Rocky Ford Cantaloupes Return; Growers Push Safety

Nearly one year after the deadly Listeria outbreak, a new crop of Rocky Ford cantaloupes are back on the shelves of Colorado grocery stores. King Soopers received their first shipment of cantaloupes Friday morning.

The outbreak sickened hundreds and killed at least thirty people. The outbreak was traced to Jensen Farms and it is still fresh on a lot of peoples mind.

“I was shocked at first I couldn’t believe it after all these years of buying it,” Jeanie Holzwarth said.

It even has some people skipping past that section of the produce aisle all together.

“Well I used to eat them a lot until last year. Now I stopped eating it,” Richard Blummer explained.

While others plan to pick up this years cantaloupe but say they’ll take extra precautions.

“I’m just going to make sure I wash them very well and scrub them down,” Rosalyn Mitchell said.

11 News talked with Michael Hirakata, co-owner of Hirakata farms in Rocky Ford about the steps they take with their cantaloupe to ensure safety from the field to the packing plant.

“We’re doing and taking every major precaution possible to ensure the safest product.”

Hirakata says the cantaloupe first go through a shower rinse.

“We test our water and make sure the water is bacteria free,” Hirakata explained.

The melons then go through soap antimicrobial, which kills bacteria, a final rinse and then they’re placed in coolers. Hirakata says they also have two USDA audit inspections.

Although it’s only their second day of harvest, Hirakata is hoping last years bacteria outbreak on the Jensen farm will not affect this years sales.

“Is it in the back of my mind, yes but it’s hard to say because we just started, we have a very light volume right now so time will tell.”

Although Jensen Farms used the Rocky Ford name in its brand, it was never part of the Rocky Ford Growers Association. The RFGA wants to remind customers to always rinse your cantaloupe under running water just before cutting it and to scrub the rind and cut it with a clean knife.