Nearly one year after a deadly listeria outbreak was traced to a Colorado cantaloupe farm, the new crop of Rocky Ford cantaloupes are arriving in local grocery stores.
The melons are in early this year because the recent heat wave sped up the growing season, according to Diana Mulligan, spokeswoman for the Rocky Ford Growers Association.
Rocky Ford Cantaloupes were pulled from store shelves last summer after reports that people were getting sick. The illness was eventually identified as listeria and traced to Jensen Farms in Holly.
At least 30 people died, hundreds got sick.
While Jensen Farms is located 90 miles east of Rocky Ford, Rocky Ford farmers have created a group called the Rocky Ford Growers Association to help restore public confidence.
All members of the group must adhere to stringent safety procedures, Mulligan said. Farms involved with the group will have RFGA stickers on their cantaloupes.
"Rocky Ford Cantaloupe is not only our livelihood but our life blood," said Michael Hirakata, RFGA board chairman. "Most of the farmers have been growing Rocky Ford Cantaloupe for more than four generations."
Hirakata's farm has invested $800,000 in cutting-edge technology to wash, prepare and track the melons.
RFGA cantaloupes go on sale at King Soopers Friday. They will go on sale July 20 at Safeway, Walmart and Whole Foods.
The 2011 outbreak was the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in 25 years.
Federal investigators said old, hard-to-clean equipment at Jensen Farms and pools of dirty water on the floor probably were to blame.
The equipment -- purchased in July 2011, the same month the outbreak started -- was previously used for a different agricultural commodity, the agency said, and the listeria "could have been introduced as a result of past use of the equipment," according to the investigative report.
FDA officials also confirm the plant was never inspected in its 40 year history, until the problems surfaced. 7NEWS first reported that investigators found positive listeria samples on equipment and fruit at the farm.
Jensen Farms filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May.
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