GLENDALE, Colo. — Nearly a year after the nation's deadliest foodborne illness outbreak in more than two decades, Colorado cantaloupes are back in supermarkets.

Farmers near the town of Rocky Ford are going on the offensive to restore the fruit's reputation a year after melons from one of the area's farms caused a nationwide listeria outbreak. They have banded together to trademark Rocky Ford melons and fund $800,000 worth of safety upgrades to prevent future outbreaks, but they must convince buyers that the melons are safe.

Last fall's listeria outbreak traced to Jensen Farms in eastern Colorado was blamed for the deaths of 30 people. It infected 146 people in 28 states with one of four strains of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"When everything happened, after 125 years of growing a safe product, people were so upset," said Nathan Knapp, a Rocky Ford melon grower who drove to a Denver-area supermarket Friday to see the cantaloupes go on sale.

Some farmers who had raised melons for decades decided to stop growing Rocky Fords this year. Only about a third of the land devoted to growing the cantaloupes last year is now growing this year's crop, according to the USDA's Farm Service Agency.

"Quite a few people just dropped out," Knapp said. "They had no interest anymore in dealing with the risk."

But Knapp and a few dozen other farmers in Otero and Crowley counties decided to band together to restore confidence in Rocky Fords, melons with a distinct sweetness thanks to the area's hot, sunny days and cold nights. First the farmers patented the name Rocky Ford – an important step because the source of the outbreak was 90 miles from Rocky Ford but was using the name.

Then the farmers overhauled their production practices to restore public confidence. They hired a full-time food safety manager to monitor melon-picking and started paying the seasonal pickers by the hour, not by the amount of cantaloupes picked. The farmers also built a new central packing shed where all Rocky Ford-labeled melons will be washed with soap and a chlorine oxide, then rinsed with well water tested for contamination.

After being washed, the melons will be cooled to reduce condensation and then packed into boxes labeled with codes traceable to the fields where the melons were grown. The boxes will be packed with slips that interested shoppers can scan using a smartphone to read about where their melons originated.

The Food and Drug Administration said last year that melons at Jensen Farms likely were contaminated in the operation's packing house. The FDA concluded that dirty water on a floor, and old, hard-to-clean equipment probably were to blame.

"We've built a brand new system, top to bottom," said Michael Hirakata, a farmer and head of the new Rocky Ford Growers Association. "It's early, but so far it's working well."

Jensen Farms, located in Holly, Colo., has filed for bankruptcy and isn't growing melons this year.

Lawsuits against Jensen Farms are still pending but may be settled this fall, lawyers said last month. The lawsuits were filed by people who were sickened or who had a family member die after the outbreak.

"I would say we are very close," Jim Markus, an attorney for Jensen Farms, said last month.

The bigger challenge facing Colorado melon growers may be restoring public confidence in the cantaloupes. So far, the growers' investments seem to be paying off.

Hirakata, who has 120 acres of Rocky Ford melons, said prices are up. He said boxes of Rocky Ford are wholesaling for $17 to $20, up from about $14.50 last year. The fall listeria outbreak happened after almost all the crop was in and sold, so this is the first market response farmers have seen to the outbreak.

A spokeswoman for King Soopers, the supermarket chain that started selling Rocky Ford cantaloupes Friday, said there was no plan to reduce orders for the melons this year.

"We support the product and believe this product is safe to consume," King Soopers spokeswoman Kelli McGannon said.

A few shoppers said they recalled last year's problems but didn't fear buying more cantaloupe.

"I remember the outbreak of course, but I figure if it's happening again, they would take the melons off the shelf," said Cindy Lewis, a Glendale woman who picked up a melon Friday. "There could be a risk from any food, or from just walking down the street, you know? I'm not going to worry about it."

Another shopper, Paul Borger, picked up a fruit tray including cantaloupe to serve guests. The tray's melon wasn't from Rocky Ford, but Borger said he didn't check either way before putting the tray in his buggy.

"I'm not worried. Whatever the problem was, they got it fixed," Borger said.

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Online:

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  • FILE - This Sept. 28, 2011 file photo shows co-owner Eric Jensen as he examines cantaloupe on the Jensen Farms near Holly, Colo. The Food and Drug Administration recalled 300,000 cases of cantaloupe grown on the Jensen Farms after connecting it with a listeria outbreak. Settlement talks are under way in lawsuits against Jensen Farms identified as the source of a nationwide listeria outbreak last fall that killed at least 30. Attorneys for Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo., and for 39 people who were sickened or died said Monday a deal could be worked out by this fall. Both sides say any settlement with Jensen Farms wouldn't include other defendants, such as distributors and retailers. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)

