My beef is this. One guy makes a mistake, and the entire industry takes a huge hit in prosperity due to the media coverage. This time melons were the problem, but with just one farm. One bad apple – or melon - does not necessarily ruin the whole barrel, unless you do not take it out.
But, in Florida a year or so ago, the media was spreading rumors of tainted tomato crops, when the culprit was a pepper. There was a huge loss of income for Florida tomato growers, and it was due to no fault of their own. The media did not have their facts straight.
I have a good friend in South Texas who is one of the top 5 melon growers in the USA. He’s an excellent grower who does an outstanding job of preparing produce for wholesale markets. His melon business is now in the tank because US consumers now believe that melons are dangerous. Who will be on the media’s hit list next?
The fact that poorly-handled produce can make you sick is a viable concern. Good growers with exemplary handling food techniques are able to mitigate food safety risks, and they continue to provide top quality, healthy food for the consumer.
Growers in New York have a couple of good ways to respond to consumer concerns, I believe. First, Cornell Cooperative Extension – like many other State University Extensions – offers extensive resources on growing and post-harvest practices that maximize food safety. Growers can use these Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) to self-audit their operations, even if they don’t decide to pursue GAP certification.
Second, the New York Farmers’ Market Federation recently pulled together a consortium of growers and industry professionals to address food safety at market. They came up with a proactive series of guidelines for handling produce at Farmers’ Markets, CSA pickup sites, Farm Stands, U-Pick Operations, and more. To view these recommendations, click here.
Makes sense…doesn’t it! It’s much better to be pro-active than re-active, like the melon farm in Colorado. A lot of good growers will suffer because of this melon scare, but they can also use the opportunity to improve their own practices…and let their customers know it!