Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Cantaloupe Convention Will Address Industry's Battered Image
California’s cantaloupe growers will meet tomorrow in San Diego to discuss their industry’s recovery after a deadly outbreak of the bacteria Listeria on a Colorado farm killed 30 people and sickened another 146 last year.
The worst food-borne illness outbreak since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking such issues in the 1970s has led to a sharp decrease in demand for the melon.
The first part of a two-pronged industry solution is simple: planting fewer acres of the crop. The California Cantaloupe Advisory Board says 40,500 acres were available for planting last year, resulting in a crop worth up to $200 million. Up to a third less land will be farmed this year to avoid a production glut.
The second part of the strategy is what will be discussed locally – implementing “best practices” for safe growing and the possible adoption of a industry-wide pact to follow those practices.
In the wake of a 2006 E. coli breakout among spinach crops, most growers signed on to the California Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement, designed to help boost the industry’s safety-conscious image and allay fears among major produce buyers, retailers, and consumers.