Valley growers institute cantaloupe safety plan

FRESNO, Calif.

But California growers have raised the food safety bar to restore consumer confidence.

The cantaloupe harvest is now in full swing in Western Fresno County. Crews find their rhythm with each row - often tossing the melons up and onto the conveyor belt.

Steve Patricio of Westside produce said, "The real trick is keeping people and animals away from them. Melons are one thing we can safely say the less you do the better."

Before harvest, fields are thoroughly checked for animal droppings or other contaminants. The outbreaks in Colorado and Indiana keep California growers on alert.

Patricio said, "Their omissions created problems and we have to protect our commodity as well as protect the public from the potential for pathogens."

Steve Patricio heads the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board. Its' new food safety audit involves a 156 point checklist which calls for testing irrigation water for e-coli, hygiene programs for employees and product traceability to specific fields.

Patricio said, "We can trace them back, know where they're from and where they're going so we put on a bar coded process where we can electronically track the product."

Once they reach the packing house the melons are immediately cooled to 38 degrees to slow the contamination process and increase their shelf life.

California cantaloupes have never been involved in any outbreaks. The outbreaks in Colorado and Indiana were blamed on dirty equipment used in the packing process.

California grows 75 percent of all the cantaloupes grown in the U.S. melons grown here must also be checked by state inspectors.

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