The California Cantaloupe Advisory Board has approved food safety guidelines and plans to begin audits this year in the San Joaquin Valley.

The Dinuba, Calif.-based board is relying largely on existing guidance for the commodity. It must now seek U.S. Department of Agriculture approval of an audit checklist.

“The goal is to have it done as soon as possible,” said John Gilstrap, advisory board manager. “I don’t think we’ll have it by the first harvest but we definitely want it done this season, which lasts until fall.”

It’s the state’s first mandatory food safety program implemented by a commodity board, established in May by grower-shippers. The board met in San Diego June 6.

Bakersfield cantaloupe production starts in late June; in Huron, early July. San Joaquin Valley production runs to early October. Imperial Valley returns for its second deal of the year in the fall, and will also participate in the audits.

Assessments are raised from 1.2 cents per carton to 2 cents to help pay for the program, Gilstrap said.

The checklist metrics will be subject to revision during early informational audits, which allow handlers to understand program requirements and to offer their input, board chairman Steve Patricio said in a news release.

The board plans a path similar to that of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and California Tomato Farmers, using California Department of Food and Agriculture auditors certified by the USDA. Pending approval of metrics, handlers will use private inspectors to meet buyer food safety requirements.

Consultant Jonathan Field, compliance officer for the California and Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements, will help develop the audit checklist.

Over several months, the board collaborated with Western Growers; Trevor Suslow, extension research specialist at the University of California-Davis; and food safety scientists at risk management firm Intertox to tailor FDA-approved food safety guidance for California conditions. The state accounts for about 70% of cantaloupe production nationwide.

New board members

New members from the state’s southern growing districts have been elected to the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board. They are Bill Colace, Five Crowns Marketing; Bart Fisher, Fisher Ranch; and Milas Russell, Jr., Sandstone Marketing.

Alternates are George Mainas, George Mainas Farms; Chad Elliott, Fisher Ranch; and Ralph Strahm, Strahm Farms Inc.

The board re-elected Patricio as chairman. Colace was elected vice chairman.