010-N-0085-0070.)
NWA also is asking those in the industry to contact their senators and representatives to ask them for their support. To view a draft of the letters to send to Congress and Morrissey’s letter to the watermelon industry go to www.nationalwatermelonassociation.com.
Because watermelons have never been the cause of a foodborne illness outbreak, it makes sense that they should not be lumped in with other melons, but what is your take on this? Post your thoughts in the comment box below.