Florida growers embrace food safety audits

Source of Article:  http://thepacker.com/icms/_dtaa2/content/wrapper.asp?alink=2009-12222-502.asp&stype=topnews&author=Doug+Ohlemeier

By Doug Ohlemeier

(March 11, 12:01 p.m.) PLANT CITY, Fla. — Growers of all Florida fruit and vegetables watched as tomato grower-shippers saw their markets slaughtered by the summer Salmonella Saintpaul spectacle.

The state’s grower-shippers said they think every grower has a responsibility to minimize the risk of microbials as well as pesticides and other harmful things that could be found on produce.

“The lesson we learned out of it was we are going to have to have a better working relationship with the regulatory agencies,” said Rick Roth, manager of Ray’s Heritage LLC, Belle Glade, which grows and packs green beans, corn, radishes, celery and lettuce. “We need to be able to help them trace back the problem as quickly as possible.”

Roth said growers can’t afford issues tomato growers experienced with the salmonella crisis.

“I think there’s a little bit of cynicism on their part if information is what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s getting the information, figuring out where it’s coming from and getting the story out in the newspapers. ‘We found it, everything’s OK and we’re back to normal.’ That’s our goal. The regulatory agencies need to see that we have the same interests that they have.”

GlobalGAP certification

All of the growers for SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, have completed a GlobalGAP (formerly called EurepGAP) audit, said Keith Mixon, SunnyRidge’s president and chief executive officer.

The audit, Mixon said, means more than food safety, and incorporates environmental and social responsibilities such as land stewardship and sustainability.

“Customers are inquiring more on sustainability,” Mixon said. “They ask us our thoughts and our push towards that. With our first push through GlobalGAP, it dovetails very easily into the sustainability portion of those initiatives.”

This is the fourth year that the Mixon-owned farms have been GlobalGAP-audited.

Pacific Collier Fresh Co., Immokalee, scored its highest score ever from its December PrimusLabs audit, said Jim Monteith, Pacific Collier Fresh’s sales manager.

“That is a tribute to our packinghouse managers, as they take the food safety issues very seriously,” he said. “The owners have invested a lot of money in it, in the fields and in the packinghouses.”

Carton level traceability

At Pacific Collier Fresh, an inkjet printer prints a code on all of its cartons to allow full traceability back to the carton and to the field levels, Monteith said.

Mack Farms Inc., Lake Wales, has had its potato fields audited by PrimusLabs. This year, the potato and melon grower-shipper also received certification of its packinghouse.

The company is also instituting good agricultural practices and best management practices this year and has achieved satisfactory scores in separate audits on its packinghouse, said Chandler Mack, vice president of operations.

“It seems like every year it’s becoming more of a requirement to do business with our customers,” he said.

Because their product requires preparation before consuming, potato growers say the item hasn’t experienced as many food safety outbreaks.

More audits

Joey Mickler, president of J&J Ag Products Inc., Clewiston, said growers have had many more audits that have become stricter and more specific.

“They’re always throwing new things at us to comply with,” he said. “But I see that as a positive. That’s possibly making us stronger in the sense that we won’t have any of the issues that these other countries have.”

J&J Ag Products has been audited by PrimusLabs since 2004.

Cabbage and vegetable grower-shipper Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, Wimauma, has traceability and lot numbers on all of its boxes. The traceability systems allow Hearne to trace product to the lot and carton quickly, said Tony Piedimonte, co-owner.

The company has been food safety audited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for two years.

“It will come down to that anyway. The government will be in the audits,” Piedimonte said. “They are in the meat industry. We’re not knocking Primus, but they don’t have real teeth. They’re not a federal agency … The government will come in and control everything.”



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