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Rocky Road Ahead for Cantaloupe After Listeria Outbreak

Cantaloupe Prices Drop As Production Ramps Up

Still reeling from the deadliest foodborne illness outbreak in decades, which continues to grow, the cantaloupe industry has an uphill battle ahead, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data released Monday.

The USDA’s Economic Research Service Vegetables and Melons Outlook report shows that last summer wholesale cantaloupe prices were actually 16 percent higher than previous years, which, under normal circumstances, is great news for the industry. But since the listeria outbreak caught national media attention, the price has dropped by 33.6 percent.

Potentially making the market situation worse, the department’s analysis predicts that the remaining Fall harvest of cantaloupe will rise more than 10 percent, with much of the increase coming from Arizona.

Though Colorado is a minor player in the cantaloupe industry–producing only 2 percent of the U.S. market–the outbreak linked to the Rocky Ford region is having a major impact on the industry.

Regardless of where they were grown, more melons on the market combined with potential for decreased consumer demand “will put pressure on the melon sector, particularly cantaloupe,” predicts ERS.

Nearly a thousand miles away from the point of contamination in Colorado, the San Joaquin Valley of California sustained a “dramatic” price reduction in less than a month’s time in direct response to the listeria outbreak, according to USDA. In mid-September the shipping-point price for a half carton was $8.25. By early October, it was $5 per half.

According to USDA, cantaloupe prices usually go up in the fall after the summertime spike supply is consumed.   

“While it is too early to determine overall cantaloupe price impacts from lost consumer confidence and any resulting shifts in demand, these could also be more widespread across multiple growing regions and/or commodities,” said ERS in the report. “Spillover costs in terms of compliance with new or enhanced food safety programs specific to cantaloupe will be likely. In addition, at least one buyer has announced they are developing a test-and-hold program for their cantaloupe suppliers.”

Considering the two-week shelf life of the fruit, there should be no Colorado cantaloupe still on the market, but the outbreak continues to have an economic impact–on top of its tragic, and far-reaching human toll.

Because California and Arizona are the main domestic suppliers in the fall, producers in these states could take the biggest hit if consumers decide to avoid cantaloupe altogether.

California and Arizona lead the U.S. cantaloupe industry, producing 58 and 26 percent of the domestically grown melons. More

than a third of cantaloupes consumed in the U.S. are imported. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 133 confirmed cases of people becoming ill, 28 deaths, and one miscarriage in 26 states linked to the contaminated cantaloupes.

“More illnesses are expected since Listeria has a long incubation period–on average 1 to 3 weeks, but consumers can become sick 2 months or more after eating contaminated product,” reported USDA. “The current outbreak is now the largest incident due to Listeria in terms of deaths since a 1985 outbreak linked to Mexican-style soft cheese resulted in 52 deaths.

© Food Safety News
  • And what part did Marler Clark and Food Safety News play in that dramatic drop?

  • Harry,
    It looks like you want to blame Food Safety News for reporting problems and alerting consumers to stay away from them. You may think not talking about it would be the best and no one would even know how many people get sick and die. This fits to all your comments you made during the process to get a food safety bill on the road. I know you believe only big farmers can cause a problem. You are wrong. If I get sick or die, I don’t care where I bought the contaminated stuff, in a supermarket or on a farmers market, where one of the lot of pets urinated on the basil stored underneath the table. Just because less people get sick in a small scale doesn’t fix the problem.
    Not having records and traceback to the source is what is missing in the industry. How can I know which product comes from where when it’s only a brand name on a box. In the Frontera boxes could have been cantaloupe melons from all over the world not only from Jensen Farm. Do you know? I don’t know! No one knows yet! So why do you expect the consumer to buy anything that looks like a cantaloupe melon?! As long as the industry doesn’t let the consumer know exactly where the product is coming from and the conditions of production, you will see this in the future over and over again until the industry runs out of money or Bill Marler sues them out of business.
    ScoringAg offers complete records including GAP’s and BMP, for a field for 1 year for $1.60 with a traceback code where the product can be found in seconds in the supply chain. The price can’t be the reason of not keeping the records.
    Where are your records and traceback to the products you are selling on your farmers market? Where are your sanitation records for sanitizing your harvest buckets and equipments that touch the food you are producing? Just because people can look at you doesn’t prove anything.
    Here are a few interesting links:
    http://www.producecommunity.com/forum/topics/food-safety-traceback
    http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201106081000
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/09/california-organic-food-s_n_640654.html
    When you watch this video into the text, you learn everything about the produce sold on farmers markets: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mm1DkTlyrGQ
    You only can restore the trust of the consumer by informing them for what you want their money for. Same with retailer, they know us much about the product as the consumer.

