Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Demand Up for Cantaloupes ; Growers Form Association That Focuses on Food Safety Practices

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Demand Up for Cantaloupes ; Growers Form Association That Focuses on Food Safety Practices

Article excerpt

Over the past two seasons cantaloupe growers have been hit by outbreaks of illnesses among consumers that have been blamed on bacterial contaminations associated with the melons that cast a pall over the entire industry. But this year the growers are hitting back with a homegrown food safety initiative. In 2011, 146 people became ill in a listeria outbreak traced to a Colorado cantaloupe grower, Jensen Farms.

Closer to home, last summer, Chamberlain Farms in Gibson County was identified as the source of a salmonella outbreak that sickened 261 people in 24 states.

In response to those two incidents, a group of cantaloupe farmers - including some in the Tri-State - has formed the Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association, which focuses on food safety practices.

Based in Georgia, the association got its start last fall, as growers got together to decide what they could do about the recent food safety problems.

"It was basically trying to restore consumer and buyer confidence in the cantaloupe market," said the association's executive director, Charles Hall.

As compared with other types of melons, Hall said, cantaloupes can be more prone to contamination because their outer surface is rough, or "netted." This surface makes it easier for microbes to attach to the surface of the fruit, and harder to clean them off.

The organization was incorporated in January and now has about a dozen or so members from a handful of states: Indiana, Illinois, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina.

"That's not a lot - but we only got started last year," Hall said.

The group's officers and directors include representatives from several Tri-State farms: Wayne County, Ill.-based Frey Farms, and Knox County, Ind.-based Melon Acres and Wonning Melon Farms.

Association members agree to abide by specific practices in the growing, harvesting, packing and transporting of cantaloupes. These practices are numerous and include things like testing water sources at least once a month; and avoiding the use of carpeting, wood or other porous surfaces that come into contact with the fruit. …

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