Rocky Ford cantaloupes were not exactly rolled out as planned on Friday, July 13 for their first sales following last year’s deadly Listeria outbreak.
Instead, the new Rocky Ford Growers Association (RFGA) opted to give away 450 pounds of the cantaloupe during the previous weekend at the popular Cherry Creek Arts Festival. People lined up ten deep to get their hands on the first Rocky Fords of the season.
Friday was the first day Rocky Ford cantaloupes were supposed to be available at some King Soopers stores, which make up about 35 percent of the grocery business in Colorado. Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and Safeway stores won’t get their first Rocky Ford cantaloupes until next Friday, July 20.
Growers say the hot days and cool nights experienced in the growing area along the Arkansas River produce a melon with the high sugar content that is favored by consumers.
Last year, Rocky Ford cantaloupes were pulled from the shelves on September 5 because the melons were linked to a 28-state Listeria outbreak that killed as many as 37 people and sickened at least 146.
It was the most deadly U.S. foodborne illness outbreak in a century.
The actual source of the outbreak proved to be Jensen Farms, a cantaloupe grower on the Colorado/Kansas border. While the company’s farm is located about 90 miles away from the historic Rocky Ford growing areas, Jensen still marketed its cantaloupes under the “Rocky Ford” label in 24 states.
Jensen Farms is now bankrupt, and not growing any cantaloupes this season. If it ever does, it won’t be able to use the “Rocky Ford” label because the RFGA now holds a trademark on the brand and Jensen Farms is not geographically qualified to use it.
Sales in the next ten days will probably tell whether Rocky Ford cantaloupes can make a comeback. The state put up about $175,000 to help remarket the melons.
Colorado growers enlisted in the tougher safety controls being pushed by California cantaloupe growers to regain consumer confidence.
And the home court advantage may help. Coloradoans typically celebrate the arrival of two homegrown fruits–Palisade peaches from the state’s western slopes and the sugary Rocky Ford cantaloupes from the banks of the Arkansas at the beginning of their seasons.© Food Safety News