Growers work to reduce theft, increase food safety

Published on 06/08/2009 09:37am

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By Don Schrack

The 2009 California cantaloupe crop should reach about 20 million cartons, but not all of that fruit will go directly from grower-shippers to retail and foodservice.

“We spend most of our budget on surveillance work with counties to stop gunnysacking thefts,” said Jerry Munson, manager of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, Dinuba.

Stolen cantaloupes often turn up at roadside stands, but some thieves take the fruit to the Los Angeles Wholesale Product Market, he said.

“We never have any arguments from our board about spending the dollars for the surveillance program,” Munson said.

The alliance with the staffs of county agriculture commissioners has proved to be beneficial.

The men and women who do the inspection work are the same people who do the surveillance work for the advisory board, Munson said.

The partnership has put an end to most of the theft, he said.

Some of the board’s budget is going to a joint food safety project with the California Melon Research Board, Dinuba, Munson said.

The two boards funded research last year that found pathogens do not reach the flesh of cantaloupes even when the fruit is irrigated with water containing pathogens.

This year’s research aims to reinforce last year’s findings.

Salmonella-bearing cantaloupe rinds are a particular sore spot for California grower-shippers because the state has not experienced a pathogen episode, Munson said.

“Our problem is cantaloupes coming in from other countries,” he said. “By the time the public hears about it, we’re in the middle of our season and it kills our sales.”


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