June 12, 2013
DINUBA, Calif.The California Cantaloupe Advisory Board (CCAB) officially launched its new mandatory food-safety program to ensure the safety of the majority of cantaloupes produced during the summer months. The mandatory food-safety program was created in response to the 2011 deadly Listeria outbreak linked to whole cantaloupes grown in Colorado.
Under the program, handlers will be required to be in 100% compliance with food-safety audits that include 156 checkpoints. CCAB is using government auditors instead of private inspection companies to ensure accountability, uniformity and consistency of audits throughout the California cantaloupe industry.
This past winter CCAB unanimously voted to amend the board and create a new, more comprehensive food-safety program. The amended board will affect all cantaloupes produced and marketed in the state, expanding its previous coverage of only particular growing regions. The group has elected to use USDA-trained California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) auditors to verify that food-safety practices are being following by all cantaloupe producers.
"Beginning this year, California cantaloupe farmers and shippers of all sizes will be operating under the only mandatory food-safety program that requires government audits of all cantaloupe production activities," said Steve Patricio, a California melon producer and CCAB chairman. "The CCAB food-safety program invites government auditors to inspect all aspects of operations including growing, harvesting, packing and cooling to ensure a set of science-based standards is being followed." California produces 75% of all cantaloupes sold in the United States.
Patricio also said CCAB's mandatory government audit program will allow California cantaloupe producers to meet or exceed requirements found in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) when it is implemented. Produce buyers and consumers will eventually be able to identify California cantaloupes produced under the CCAB program through a certification seal.
CCAB audits are based on 20 years of university research with input from government and food safety experts. CCAB continues to support improvements in food safety and has committed funds to the Center for Produce Safety.
The CCAB food-safety audit checklist is available to the public and can be found at a new website also being launched this. The website posts the food-safety guidelines used to develop the checklist and a list of all California cantaloupe handlers who are subject to mandatory government inspection. Later this summer, CCAB will launch some innovative consumer promotions and contests designed to make consumers aware of the health, safety and quality of California cantaloupe.
Recapping The Deadly Listeria Outbreak
In September 2011, cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in the southwest region of Colorado were implicated in a multi-state outbreak of Listeriosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 30 people died and a total of 133 persons in 26 states were sickened with the four outbreak-associated strains of Listeria monocytogenes linked to whole cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms. In addition, one woman pregnant at the time of illness had a miscarriage.
An FDA investigation concluded the outbreak would have likely been prevented if Jensen Farms had maintained its facilities in accordance with existing FDA guidance. In the case of cantaloupe processing, FDA has no specific regulations, only guidance. The guidance, which Bio Food Safety did not consider in its audit, represents the agencys best and most timely advice on how processing should be handled.
Specifically, FDA said the use of new processing equipment and the decision to implement a packing and washing technique involving water without added chlorine were two probable causes of the introduction and spread of the Listeria contamination. The report also called into question third-party audits conducted at the facility.
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