  • Larry Goodridge, an associated professor with Colorado State University, talks about the 2011 cantaloupe listeria outbreak during the Governor's Forum on Colorado Agriculture in Denver on Thursday, Feb.23, 2012. A Listeria outbreak in cantaloupe traced to Jensen Farms in southern Colorado last year killed 32 people around the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Larry Goodridge, an associated professor with Colorado State University, uses a graphic as he talks about the 2011 cantaloupe listeria outbreak during the Governor's Forum on Colorado Agriculture in Denver on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. A listeria outbreak in cantaloupe traced to Jensen Farms in southern Colorado last year killed 32 people around the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2011, file photo, cantaloupes rot in the afternoon heat on a field on the Jensen Farms near Holly, Colo. Pools of water on the floor and old, hard-to-clean equipment at the farm's cantaloupe-packing facility were probably to blame for the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in 25 years, the Food and Drug Administration said. President Barack Obama's proposed budget would eliminate the nation's only program that regularly tests fruits and vegetables for deadly pathogens, leaving public health officials without a crucial tool used to investigate deadly foodborne illness outbreaks. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)

  • FILE - This Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011 file photo shows the cantaloupe processing plant for Jensen Farms in Granada, Colo. Members of Congress have requested a briefing with the Colorado cantaloupe farm whose packing facility has been traced to a deadly listeria outbreak. On Friday, Oct. 21 2011, they and leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked Jensen Farms in Holly to preserve all documents and communications relevant to the investigation. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • The cantaloupe processing plant for Jensen Farms is pictured in Granada, Colo., on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011. Pools of water on the floor and old equipment used at the cantaloupe packing facility were probably to blame for the Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe processed at the plant according to a report released Thursday by the Food and Drug Administration.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • In this Sept. 30, 2011 photo, Bill Marler, a personal injury lawyer and food safety advocate, works the phones in his Seattle, Wash. office. Marler's firm already has filed six lawsuits against Colorado grower Jensen Farms, where federal health authorities say the listeria outbreak originated, and a distributor. While Jensen recalled more than 300,000 cases of cantaloupe, neither the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the Food and Drug Administration have determined the source of the outbreak. (AP Photo/Shannon Dininny)

  • One of the few remaining crews of workers harvest and package cantaloupes near Firebaugh, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. Due to the listeria outbreak in Colorado, sales of California cantaloupes have plummeted, growers have abandoned fields and many farmworkers have lost their jobs. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)

  • A consumer advisory about the safety of California cantaloupes hangs in a supermarket in Fresno, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011. Sales of California cantaloupes have plummeted by as much as 80 percent due to the listeria outbreak in Colorado. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)

  • In this undated family photo provided by Debbie Frederick, William Thomas Beach, of Mustang, Okla., left, is shown with granddaughter Katerine Crouse. Beach died Sept. 1, and few days later, Oklahoma and federal health officials linked his illness to the nationwide Listeria outbreak. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Debbie Frederick)

  • In this Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 photo provided by Rosalinda Gomez, Juanita Gomez and her husband of 50 years, Cesar Gomez, pose for a portrait in Angleton, Texas. Juanita Gomez, 66, became seriously ill after eating Listeria-tainted cantaloupe that is part of the nationwide outbreak. (AP Photo/Rosalinda Gomez)

  • In this Sept. 30, 2011 photo, Jeni Exley visits with her father, Herb Stevens, 84, at a skilled nursing center south of Denver. Stevens has been hospitalized since August because of Listeria from eating cantaloupe. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Donna Kay Wells Lloyd and her brother Clarence William Wells look at a photograph of their father, Clarence Wells, Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, in Catonsville, Md. Donna Kay Wells Lloyd says her father died Aug. 31 and health officials later told the family that he had the same listeria strain as the nationwide outbreak traced to Colorado cantaloupe. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

  • Businesses are pictured on Main Street in Holly, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. Most people in this small rural town are concerned how the listeria out break that has been tied to the Jensen Farms will effect Holly and the surrounding area.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Eric Jensen walks a field with rotting cantaloupes on the Jensen Farms near Holly, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. Eric and his brother Ryan own Jensen Farms that has been identified as the source of the national listeria outbreak that has killed more than a dozen people so far. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • A field with rotting cantaloupes is pictured on the Jensen Farms near Holly, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. Jensen Farms cantaloupe has been identified as the source of the national listeria outbreak that has killed more than a dozen people so far. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Workers use a tractor to remove plastic from a field of rotting cantaloupe on the Jensen Farms near Holly, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. The Food and Drug Administration has recalled 300,000 cases of cantaloupe grown on the Jensen Farms after connecting it with a listeria out break. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • An operator of a fruit and vegetable stand near Denver holds a California-grown cantaloupe for sale at her business on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. Federal and state officials have isolated a deadly outbreak of listeria to one cantaloupe farm near Holly, Colo. They have ordered a recall of 300,000 cases of melons grown on the Jensen Farms. Only California-grown cantaloupe could be found in Denver markets. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)