Posted at: 02/26/2013 10:27 AM
By: The Associated Press
DENVER (AP) - Federal regulators and state inspectors have issued warnings to cantaloupe farmers and packers that they will be testing melons for pathogens this year after two years of illness and recalls in the industry.
A 2011 listeria outbreak traced to Colorado's Jensen Farms killed 33 people. Another outbreak last year was traced to salmonella at an Indiana cantaloupe packer. The warnings are being issued before this year's growing season to make sure this is a safe year for consumers.
"It is essential that those involved in growing, harvesting and distributing cantaloupe and produce in general follow agricultural practices that the FDA and the produce industry have identified as effective in minimizing the risk of contamination," the agency said.
The Denver Post reports the Food and Drug Administration does not routinely target an industry for scrutiny, and inspectors usually check smaller farms or food packers once every few years.
Just since last summer, outbreaks of listeria in cheese and salmonella in peanut butter, mangoes and cantaloupe have been linked to more than 400 illnesses and as many as seven deaths, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Proposed new rules for all produce introduced earlier this year would require farmers to take new precautions against contamination, to include making sure workers' hands are washed, irrigation water is clean, and that animals stay out of fields.
Food manufacturers will have to submit food safety plans to the government to show they are keeping their operations clean. It could take the agency another year to craft the more stringent rules after a four-month comment period, and farms would have at least two years to comply.
That means the new rules are at least three years away from taking effect. Smaller farms would have even longer to comply.
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