  • This is exactly why industry supports regulation. The notion that regulation is always “anti-business” is nonsense. Businesses often support regulation of their own industry in order to prevent just these types of scenarios, where one bad actor can ruin cost everyone else millions.

  • And what part did Marler Clark and Food Safety News play in that dramatic drop?

  • Ms. Merker,
    Your attempts to divert discussion away from my question don’t alter its legitimacy.
    Instead of answering it, you try to read my mind and character and, as usual, turn the discussion to traceback during which you advertise your business.
    To assist readers in evaluating what you posted, I will take the time and space needed to address most everything in it by quoting you and then responding.
    “It looks like you [All of the second person pronouns in the quote refer to me, Harry Hamil.] want to blame Food Safety News for reporting problems and alerting consumers to stay away from them.”
    How does asking a question about whether or not Food Safety News’ (FSN) actions impacted the national cantaloupe market indicate that I want to “blame Food Safety News?” It doesn’t. Maybe any form of “alert” would have caused the drop in sales. That would be an appropriate point to raise in a discussion of my question. On the other hand, maybe the actions of Marler Clark (which you failed to address) and HOW FSN CHOSE TO COVER THE STORY did significantly impact sales of cantaloupes from all those growers clearly not implicated in the outbreak.
    “You may think not talking about it would be the best and no one would even know how many people get sick and die.”
    What absolute manure. That is nothing more than your projection into my question. None of that is in my question. Also, none of the hundreds of comments I have made on food safety in the last couple of years has ever indicated that I want anything other than full, timely, accurate coverage of outbreaks.
    “This fits to all your comments you made during the process to get a food safety bill on the road.”
    I agree. I have always stressed the need to know the whole situation and to consider it from a full spectrum of possibilities.
    “I know you believe only big farmers can cause a problem.”
    Really, Ms. Merker? Show us a single comment that indicates that. If you can’t then you owe the readers of FSN and me an apology. In fact, what you have written about me is absolutely false. I have regularly decried the demonizing of producers simply because they are large. And our store carries food from large producers that I regularly recommend to our customers.
    “You [Harry Hamil] are wrong. If I [Brunhilde Merker] get sick or die, I don’t care where I bought the contaminated stuff, in a supermarket or on a farmers market, where one of the lot of pets urinated on the basil stored underneath the table.”
    What an astonishingly cheap comment. And, in it, you slid past the major issue of consumers who make no significant effort to consider the safety of their food. They are not “trusting” the producers of their food; they are giving them license.
    “Just because less people get sick in a small scale doesn’t fix the problem.”
    We finally agree on something.
    “Not having records and traceback to the source is what is missing in the industry.”
    What a huge, self-serving over-generalization that doesn’t bear any scrutiny. Traceability isn’t “missing” at our store or in much of “the industry.” Plus, “the industry” is missing a lot more than just “records and traceback.”
    “How can I know which product comes from where when it’s only a brand name on a box?”
    Now that’s a good question! The answer is, of course, that it depends entirely on what brand is on the box! In our own store, we usually have the name of the farm which grew the produce we sell because it is part of what we sell…and most of our customers want to know.
    “In the Frontera boxes could have been cantaloupe melons from all over the world not only from Jensen Farm. Do you know? I don’t know! No one knows yet! So why do you expect the consumer to buy anything that looks like a cantaloupe melon?!”
    As the cantaloupe season is over in our region, our store has none for sale. Were cantaloupes in season, our customers are well enough informed to know that this outbreak was, apparently, limited to a single farm in CO. They know they have no reason to fear the cantaloupes we sell because we have transparent, full traceability from known sources. This outbreak poses NO threat to our customers because we don’t sell cantaloupes from CO or Frontera.
    I have 2 comments on your sales pitch. First it is inappropriate as it does NOTHING to advance this discussion. Second, were I in need of traceback system, I would use Top 10 Produce (http://top10produce.com/) because it inexpensively utilizes the ubiquitous UPC code as the vehicle for full, transparent traceability and a lot more.
    “Where are your records and traceback to the products you are selling on your farmers market?”
    We carefully keep records on the source of every product we sell. And we did so before federal law required us to do so.
    “Where are your sanitation records for sanitizing your harvest buckets and equipments that touch the food you are producing?”
    We don’t keep those records because they are a waste of time, as my wife and I do all the work. And, what value would they be, as they are easily fabricated. Rather, I show every customer who wants to see it exactly what I do. I walk them through our market garden adjacent to our store. I answer every question they ask. In fact, I probably invite 5-10 people for every person who takes me up on my offer to show them around.
    Your first 3 links have nothing to do with this discussion; so they don’t merit my response but the last one is quite troubling.
    “When you watch this video into the text, you learn EVERYTHING [my emphasis] about the produce sold on [sic] farmers markets: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mm1DkTlyrGQ.”
    This comment, Ms. Merker, I find particularly reprehensible. You state that this video shows “EVERYTHING ABOUT THE PRODUCE SOLD [at] FARMERS MARKETS.” Really? One report on one group of CA farmers markets describes what’s happening at EVERY farmers market in the country. Rather, what it actually shows is the CA regulator(s) aren’t assuring compliance with CA’s rules they set up. That’s a failure by the regulators not we, growers.
    And in my opinion, Ms. Merker, your statement shows how trustworthy your words are. You have libeled many, many farmers markets across the country including every farmers tailgate I can name in NC. You owe every one of them and every FSN reader an apology.
    My wife and I coordinated our town’s first 2 farmers tailgate market for 14 years. Halfway through, we reinvented that market from open to closed and controlled by its vendors because we knew one of the vendors was selling produce that she didn’t grow. After the change, when we realized we might have a problem with a new grower for violating the National Organic Program, we carefully investigated the situation and turned him in. The result revealed him to be a fraud and his certification was revoked. Plus, our customers learned that we walk our talk.
    “You only can restore the trust of the consumer by informing them for what you want their money for. Same with retailer, they know us much about the product as the consumer.”
    Once again, Ms. Merker you have made unsubstantiatable generalizations and libeled a lot of retailers including my wife and me…and most every food co-op in the country.
    We don’t need to “restore the trust” of our customers, Ms. Merker because it is based on their real world experience of us. I know of no time during the last 17 seasons that we have ever transgressed that trust and we are committed to keeping that trust in the future.
    Now, Ms. Merker, you have an opportunity to show us what you are made out of.

