Listeria outbreak felt by Valley cantaloupe growers

FRESNO, Calif.

Normally cantaloupe harvesters can work for a few more weeks until lettuce comes into season. But the listeria scare is causing an early end to the melon season.

Monday's cantaloupe harvest on the Valley's west side could be the last of the season. Hundreds of pickers hoping for a few more weeks of work have already been laid off. Joe Del Bosque let 40 workers go because the listeria scare has led to a huge drop in cantaloupe demand.

Del Bosque said, "We have right now in the fields 160 people working and their jobs could end anytime now."

Melons are being picked and packed but thousands of boxes are now sitting in cold storage. Del Bosque explained, "Normally this time of the year all the fruit being packed is sold the same day. You pick it today, it's shipped out that night or the next morning."

Del Bosque said retailers are cancelling orders even though California-grown cantaloupe is safe to eat.

Fresno County Deputy Ag Commissioner Fred Rinder said, "Unfortunately it's the collateral damage of the bigger picture because there's no link to it at all."

Del Bosque believed the Colorado melons were exposed to listeria through water. He showed how he keeps his cantaloupe safe. "You can see this melon has never been wet. It's nice and dry and in Colorado it seems the melons were put into a tank or they got wet in an artificial environment where the bacteria contaminated it."

Local growers have suffered because of an outbreak in another state. As a result unpicked melons will rot in the field.

To be on the safe side Del Bosque suggested you wash off cantaloupes and other produce before you cut and consume it.

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