Food safety guidelines will be ramped up to try to win back consumer confidence following the outbreak of listeria in rockmelons, the Australian Melon Association says.
Six people have died as a result of the outbreak identified in February, and despite authorities assuring consumers that rockmelons now on sale are safe to eat, sales are down 90 per cent.
Industry development manager Dianne Fullelove said the association was working directly with growers to ensure stringent sanitisation, hygiene and record-keeping standards were in place.
“For years, we’ve had hazard analysis critical control point processes that ensure food is safe to eat so consumers can feel confident in the product we’re putting on shelves.” she said.
“Melon growers want to make sure that they’re going above and beyond what’s expected of them to get the very best results for food to be safe.”
The NSW Food Authority has conducted tests to identify the exact cause of the bacterial outbreak, which has been traced to Rombola Family Farms in the Riverina region.
However, an update from this investigation has not been forthcoming as to the cause and outcomes of the outbreak.
“We are asking the growers supplying rockmelon now to brand or identify their rockmelons so that consumers will know the origin of the fruit.” Mrs Fullelove said.
“Growers who are currently supplying rockmelons have been very diligent in re-examining their packing processes so that they can reassure the public that rockmelons are safe to eat.”
The industry is partnering with State health authorities to establish an accreditation scheme for rockmelon growers that meet the highest industry standards for food safety. This will ensure that fruit can be branded with an industry accreditation in which consumers can have confidence.
The industry has also funded a program of support and development to bolster practices for growers. Safe food guidelines for all melon farmers focus on stringent safety practices in the growing and processing stages.
Should consumers be worried?
“It’s absolutely important that consumers are buying rockmelons … the product is good, it is safe to eat.
Ms Fullelove said there was a risk the losses would flow through to regional economies.
“When we’re not farming we don’t have workers working on the farm, we don’t have transport companies taking product, we don’t have box manufacturers selling boxes,” she said.
“It’s a huge ripple effect through all of those communities.”
She said the recovery would not be quick, but there was a commitment to ensuring the industry survived.
“For growers it’s a very serious situation … this is a massive challenge but people have come together to do this,” she said.
“We’ve got great support with all of the [independent] retailers and wholesalers in the central markets.
“We’re working very closely with the state health departments to ensure that our product is safe.”
Original article by ABC Rural