The Malichita brand of cantaloupes has been recalled over the past three weeks. A linked Salmonella contamination has resulted in almost 162 illnesses and three deaths so far. However, grower-shippers say the reality is that these recalls are all linked to the same product, label and distributor--a fact that isn’t being communicated as well as they would like it to be.

“If we had real numbers, real carton counts, and a real direct link to the source, it would be a lot more helpful,” says Garrett Patricio, chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board. “What we do know is that it’s Mexican-grown cantaloupe.”

The recalls are all linked to the same product, label and distributor--a fact that grower-shippers say isn’t being communicated as well as they would like it to be.

Scope of recall
For the industry, there’s a pressing worry starting with the impression that it’s a series of recalls when in fact it’s the same timeframe and common source being cited within reports. “There are companies initiating recalls, but they’re all brokers, distributors and wholesalers for the actual source of the product,” said Patricio.

In addition to more source information, what he would like to see is a tighter focus on food safety generally. “I believe that most customers--retailers, fresh-cut providers, foodservice operators--those who are buying cantaloupes have lost track of all of the issues associated with Mexican-grown cantaloupes,” says Patricio. “Nobody is immune from a potential problem, but people have lost sight of food safety issues associated with Mexican-grown cantaloupes over the past 20 years and the importance of a direct relationship in their supply chain. Out of sight and out of mind, most buyers are looking for the cheapest price today and that is tragic.”

As Patricio says, while no produce item is immune to being associated with an outbreak, it's important that farmers take every precaution necessary to prevent illness and that these actions are supported by the retail community. In California, the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board operates a mandatory food safety program in place to verify all cantaloupe producers are following food safety practices in their farms, packing operations and coolers through regular government audits.

For companies who are not involved in the cantaloupe recall, the fallout is tremendous.

Evaluating partners
Instead, buyers of any kind should align themselves with suppliers who can succinctly provide supply superior food safety standards and direct product tracing information. “That said, the reality is that our system of detection is much better than it was even 10 years ago, so we will continue to see fresh produce recalls,” Patricio commented.

For companies who are not involved in the recall, the fallout is tremendous. “Do you think with the recall in the news every single day that anybody’s looking to pick up an extra load of cantaloupe?” says Patricio.

In terms of the next steps for suppliers who aren’t involved, it’s continuously assuring customers that their product is not part of the recall and providing critical traceback information to prove it. “That’s what we’ve been going through the last few weeks. It hasn’t risen to a level that’s directly impacting our company, but I think it’s impacting the category and our industry as a whole,” Patricio shared.

For more information:
Garrett Patricio
California Cantaloupe Advisory Board