Responding to recent food safety crises afflicting their industry, Eastern cantaloupe grower-shippers are forming an association focusing on food safety practices.

Eastern cantaloupe growers form regional associationThe formation of the Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association follows a string of cantaloupe recalls, including a deadly 2011 listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe from Jensen Farms, Holly, Colo., and an August multistate outbreak traced to Chamberlain Farms Produce Inc., Owensville, Ind.

Food safety standards adopted by the group are the subject of a Feb. 11 meeting in Atlanta. More than a dozen retailers were anticipated at the meeting, said Charles Hall, interim executive director and executive director of the La Grange-based Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association.

Growers from Indiana to Florida met in Atlanta in early January to discuss food safety, agreeing to form the association.

To display the group’s seal, grower are required to maintain Global Food Safety Initiative auditing metrics which include water specifications, soil amendments and sanitation and equipment cleaning standards that exceed those mandated by GFSI, Hall said.

Eastern cantaloupe growers form regional associationAudits from any third-party auditor with GFSI benchmarking is accepted in the program, and growers must have at least one surprise audit during production to ensure adherance to the association’s standards, he said.

“This is a group of growers that have come together to establish some additional food safety guidelines for eastern cantaloupe growers,” Hall said. “We are working with a national guidance document being developed this year, the basis for the group’s food safety standards.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel but are utilizing and working with what has been established as minimum national guidelines for cantaloupe,” Hall said.

The group is different from the Dinuba-based California Cantaloupe Advisory Board in that the eastern organization is not a state marketing order, which Hall said should provide it more flexibility in changing standards.

Though the eastern group is being housed in the Georgia group’s offices, Hall said he isn’t sure where the organization plans to work but said it would be a separate group with its own board of directors and staff.