CONVERTING water-holding "dump tanks" to dry dumps has emerged as a common recommendation for rockmelon growers in order to prevent another listeria outbreak.
Growers have also been advised on correct cleaning practices and encouraged to embrace automation to further avoid a repeat of the listeria outbreak which crippled the industry a year ago.
One of the speakers was horticultural food safety specialist, Dr Sukhvinder Pal Singh from the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
Dr Singh has been working to assist melon growers throughout the whole of Australia for the past 12 months to understand and implement microbial testing procedures in post-harvest facilities.
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Rockmelons present a particular food safety challenge as they are grown close to the ground and have rough and porous skin.
In a move which has resonated well with growers, Dr Singh has been meeting one-on-one with growers to discuss their operations.
This involved providing feedback and a report on each farm, while also discussing how to sanitise equipment properly and making improvement recommendations.
In some instances, this has meant a grower has dropped the use of a post-harvest fungicide rather than using multiple chemicals.
"Some changes have actually saved them money," he said.
One piece of advice given out was for growers to consider pre-cooling rockmelons before processing.
Dr Singh said because rockmelons have porous skin, when they have been out in the heat of the paddock and then plunged into a cooler, water-filled dump tank, they will automatically start absorbing moisture which has the potential for infection.
Pre-cooling reduces the melons' need for water absorption.
Alternatively, he recommended growers convert to a dry dumping situation or ensuring the correct chlorine ratio is maintained in dump tank water, perhaps through alarms or an automatic dosing system.
"Wash water has to be of drinking quality," he said.
"You can recirculate it but it must be brought back to drinking quality each time."
He reiterated that brushes, rollers, sorting surfaces, drying tunnels, plastic curtains, grading cups, conveyor belts and cool rooms should all be cleaned and sanitised to prevent listeria or salmonella developing.
He said food safety goes beyond what's happening in the packing shed though.
"Equipment in the field has to be kept clean. It starts in the field," Dr Singh said.
"Harvest bins- they get neglected."
He recommended bins be cleaned after each harvest or more frequently if needed as dirt and bacteria can build up.
Dr Singh said a sign of the growers' willingness to take on the new food safety approach can be seen in the fact there have been no new listeria outbreaks in the past nine months.
Some of the simplest packing lines have been the best.
The industry is currently developing a best practice guide plus a "toolbox" to assist growers improve their operations or ensure they are up to speed.
Melon industry development manager, Dianne Fullelove, said growers shouldn't think they need to invest in completely new packing sheds or complex and expensive fit-outs.
"Some of the simplest packing lines have been the best," she said.
The industry has funded a help desk hotline for growers to ring should they have concerns or questions.
It's hoped Mr Singh's role will continue for another 12 to 18 months.
Mr Fullelove also said the industry is currently working on a consumer insights report as well as updating the crisis management plan.
She said she has been re-iterating to government organisations and other relevant bodies that creating another system was not viable.
"We've got food safety systems in place so we just need to make them work," she said.
She showed images of some innovative ways rockmelon growers have fought to re-claim grower confidence and plate space by individually wrapping some melons, increased labelling and using on-fruit stickers.
On the export front, work is being done to further open doors for exporting melons to Japan, a destination which has considerable potential according to Mrs Fullelove.
Workshop attendees also heard from Fair Farms program manager, Thomas Hertel, on the planned roll-out and advantages of the Fair Farms initiative, plus Growcom's Hort360 facilitator, Michelle Haase, who spoke on how growers could benefit from the program.
The story Water dump tanks hold listeria potential, rockmelon growers told first appeared on Good Fruit & Vegetables.