If any of California’s
500-plus strawberry-growing operations have any safety concerns, they
need only seek out the Watsonville-based California Strawberry
The commission is
placing an increased emphasis on the safety of berries this year,
conducting food safety workshops during the current season.
“We have started conducting
trainer workshops in all of our production regions,” said Chris
Christian, the commission’s product and marketing director.
The commission is
sending food safety communications specialists to all production
districts to educate managers in all production fields.
“We’re training the
people who train the crews in the fields,” Christian said. “If you think
of all the ranches in California, by the end of March, we will have
trained 400 on-the-farm supervisors. We’ve been sold out at every
Employees learn all of
the basics of food safety, including hygiene, general practices in the
field, and they use some of the commission’s new training tools,
“I don’t know of any
other industries that are doing this type of program, very hands-on with
the actual farm supervisors. And we’ll be doing this as long as people
are out there requesting help,” she said.
specialists said they appreciate the effort. They also note that safety
always has been a primary focus of the industry.
Steve Bjorlin, salesman
at Hurst’s Berry Farm Inc., Sheridan, Ore., said his company, as one
example, places heavy emphasis on food-safety procedures.
“I know it’s becoming a
much bigger issue, but in the last couple of years it’s been a major push
for us,” Bjorlin said. “I would think that everybody’s in the same boat.
I also know with berries, especially with blackberries and raspberries,
you’re dealing with a fairly thin-walled food product and you have to
watch that closely.”
Clients are increasing
their scrutiny, Bjorlin said.
“The concern from the
customer base, there’s been a lot of requests for information for
verification of procedures and third-party auditing, all that kind of
thing,” he said. “The big focus is food safety, being able to track everything.”
That focus has to be
consistent across national borders, as well, Bjorlin said.
“The other change would
be to do a better job with our farm coming out of Mexico, so we have a
nice flow through the season and have consistent flow of blueberries from
Argentina and Chile,” he said. “We try to be as consistent as possible.
That’s key for the retailers.”
Mark Munger, vice
president of marketing for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh
Produce, said standards are getting tougher each year.
“Food safety is
continuously raising the bar,” Munger said. “Anybody who claims they’ve
got it all figured out better go back and re-read their programs. That
bar is constantly moving up. It will never stay stationary. You make sure
everything is clean.”
After that, the company
works with its customers on being disciplined in maintaining the cold
chain, Munger noted.
Philip Neary, general
manager of the Glassboro, N.J.-based Jersey Fruit Cooperative
Association, said his organization has invested a considerable sum in
food safety technology.
Traceability is also
vital to safety, and the industry is recognizing that, said George Fritz,
sales manager for Michigan Summer Blueberries Inc., Bangor.
“We’ve got to carry
(country of) origin labeling another step,” he said. “That’s definitely
going to be an issue this year, but that’s part of food safety. I know in
Florida, I visited a strawberry shipper 10 days ago, and they’ve got it
right down to the field and the picker, almost.”