NC cantaloupe grower lacked audits, traceability; all melons recalled

Food safety needs to be marketed at retail, otherwise consumers have no idea what they are buying.

Hucksters and posers can gas on about how their food is natural, sustainable, local and comes from a farmer I can look in the eye, but I’d rather know the food safety program behind the fruit and veg, along with the data to verify things are working.

Few hawkers, at a market or a supermarket, can answer those questions.

Consumers are left with faith-based food safety.

That faith usually rests with buyers at supermarkets and retailers.

So when it was revealed that Burch Farms had to recall the entire season’s worth of rock and honeydew melon because listeria was found and then it was discovered they had never had a food safety audit — a standard but inadequate minimal requirement to secure retail space — I wondered, who buys this stuff?

“The cantaloupes and honeydew melons involved in this expanded recall were sold to distributors between June 23rd and July 27th, in the following states: FL, GA, IL, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, SC, and VA, VT and WV. The melons may have further been distributed to retail stores, restaurants and food service facilities in other states.”

Complete distribution details on the melons are not available, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Everyone buys it.

The Packer reports today that Listeria contamination at the Burch Farms melon packing facility in Faison, N.C., was confirmed on Aug. 13.

Company spokeswoman Teresa Burch said it has not had its cantaloupe operation audited by a third party for food safety practices, and although the company has traceability programs for other items, there is none in place for its melons.

Burch Equipment LLC, doing business as Burch Farms, originally recalled about 5,200 cantaloupes July 28 after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Data Program found listeria on one melon at retail during a random sampling.

The grower expanded the recall to include 188,900 cantaloupes Aug. 3 and corrected the variety from athena to caribbean golds. That expansion came after the FDA revealed it had found “unsanitary conditions” at the Burch packing shed.

Owner Jimmy Burch Sr. said he uses the sanitizer SaniDate in his packing facility’s water. According to the Burch Farms website, the operations are audited by PrimusLabs.

PrimusLabs in-house counsel Ryan Fothergill confirmed that the company has audited the leafy greens processing and field operations at Burch Farms but not the cantaloupe operation. Fothergill said Primus records show its staff was last at the Burch operation in March.

Burch said he planted only about 10 acres of honeydews for this season. The entire crop went to wholesalers. He said his farm has not had food safety issues in the past.

Of course not. Ignorance is bliss. And that’s the way growers and sellers prefer it. Market food safety at retail.

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