  • Ms. Merker,
    Your attempts to divert discussion away from my question don’t alter its legitimacy.
    Instead of answering it, you try to read my mind and character and, as usual, turn the discussion to traceback during which you advertise your business.
    To assist readers in evaluating what you posted, I will take the time and space needed to address most everything in it by quoting you and then responding.
    “It looks like you [All of the second person pronouns in the quote refer to me, Harry Hamil.] want to blame Food Safety News for reporting problems and alerting consumers to stay away from them.”
    How does asking a question about whether or not Food Safety News’ (FSN) actions impacted the national cantaloupe market indicate that I want to “blame Food Safety News?” It doesn’t. Maybe any form of “alert” would have caused the drop in sales. That would be an appropriate point to raise in a discussion of my question. On the other hand, maybe the actions of Marler Clark (which you failed to address) and HOW FSN CHOSE TO COVER THE STORY did significantly impact sales of cantaloupes from all those growers clearly not implicated in the outbreak.
    “You may think not talking about it would be the best and no one would even know how many people get sick and die.”
    What absolute manure. That is nothing more than your projection into my question. None of that is in my question. Also, none of the hundreds of comments I have made on food safety in the last couple of years has ever indicated that I want anything other than full, timely, accurate coverage of outbreaks.
    “This fits to all your comments you made during the process to get a food safety bill on the road.”
    I agree. I have always stressed the need to know the whole situation and to consider it from a full spectrum of possibilities.
    “I know you believe only big farmers can cause a problem.”
    Really, Ms. Merker? Show us a single comment that indicates that. If you can’t then you owe the readers of FSN and me an apology. In fact, what you have written about me is absolutely false. I have regularly decried the demonizing of producers simply because they are large. And our store carries food from large producers that I regularly recommend to our customers.
    “You [Harry Hamil] are wrong. If I [Brunhilde Merker] get sick or die, I don’t care where I bought the contaminated stuff, in a supermarket or on a farmers market, where one of the lot of pets urinated on the basil stored underneath the table.”
    What an astonishingly cheap comment. And, in it, you slid past the major issue of consumers who make no significant effort to consider the safety of their food. They are not “trusting” the producers of their food; they are giving them license.
    “Just because less people get sick in a small scale doesn’t fix the problem.”
    We finally agree on something.
    “Not having records and traceback to the source is what is missing in the industry.”
    What a huge, self-serving over-generalization that doesn’t bear any scrutiny. Traceability isn’t “missing” at our store or in much of “the industry.” Plus, “the industry” is missing a lot more than just “records and traceback.”
    “How can I know which product comes from where when it’s only a brand name on a box?”
    Now that’s a good question! The answer is, of course, that it depends entirely on what brand is on the box! In our own store, we usually have the name of the farm which grew the produce we sell because it is part of what we sell…and most of our customers want to know.
    “In the Frontera boxes could have been cantaloupe melons from all over the world not only from Jensen Farm. Do you know? I don’t know! No one knows yet! So why do you expect the consumer to buy anything that looks like a cantaloupe melon?!”
    As the cantaloupe season is over in our region, our store has none for sale. Were cantaloupes in season, our customers are well enough informed to know that this outbreak was, apparently, limited to a single farm in CO. They know they have no reason to fear the cantaloupes we sell because we have transparent, full traceability from known sources. This outbreak poses NO threat to our customers because we don’t sell cantaloupes from CO or Frontera.
    I have 2 comments on your sales pitch. First it is inappropriate as it does NOTHING to advance this discussion. Second, were I in need of traceback system, I would use Top 10 Produce (http://top10produce.com/) because it inexpensively utilizes the ubiquitous UPC code as the vehicle for full, transparent traceability and a lot more.
    “Where are your records and traceback to the products you are selling on your farmers market?”
    We carefully keep records on the source of every product we sell. And we did so before federal law required us to do so.
    “Where are your sanitation records for sanitizing your harvest buckets and equipments that touch the food you are producing?”
    We don’t keep those records because they are a waste of time, as my wife and I do all the work. And, what value would they be, as they are easily fabricated. Rather, I show every customer who wants to see it exactly what I do. I walk them through our market garden adjacent to our store. I answer every question they ask. In fact, I probably invite 5-10 people for every person who takes me up on my offer to show them around.
    Your first 3 links have nothing to do with this discussion; so they don’t merit my response but the last one is quite troubling.
    “When you watch this video into the text, you learn EVERYTHING [my emphasis] about the produce sold on [sic] farmers markets: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mm1DkTlyrGQ.”
    This comment, Ms. Merker, I find particularly reprehensible. You state that this video shows “EVERYTHING ABOUT THE PRODUCE SOLD [at] FARMERS MARKETS.” Really? One report on one group of CA farmers markets describes what’s happening at EVERY farmers market in the country. Rather, what it actually shows is the CA regulator(s) aren’t assuring compliance with CA’s rules they set up. That’s a failure by the regulators not we, growers.
    And in my opinion, Ms. Merker, your statement shows how trustworthy your words are. You have libeled many, many farmers markets across the country including every farmers tailgate I can name in NC. You owe every one of them and every FSN reader an apology.
    My wife and I coordinated our town’s first 2 farmers tailgate market for 14 years. Halfway through, we reinvented that market from open to closed and controlled by its vendors because we knew one of the vendors was selling produce that she didn’t grow. After the change, when we realized we might have a problem with a new grower for violating the National Organic Program, we carefully investigated the situation and turned him in. The result revealed him to be a fraud and his certification was revoked. Plus, our customers learned that we walk our talk.
    “You only can restore the trust of the consumer by informing them for what you want their money for. Same with retailer, they know us much about the product as the consumer.”
    Once again, Ms. Merker you have made unsubstantiatable generalizations and libeled a lot of retailers including my wife and me…and most every food co-op in the country.
    We don’t need to “restore the trust” of our customers, Ms. Merker because it is based on their real world experience of us. I know of no time during the last 17 seasons that we have ever transgressed that trust and we are committed to keeping that trust in the future.
    Now, Ms. Merker, you have an opportunity to show us what you are made out of.

