NEWARK, Del. — To communicate with industry members and promote transparency, produce industry groups said they will be tracking progress using a series of weekly webinars focused on developing cantaloupe-specific food safety guidance on the website cantaloupe-guidance.com.
The working weekly webinars, which will start on Tuesday, April 10, at 9 a.m. Pacific, will address different elements of cantaloupe food safety in approximately 15 sessions.
“Experience tells us that some sessions are really fairly straightforward, and there’s not a lot of differences and not lot of discussion that’s needed,” said Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer at the Produce Marketing Association, at an introductory webinar this week.
“While other [sessions], we find that can be quite diverse. And the interpretation of those and peoples’ input is extremely important, so we want to make sure we take the right amount of time, so we capture the right elements for the guidance document.”
The new website will not only be used to alert produce industry experts to webinar topics, but also to communicate with the general public about the guidance development process.
“We’re doing this to try to make this as accessible as we possibly can to the industry, but we also need to make it as transparent as we can not only for the industry but there are a lot of people who are interested in this topic and would like to track if you will, the progress that is made by the industry,” said Hank Giclas, senior vice president of science, technology and strategic planning at the Western Growers Association.
Through the website, Giclas mentioned that people can give input, read news, find out about the upcoming webinars with links to register, and access a timeline and resources.
The facilitation group, composed of members from different industry groups, plans to have a draft of the guidance completed by Aug. 1, 2012, and finalized by Sept. 1.
The cantaloupe guidance is one part of an overall program developed at a meeting held by the Center for Produce Safety in January where industry members discussed cantaloupe food safety following a multistate Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupes grown by Holly, Colo.-based Jensen Farms. It caused 30 deaths and 146 illnesses.
Industry groups and universities have developed a food safety training strategy, and are working to develop a training curriculum for growers, handlers, brokers, wholesalers, and retail and food service buyers, according to Whitaker. The outline for this outreach will be presented at the United Fresh Produce Association Expo in Dallas next month, as well as on www.cantaloupe-guidance.com.
In addition, the industry-supported Center for Produce Safety will review cantaloupe-specific food safety proposals next month for funding. The industry is seeking information related to the prevalence of Salmonella and Listeria in production environments, the role of biofilms in packing operations, and post harvest operations or protocols that could reduce microorganism, Whitaker said.