The Food and Drug Administration is ratcheting up inspections this year on cantaloupe farms and other processing facilities throughout the country. The increased scrutiny is in direct response to two large-scale outbreaks of deadly food borne bacteria.
Both outbreaks were tied directly to tainted cantaloupe. Salmonella on melons from Indiana and listeria on some from Colorado killed 36 people.
The repercussions were felt by cantaloupe growers throughout the country - including Michael Hirakata in Colorado’s Arkansas River valley.
“There was so much uncertainty, we didn’t know if we were even going to grow cantaloupe anymore,” said Hirakata.
Since the 2011 outbreak, farmers like Hirakata have taken steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Within the past year, he changed the way he washes the melons and hired a full-time food safety manager. Federal inspectors will soon see the changes up close at melon farms in 15 states.
Devin Koontz is a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration.
“Should we find something that compels us to take regulatory action, of course we’ll have to take it,” says Koontz.
That action could include mandatory recalls if large amounts of bacteria are found.