Cantaloupe Farmers Still Reeling From Listeria Outbreak

Last fall, in the deadliest American food-borne illness outbreak since the 1920s, listeria tainted cantaloupes grown in Colorado killed 30 people and sickened nearly 150 across over 28 states. While Colorado cantaloupe growers are planning a large-scale food safety program, the larger impact of the listeria crisis is still being felt across the country.

In California’s Central Valley, cantaloupe producers are still struggling months after the outbreak, despite the fact that all the tainted melons were grown on farms 1,300 miles away.

The sudden drop in consumer demand has hit these farmers hard. In the Central Valley, which produces 90 percent of the United States’ summer cantaloupe crop, farm workers on cantaloupe farms were let go and crops were left to rot in the field. Cantaloupe growers across California are still reducing their acreage and looking for alternative crops to plant until the public outcry dies down.

The chair of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board acknowledged the arbitrariness of public fears, stating, “People shouldn’t have to fear their food. But the irony is that California shipped more cantaloupe in a day than Colorado in their whole season. Millions and millions of cantaloupe, healthy and fine.”

Similar hurdles are appearing in other states as well. With farmers struggling to think of ways to combat misguided public opinion, the solution coming out of California, Colorado, and other cantaloupe producing states is a strict set of production guidelines maximizing health and sanitation standards.

Establishing tough best practice guidelines will help restore consumer confidence in a tarnished industry and will hopefully help farmers across the country continue to serve their local communities.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer