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Swan Valley grower Luke Franich, who has been growing rockmelons at his family’s Herne Hill property for about 25 years. Picture: ANITA McINNES

Rockmelons safe to eat

SWAN Valley rockmelon growers want to reassure shoppers produce available in WA has not been associated with the recent listeria outbreak.

Herne Hill grower Luke Franich said on Monday he had been warned he may not be able to send any more of his rockmelons to market for some time.

Mr Franich, who has grown rockmelons for about 25 years, said it was mentally and physically draining waiting for shoppers and supermarkets to become confident enough to start buying produce again.

Earlier this year an outbreak of listeria affected 17 people nationally and was also linked to four deaths.

But a Department of Health spokeswoman said the listeria food safety warning about rockmelons on the east coast of Australia did not apply to Western Australia.

The spokeswoman said trace back procedures implemented by the producer of the affected rockmelons in NSW had shown that no affected product had been consigned to WA.

“Other investigations undertaken by the Department of Health have also confirmed that none of the affected rockmelons have been consigned to WA from NSW,’’ she said.

“Consumers can therefore purchase rockmelons from supermarket and other retail outlets with a very high level of confidence that the rockmelons are not from the affected farm in NSW.”

On Tuesday, March 13 the NSW Food Authority said it was working with Rombola Family Farms in an effort to support the business and the wider rockmelon industry to recover from the effects of the outbreak.

Listeria infection is a rare but potentially severe illness caused by eating food that contains listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria are widespread in the environment and can sometimes contaminate certain high-risk foods that have not been thoroughly cooked or properly prepared or stored.

While listeria infection is uncommon in healthy people, those at greater risk of infection include pregnant women and their unborn or newborn babies, people whose immune system has been weakened due to chronic illness such as cancer, diabetes or alcoholism and people taking medications that impair immunity such as steroids and anti-cancer drugs.

A NSW Food Authority spokeswoman said it was working closely with the Australian Melon Association and had provided support to the broader industry by providing a statement to the association and its members, that they had shared publicly, advising of its confidence in all affected product having been removed from the supply chain, and that rockmelons available for sale or export were not implicated in the outbreak.

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.

The list of foods that people at risk of listeria infection should avoid includes paté, cold ready-to-eat chicken, manufactured ready-to-eat meats, including polony, ham and salami, soft cheeses, including brie, camembert, fetta and ricotta, pre-packed, pre-prepared or self-serve fruit or vegetable salads and freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices.

The list of foods also includes cold ready to eat, smoked or raw seafood, including smoked salmon, oysters, sashimi and cooked prawns, sushi, soft serve ice cream and thick shakes, tofu, both soft and hard types, and tempeh and unpasteurised milk and unpasteurised milk products.

Information on the Australian Melon Association website said the rough surface of the skin of rockmelons provided an ideal place for listeria to survive, particularly if the fruit was injured.

“Listeria bacteria can multiply rapidly if the produce is not thoroughly washed and the wash water is not sanitized,’’ the information said.

“Produce can also become contaminated from listeria that is surviving on food contact surfaces such as cracks and joins in steel, on belts, brushes and rollers, and on packaging.’’

By Anita McInnes

About Anita

Anita Mcinnes received a highly commended in the 2009 WA Media Awards suburban section for her reporting. As a mature age student Anita studied journalism at Curtin University before working in Busselton, Dunsborough and Rockingham with West Regionals. The best part of her job was meeting eastern suburb residents and visiting the many attractions in the area.

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