The late July recall of both cantaloupes and honeydews by a North Carolina grower-shipper because of the finding of Listeria monocytogenes in the packing facility has not had an impact on the overall marketing of the product at this point, according to a California shipper.
Steve Patricio, president of Westside Produce in Firebaugh, CA, told The Produce News Aug 15 that “the general marketplace has slowed recently, but I don’t think the recall of the North Carolina melons has affected our sales at all.”
Mr. Patricio said, however, that it appeared that the three-week-old story was starting to get play again “as CNN just ran a story again today as if it was new. It remains to be seen what impact that will have.”
The situation arose in late July when a routine inspection in New York discovered the pathogen on cantaloupe. An investigation by the Food & Drug Administration traced the cantaloupe back to Burch Farms in Faison, NC. Shipments ceased and over a several-day period the recall was expanded to include all melons shipped from that facility this season after the FDA found "unsanitary conditions" in the company's packing facility.
The last melon shipments from Burch Farms occurred July 27, with product going to distributors in 18 states all in the eastern half of the country. At this point, all recalled cantaloupes are no longer in the marketplace and no illnesses from eating those melons have been reported. The FDA said that the incubation period for a Listeria infection is normally between one and three weeks, but can also be as long as 70 days.
Mr. Patricio said that the industry is hoping there are no illnesses for both the sake of consumers and the cantaloupe industry at large. Last year’s Listeria cantaloupe contamination problem at a farm in Colorado resulted in many deaths and illnesses, as well as creating a significant negative impact on cantaloupe shipments for many months.
Commenting on the FDA’s reported finding of “unsanitary conditions” at the North Carolina farm, Mr. Patrico said that is very disheartening news. He said the industry has made a concerted effort to establish cantaloupe guidance and best practices, and it has distributed that information as broadly as possible. He said that food scientists continue to say that there are no inherent problems with cantaloupes themselves.
The Listeria contamination of last year, and apparently this year as well, was introduced in the handling process. Mr. Patricio indicated that adherence to good agricultural practices can mitigate that issue.