Cantaloupe growers took an important next step in mid-May, establishing California’s first mandatory food safety program overseen by a commodity board, the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board.

California wasn’t the source of last year’s deadly listeria cantaloupe outbreak, but the state represents about 70% of domestic production, so it continues to feel the business ramifications of the tragedy.

The emphasis should be on “next step” and nowhere near a conclusion.

First, cantaloupe growers have to prove the system works and has teeth. California is just starting this plan, but the season has already begun in the desert growing region before plan details have been determined.

Meanwhile, Colorado, home of the outbreak, turned over farm audit responsibilities to the state’s department of agriculture earlier this spring.

These are important moves, but customers and consumers should demand to see that the new rules work.

Retail and foodservice buyers will have to be convinced they can carry cantaloupes without fear that another deadly outbreak could drag down their reputations and harm their customers.

Finally, consumers have to prove they trust cantaloupes by buying them. Early-season indicators show consumer demand is down considerably from pre-outbreak levels.

If California’s program proves successful, fellow growers and buyers should demand other areas of the country that grow and ship cantaloupes adopt similar rules, adapted to the region’s growing conditions.

As the industry saw last year, one isolated problem can ruin the entire deal.

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