Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, along with several members of the Rocky Ford Growers Association, toured the cantaloupe warehouse at Hirakata Farms in Rocky Ford and highlighted the work of local producers as well as the safety of Rocky Ford cantaloupes.
BC Democrat Online - Las Animas, CO
Posted Aug. 8, 2012 @ 2:00 pm
Posted Aug. 8, 2012 @ 2:00 pm
» Social News
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, along with several members of the Rocky Ford Growers Association, toured the cantaloupe warehouse at Hirakata Farms in Rocky Ford and highlighted the work of local producers as well as the safety of Rocky Ford cantaloupes. The event was part of a two-day swing through Colorado’s Eastern Plains that will highlight the need to create jobs, support family farmers and ranchers, and boost economic development in Colorado’s rural communities.
Most local seasons were already over when news hit last year that a Listeria outbreak that hospitalized hundreds and was linked to 30 deaths was tied to what many national media sources called “cantaloupe from the Rocky Ford region. The cantaloupe was not from the Rocky Ford region, but from Jensen Farms near Holly, about 100 miles from Rocky Ford.
Because the Rocky Ford name had been used, local growers quickly took steps to protect the name by trademarking Rocky Ford Cantaloupe, as well as putting into place a number of safety procedures to help eliminate any possibility of contamination. The group then began a campaign to encourage people to eat Rocky Ford Cantaloupe.
On the tour Tuesday, Bennet saw the new packing shed and procedures. A safety FAQ sheet provided by the Rocky Ford Growers Association tells about the new packing shed - The new packing shed is built to quickly cool the field heat in the melons reducing condensation on the Rocky Ford Cantaloupe. The air coolers are also more energy efficient and save on electricity. The rinse equipment uses well water that has been tested at least two times for microbial quality prior to rinsing the Rocky Ford Cantaloupes. Because of the design of the system, the Rocky Ford Cantaloupes will never be rinsed in re-circulated water which reduces the chance for cross contamination.
The rinses for the washing/chlorination system will use the most advanced chlorination techniques and proven products on the market. The Rocky Ford Cantaloupes get a shower with microbial soap, a chlorine oxide and then a final rinse with soap. The water will be monitored hourly. The water is also tested three to four times a year.
“Our farmers in Rocky Ford produce some of the best melons in the world. Thanks to the Rocky Ford Growers Association, we can be even more confident that producers are taking the steps they need to create a delicious and safe product,” Bennet said. “This operation is just another example of how Colorado’s rural businesses are helping to advance the economic recovery.”
The growers in the association are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of their product. One thing they’ve done is hire a food safety manager. “She keeps track of the safety procedures and watches over the process as the cantaloupes are brought into the warehouse, cleaned, packed and shipped. Every night the entire warehouse is wiped down very clean,” Eric Hanagan, membership officer of the Rocky Ford Growers Association said during the tour. “She even keeps and eye on the trucks that come through or next to the building, making sure they have been washed before getting close to the warehouse.”
“Rocky Ford’s cantaloupe industry is important to the fabric of our state; for over a century, it has been synonymous with delicious, juicy melons,” said Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, John T. Salazar. “Food safety is a journey, not a destination. We will continue to work with the Rocky Ford Grower’s Association to provide training and development of food safety practices in order to provide a safe, nutritious product for families.”
Farmers in and around Rocky Ford took proactive steps to protect against future outbreaks and to restore public confidence in their product. The growers formed the Rocky Ford Growers Association that trademarked Rocky Ford Melons and made upgrades to equipment and food processing facilities. In addition to hiring a full-time safety manager, they established a strict process by which the melons are handled from the fields to the grocery store. The melons will also be packed with special codes that retailers can scan using a smartphone to learn more about where they originated.
After the tour of the warehouse, the growers and Bennet gathered at picnic tables set up outside, where they all enjoyed some of the tasty melons while the growers expressed their concerns about the conditions they are facing in regard to the process. Bennet listened carefully and will use the information to present to congress in Washington as he continues to try to get the Farm Bill passed.