(Nov. 22) Despite back-to-back November recalls of Mexican cantaloupes for salmonella — a problem that virtually brought the industry to a standstill in 2002 — the president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz., is cautiously optimistic about the future.

Lee Frankel said the association is working with member companies following the recalls. That help, he said, includes working with the Food and Drug Administration, helping coordinate laboratory tests and making certain retailers are quickly receiving accurate information.

The flow of fruit into the U.S. gets a high priority.

“The border is not closed to Mexican cantaloupe,” Frankel said.

That there have been no reported illnesses and that the recalls were specific to labels and shipping dates, he said should be seen as positives.

The voluntary recalls by Rio Vista Ltd., Los Angeles, and Timco Worldwide Inc., Woodland, Calif., were for cantaloupe grown in the Mexican state of Sonora, the country’s top producer for the fall cantaloupe crop.

“The growers did everything they were supposed to do,” Frankel said. He said the melon vines were grown on raised plastic beds with cups placed under the fruit to keep it off the soil.

Frankel said a team of FDA officials would travel to Mexico Nov. 27 to meet with officials of Mexico’s department of agriculture to review and to evaluate the cantaloupe issue. He said a Mexican holiday on Nov. 20 and the Thanksgiving Day holiday delayed the U.S. team by more than a week since testing indicated the presence of salmonella.

Among the issues Frankel said he hopes to be discussed when the country’s officials meet are the FDA’s testing procedures and the too-frequent problem of not notifying growers and importers promptly of potential problems. He said he and the association have been working with both governments in an attempt to formalize the notification process.

Frankel said one of the preliminary tests the FDA uses to detect salmonella has an unusually high percentage of false positives. He said the association is asking that the FDA review its testing procedures.