California’s cantaloupe producers will face a new set of food safety rules this season — rules they are imposing on themselves. In an unprecedented move for the state’s produce industry, California cantaloupe handlers have elected to adopt a mandatory food safety plan as part of an effort to restore consumer confidence in the cantaloupe market, which has suffered following two nationwide foodborne illness outbreaks linked to these melons in the past two years. In 2011, a Listeria outbreak that sickened 147 people in 28 states and killed 33 was linked to cantaloupes from Colorado. The following year, Salmonella linked to a farm in Indiana sickened 261 people in 24 states, killing 3. While neither of the outbreaks was linked to California cantaloupes, sales of the melon have dropped significantly nationwide, an effect that has hit the Golden State hard. A full 75 percent of the cantaloupes consumed in the U.S. are grown in California. Now California cantaloupe producers intend to give consumers a reason to trust their product. “Beginning this year, California cantaloupe farmers and shippers of all sizes will be operating under the only mandatory food safety program that requires government audits of all cantaloupe production activities,” said Steve Patricio, a California melon producer and chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board (CCAB), which represents all of the state’s cantaloupe producers.  The new standards for the state’s cantaloupe producers include 156 checkpoints, all of which must be met in order for a handler to pass the program’s audits, which will be conducted by inspectors from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “CCAB is using government auditors instead of private inspection companies to ensure accountability, uniformity and consistency of audits throughout the California cantaloupe industry,” said Patricio in a Wednesday press release. A list of California cantaloupe handlers subject to these mandatory audits is available on CCAB’s new website, A copy of the audit checklist and more information about the new cantaloupe food safety program, including the guidance document, can also be found on the site. Earlier this year, a national cantaloupe safety program called the National Cantaloupe Guidance was launched after a year of development by industry, scientists, consumers and regulators. The Guidance offers best practice recommendations for cantaloupe producers. For more background on the California cantaloupe food safety program and the National Cantaloupe Guidance, see Food Safety News’ past coverage: CA Writes Food Safety Standards for Cantaloupes Produce Industry Groups Release Cantaloupe Safety Guidance   

  • Patricia

    Well, well. I might try eating some cantaloupes again. I haven’t bought any in several years since the scare.

  • Mike_Mychajlonka_PhD

    Their audit checklist seems like an impressive document. California’s Leafy Greens Marketing Association might want to study Item 79 on this list as it requires microbial testing verification of any manure-based soil amendments used. However, Item 154 seems to let truckers off easy. It requires that a truck be “clean” without specifying what that means (is a spray-wash every couple of weeks OK), without requiring microbiological testing of the cargo area or specifying what an acceptable level actually is.

    • CA Leafy Greens LGMA

      Actually, the LGMA’s requirements for microbiological testing of compost is identical to the requirement in the new cantaloupe program. See page nine of our Audit Checklist:

      • Mike_Mychajlonka_PhD

        Thank you. I think you have done a useful service in calling attention to the audit checklist used by LGMA. However, as to the question of equivalency, I would say that since the two lists are arranged differently, this question is a bit difficult to puzzle out. For example, LGMA’s checklist strikes me as more specific than CCAB’s, however, Page 7 of LGMA’s checklist states that compost piles having a volume of 5,000 yards are exempted from testing, whereas I don’t see any such limitations on CCAB’s checklist. Now, I don’t know how many of those ungainly, double-bottom dump trucks it would take to haul 5,000 yards, but it strikes me that LGMA is exempting from testing quite a large pile of poop. Furthermore, it is unclear whether by “heat treated” LGMA simply means the composting temperature of 131F held for three days. Does you really expect that this sort of heat treatment will seriously impact the survivorship of fecal coliforms, which grow at rather elevated temperatures to begin with? Somewhere in the 70’s or 80’s, I seem to recall fecal coliforms being recovered from the exhaust of a waste incinerator! Lastly, your checklist states that a safe limit for fecal coliform count is 1,000 MPN/gram. Doesn’t that strike you as a rather high level of acceptability for a widely-accepted indicator of fecal contamination?