When the goal is to get consumers back after last year’s deadly cantaloupe outbreak, the industry’s Stephen Patricio says growers need to impose “transparent yet severe and expensive restrictions on ourselves.”

And the industry groups sponsoring developmental sessions for cantaloupe growers around the country apparently agreed because they opted to drop private meetings for public Web seminars that will be accessible to anyone.

The mostly California-centered cantaloupe industry suffered a national setback last year when Colorado’s Jensen Farms proved to be the source for a deadly Listeria outbreak with 146 illnesses in 28 states that caused at least 33 deaths.

Some outbreak victims and their families objected when it was reported that industry-led meetings on cantaloupe growing reforms were going to be held around the country in April, but the public would be excluded.

Now the industry-led education sessions will be held on the Web and will be open to anyone.   The private meetings the industry groups were trying to schedule around the country have been cancelled.

California has already held two public hearings on changes to the state’s marketing order for cantaloupes to make more detailed food safety regulations part of its program.  For the first time, it will be enforced statewide.

California’s action, which requires food safety audits to verify that each cantaloupe handler is in compliance and to impose penalties on those who are not, is a preview for the rest of the country.

California cantaloupe growers, like Patricio’s Firebaugh-based Westside Produce, want to avoid having another small inland producer like Jensen Farms damage the entire domestic industry.

“Our consumers must be assured that we are doing everything we can to make not only ours but all cantaloupes as safe as we possibility can,” Patricio told Food Safety News.

Through research and creative use of the state marketing order, California cantaloupe growers have never been associated with an outbreak of foodborne illness.

Though the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, the state’s cantaloupe growers focused research on preventing Salmonella after cantaloupe imported from Central America came in with that contamination. Now, California growers are scrambling to prevent Listeria.

Four industry groups are sponsoring the Web seminars. They are: the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers, and the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

PMA spokesman Glenn Boyet told The Packer, the industry’s news service, that the seminars will be “technical and scientific but all who want to participate are welcome.”

The first “Webinar” is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 2 PDT.  The schedule for the rest of the month will be announced during the first seminar.  It’s expected that several more meetings will be held online.

Food safety attorney Bill Marler, who is also publisher of Food Safety News, thanked the industry groups for finding a way to open up the meetings to a wider audience.  “It’s always good to be transparent,” he said.

While the cantaloupe-growing season begins in April, a draft of new national food safety rules is not expected until around August 1.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first cited concern about cantaloupe safely in 2004. Until last year’s Listeria outbreak, cantaloupe contamination usually involved the various strains of Salmonella.