US produce industry associations intend to develop cantaloupe-specific food safety guidelines to combat the fruit’s association with a listeria outbreak that killed dozens of people in 2011.
The private meeting, which was hosted by the Center for Produce Safety (CPS) and attended by the Western Growers Association, the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association and other regional trade organisations, was organised to identify potential food safety gaps with regards to cantaloupes.
The meeting came as a result 2011 listeriosis outbreak, which was traced back to Listeria-monocytogenes tainted Jensen Farms Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes.
It infected 146 people, killed 30 and caused a woman to miscarry her child.
The groups intend to establish a framework through which they can develop new risk-based guidance by the end of January.
The guidance will be included in its annual research proposal request on 1 February.
Strong signal needed
Three areas of particular interest were identified at the meeting, including the development and validation of treatments to reduce microbial levels on the surface of cantaloupes.
The need for better understanding of the prevalence of Listeria in the produce industry was also highlighted.
It added that research must be done to determine how bacteria survive on equipment, food contact surfaces and the product itself.
The tainted reputation and financial loss of the cantaloupe industry was also emphasised – something which must be remedied through a “strong signal,” according to a European fresh produce association.
“Making quick decisions is crucial, and it was the same in Europe after the 2011 sprouted seeds contamination. The whole industry surrounding the produce is affected, its reputation is shaken and it can begin to lag behind in terms of sales,” Freshfel director of food quality Frederic Rosseneu told FoodProductionDaily.com.
“A strong signal is needed to show that work is being done to combat any problems.”
The meeting comes less than a week after a US government document outlined the short-comings that led to the contamination of Jensen Farms cantaloupes.
The US House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce detailed its investigation into the origin of the cantaloupe contamination is its Report on the Investigation of the Outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes in Cantaloupes at Jensen Farms.
It found that Jensen Farms’ failure to use an antimicrobial solution, such as chlorine, in the cantaloupe washing process and the purchase of used packaging equipment were main factors that led to the contamination.
A third-party auditor, which conducted annual inspections at the facility in 2010 and 2011, was also criticised for its failure to adhere to FDA inspection guidance.