  • Mr. Hamil,
    Your problem is you can’t see the whole picture of the foodsafety, recordkeeping and traceback for the whole industry. You only see and want to protect your small enterprise and I can understand it. Any truth or critic on a subject that pertains may to your operation you take personal. Either you know about the facts and don’t want talk about it or you just play your head in the sand. We have customers from very small to very large operations, they are taking their business seriously.
    BTW I’m not doing a sales pitch, we help the industry and especially small growers with an inexpensive system to comply with the law you never read in detail. You don’t find another system that works on paper and electronic and the cost for a farm is $10.00 with all records. As sanitation records have to be kept in a way you can’t change it, we have that too. Before you advice people wrong, read the GAP’s. Small farmers are not exempted from recordkeeping and labeling. Our president is a farmer and rancher and also on the National GAP Committee speaking for the interest of small farmers.
    If you want to learn more about Food Safety you may want to go to the seminar set up by the Penn State University on January 17, 2012 in Atlantic City, NJ at the Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino and listen to his speech at
    11:00 — Food Safety solutions from traceback, labeling, sanitizing and cooling of produce with real-time documentation
    You only speak in your own interest and for years you are blaming everybody but yourself. You twist and turn everything how you think it fits best to you and your enterprise. I don’t see any use or help for small farmers from your side. Here is how we are helping small farmers with a $10 account: Search for this SSI-EID code SSI_306E8F4B0B in http://www.ScoringAg.com or http://www.traceback.com to see how other small producers easy comply with the FDA- FSMA rules. This farmer is also helping Amish farmers with our paper records. They have no time to write comments; you may want to consider using your time more valuable too.
    The system you mentioned doesn’t work for traceback as it is using the GS1 barcode, that only rings up some cash registers in some big box stores, small farmers usually don’t sell to. It only points back to a brand name. It’s the same code used year after year. The cost for a grower is $800 per field and year and still will need to buy a documentation system. You must make a lot of money in order to afford it. Leading produce players found out already PTI doesn’t work and is too costly as reported last week in the press.
    Have a good one Mr. Hamil

