After unanimous statewide approval to implement the state’s first mandatory food safety program under a commodity board structure, the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board held its first Board meeting and is taking steps to immediately begin mandatory government audits. During a meeting June 6 in San Diego, the Board voted to adopt commodity specific food safety guidance for California cantaloupes and appointed a committee to seek United States Department of Agricultural acceptance of metrics.  The group is working to begin informational audits of California cantaloupe food safety practices as soon as possible.

“Fortunately, a lot of the work to develop food safety guidance for California cantaloupes has already been done,” said Steve Patricio, Chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board.  “We must now act quickly to convert this guidance to metrics and achieve USDA approval of an audit checklist so we can move forward with the audits for this season.”

Patricio noted it is the Board’s intention to get auditors in the fields to review these practices and begin what are called “informational” audits this season.

“We are committed to working with government inspectors to get audits going as soon as possible,” he said, explaining that informational audits can be conducted as a way for handlers to begin understanding the requirements of the program and to adjust metrics as they are being finalized.  “We will be beginning these audits this season in the San Joaquin Valley and in the fall for desert growing districts.”

The California Cantaloupe Advisory Board has been working over the past several months with Western Growers, Dr. Trevor Suslow, University of California, Davis and food safety scientists at Intertox, an independent risk management firm, to update existing FDA-approved food safety guidance for melons to fit growing and packing conditions specific to California.  The Board intends to take a path very similar to the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and the California Tomato Farmers by using California Department of Food and Agricultural auditors who are trained and certified by the USDA.  Metrics and audits must be approved and accepted by these government bodies before official certification under the new cantaloupe program can be made available to handlers and growers.  In the interim, handlers are utilizing private inspectors to meet buyer food safety requirements including those who demand Global Food Safety Initiative certification.

In other action by the Board, the Board voted to retain consultant Jonathan Field, who currently serves as the Compliance Officer for the California and Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements, to assist with the development of the audit checklist.

The Board also confirmed that food safety practices and quality standards will apply to all producers of cantaloupe in the state.  New Board members elected to serve from southern growing districts recently added to the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board are:    Bill Colace, Five Crowns Marketing; Bart Fisher, Fisher Ranch and Milas Russell, Jr., Sandstone Marketing with George Mainas, George Mainas Farms; Chad Elliott, Fisher Ranch and Ralph Strahm, Strahm Farms, Inc. serving as alternates to these Board positions.  The Board re-elected Steve Patricio to continue in his role of Chairman.  Bill Colace was elected to serve as Vice Chairman.