The 2018 listeria detection on a New South Wales farm severely impacted the entire Australian rockmelon industry. Domestic and export sales ceased for around six weeks and it has taken the following two years to regain market share.
To support rockmelon growers and combat foodborne illness risks Hort Innovation launched a review of all industry food safety practices to strengthen food safety measures and provide training support for the industry.
Delivered by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), the project involved working individually with all Australian rockmelon growers to review and audit current practice and critical control points. One-on-one food safety consultations with growers, managers and key farm staff also took place.
The project also developed a Melon Food Safety Best-Practice Guide and a ‘toolbox’ for grower use including risk assessment templates, training guides, food safety posters and record sheets to support food safety programs.
Lead researcher, Dr SP Singh said “the melon industry has made great strides forward in rebuilding consumer confidence and building a collaborative and consistent approach underpinned by the supply of safe fruit to consumers.”
A current successive project, also funded by Hort Innovation, continues to monitor food safety practice by growers and has been extended to include major watermelon growers.
One of the growers who has worked closely with the NSW DPI in reassessing his food safety systems was Jamie Schembri from Greenview Farm, located in the Riverina irrigation area of NSW. Greenview Farm grows more than 1350 ha seedless watermelon, rockmelons, Piel de sapo melons and almonds.
Mr Schembri is also a board member of Select Melons Australia, a 100 per cent grower-owned marketing business supplying fresh melons direct from farm to Australian and international customers.
While Greenview Farm was severely impacted by the listeria incident, Jamie has a positive outlook for the industry and welcomes the opportunity to show his farming and packing operation to visitors. FSANZ staff recently inspected the melon fields and viewed fruit being sanitised and packed.
Jamie commented “We are always looking to how we can improve our operation. We believe that our melons are safe and healthy for consumers, but we don’t want to rest on our achievements. We are always looking at new methods and research in food safety.”
Growers attended Federal Government funded importer country visits in 2019 to help the melon industry to recover export market share. Jamie and his wife, Marie, participated in the project meetings and workshops in Singapore and Malaysia.
Jamie said the level of impact of the 2018 listeria outbreak in the Asian market surprised him. He said however “Importers were willing to learn of the importance that Australian melon growers were placing upon food safety and product quality.”
Jamie said the Australian melon industry is looking forward to the future, knowing that growers are working with technical experts, exporters and retailers to ensure that melons provided to consumers are safe and top quality.
Source: Dianne Fullelove, Australian Melon Association