News

Changes for rockmelons

By Country News

Melon growers have welcomed a NSW Government report into this year’s deadly listeria outbreak and say they’re willing to do whatever it takes ‘‘to reclaim the loss of public confidence in rockmelons’’.

A NSW DPI report has confirmed adverse weather events — specifically heavy rain before harvest followed by dust storms — increased the organic load and amount of listeria on rockmelons.

The netted skin of the fruit then made it hard to completely clean and sanitise the rockmelons, the report released on Thursday night said.

‘‘The hygiene and sanitation practices of the Rombola Family Farms packing facility and farming operation at Nericon (where the outbreak was traced to) were on par with, or better than, most other rockmelon growing operations across Australia,’’ the department concluded.

Nevertheless, the report suggested all growers reviewed their food safety plans; washing practices including the concentration and contact time of sanitisers; and packing sheds, to minimise the presence of soil and dust.

It concluded: ‘‘Fine-tuning the washing process will reduce the relative risk but not the absolute risk of listeriosis from a farm-grown whole piece of fruit.’’

The Australian Melon Association said growers had been on the front foot to improve safety.

‘‘The melon industry has been working very hard over the past eight months to ensure that nothing like this incident occurs again,’’ development manager Dianne Fullelove said.

‘‘The results of the report will be conveyed to all melon growers, and the industry has introduced a new grower-funded project that provides individual guidance on food safety for rockmelon growers.

‘‘Growers are on board to reclaim the loss of public confidence in the rockmelon category.’’

There were 22 confirmed cases of listeriosis between January and April 2018 in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania.

The average age of those infected was 70 with most sufferers immuno-compromised. Seven people died and there was one miscarriage.