  • Ms. Merker,
    In your first comment, you made lots of accusations, maligned a lot of people and businesses and tried to spread innuendos against me with misleading questions; so I responded to every one of them. I pointed out in detail how your accusations were not only unsubstantiated but cannot be substantiated.
    So, what did you do? Not respond to a single one of my specific critiques of what you wrote. Instead you wrote about how great your boss is, advertised a bit more, made additional unsubstantiatable accusations (I particularly liked the one that says I never read “the law…in detail”) and misrepresented how the Top 10 Produce traceability system. For those readers who don’t know, John Bailey and Top 10 Produce have appeared in Food Safety News before (e.g., “Letter from the Editor: Traceability” http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/01/letter-from-the-editor-traceability/).
    I guess that means you’re not going to actually discuss any of the issues raised. How sad.

  • Ms. Merker,
    In your first comment, you made lots of accusations, maligned a lot of people and businesses and tried to spread innuendos against me with misleading questions; so I responded to every one of them. I pointed out in detail how your accusations were not only unsubstantiated but cannot be substantiated.
    So, what did you do? Not respond to a single one of my specific critiques of what you wrote. Instead you wrote about how great your boss is, advertised a bit more, made additional unsubstantiatable accusations (I particularly liked the one that says I never read “the law…in detail”) and misrepresented how the Top 10 Produce traceability system. For those readers who don’t know, John Bailey and Top 10 Produce have appeared in Food Safety News before (e.g., “Letter from the Editor: Traceability” http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/01/letter-from-the-editor-traceability/).
    I guess that means you’re not going to actually discuss any of the issues raised. How sad.

  • Mr. Hamil,
    Sorry I don’t have so much time as you do to write comments and answer to your comments.
    I didn’t accuse anybody, I repeated facts everybody can read in the internet.
    It’s not the question how often you are written up in Food Safety News, it’s more the question at least for us how it helps the industry what you are providing. Fact is, small farmers and farmers without electricity are left out with these types of software you are promoting. You probably don’t care much about those growers at all. Did you buy your GTIN number from this company for $ 800.00 a field per year and have additional to them your own computer program for recordkeeping? We have both for $ 1.60 a field per year. Who is talking and who is doing and helping?
    I was hoping to find some help you may offer small farmers on your website healtyfoodcoalition.org but it’s still under construction as it was last year and the year before.