Support needed for rockmelon growers

The source of a recent listeria outbreak is a farm in NSW and affected rockmelons from the property have not made their way to WA.

RESIDENTS can safely consume rockmelons grown on Wanneroo and Gingin farms as the recent listeria food safety warning around the fruit does not apply to WA.

This is the message the McGowan Government, the Health Department, the Australian Melon Association and the NSW Food Authority want to get out to consumers.

A listeria food safety warning was put out after the outbreak affected 17 people nationally and has been linked to four possible five deaths.

But the warning resulted in consumers in big numbers turning their backs on rockmelons everywhere with growers struggling to get anyone to buy their produce.

On Tuesday, March 13 a NSW Food Authority spokeswoman said it was confident all affected rockmelons had been removed from the supply chain, and that rockmelons available for sale or export were not implicated in the outbreak.

But the spokeswoman said some retailers had chosen not to stock rockmelons at this point, so consumers may notice they were not readily available on shelves.

“This is a commercial decision retailers are at liberty to make,’’ she said.

When Yanchep News Online went to Woolworths at the Yanchep Central Shopping Centre last week rockmelons were on sale.

There were also notices advising customers the produce on sale was not associated with the listeria food safety warning around rockmelons on the east coast of Australia.

Yanchep News Online did think the notice near the fruit could be more prominently displayed.

On Thursday, Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said consumers could buy rockmelons from supermarkets and other outlets across WA and be confident in the knowledge that the safety of the produce was not in question.

Ms MacTiernan said the value of WA rockmelon production was about $23 million in 2017.

Although production varied from year to year almost 10 per cent of WA production, by value, was exported.

Rockmelons are rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium and fibre.

On February 28 the NSW Food Authority advised consumers most vulnerable to listeria infection such as older persons, and people who have weakened immune systems due to illness or pregnancy, to avoid eating rockmelon after a recent spike in listeriosis cases in elderly people had been linked to the fruit.

The authority said listeria was widely found in the environment and rarely caused serious illness in the general population but for vulnerable people, such as those who are over 70, pregnant, or have diabetes, cancer or suppressed immune systems, it could be extremely serious or even life threatening.

The outbreak was eventually traced to Rombola Family Farms in Nericon, NSW.

On Tuesday, March 13 the authority said it was working with the grower and the wider rockmelon industry to recover from the effects of the outbreak.

The authority said vulnerable people were still reminded to avoid all foods posing a risk of listeriosis, including pre-cut melons such as rockmelon or watermelon, pre-packed cold salads including coleslaw and fresh fruit salad, pre-cooked cold chicken, cold delicatessen meats, pâté, raw seafood, uncooked smoked seafood (e.g. smoked salmon), unpasteurised milk or milk products, soft cheeses (e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta or blue-vein) and sprouted seeds.