Avocado industry steps up food safety

Published on 07/27/2009 02:47pm By Jim Offner

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Avocados, food safety and compliance go hand-in-hand-in-hand.

"I just think the attention to the fact that it is an imperative for the growing and packing sides of the business," said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, Irvine. "There's no reason not to be fully involved."

Tracking fruit from shelf to lot is a focal point for food safety concerns, said Patrick Lucy, salesman for Fallbrook, Calif.-based Del Rey Avocado Co.

"Traceback is a big issue, with the box, the pallet, the date it was grown," he said.

It's a key component in the program elsewhere.

"One of our key initiatives is to become compliant with upcoming traceability regulations," said Bruce Dowhan, general manager of Escondido, Calif.-based Giumarra Agricom International LLC. "Our California avocado program is currently utilizing the GTIN program, which standardizes the traceability of produce commodities."

The relative low-risk nature of avocados gives the industry a helpful boost in quality assurance, said Walter Ram, food safety director for Los Angeles-based Giumarra Cos.

"There's not really a history of safety problems or outbreaks," Ram said. "It's a dry crop. There's no wash water. The chance of contamination is really low."

But Giumarra, like other shippers, has its own GAP program in place, he said.

"It's really important to cover every step," he said.

Imported product comes with the same standards, said Maggie Bezart, marketing director of the Washington, D.C.-based Chilean Avocado Importers Association.

"The Chileans rank the highest in their food safety standards," she said. "They have a very strong organic program that's coming in this year."

At Fallbrook, Calif.-based McDaniel Fruit Co., food safety procedures may be the most important program in place, said Rankin McDaniel, the company's owner.

"That's a biggie," he said. "We are constantly running our food safety parameters, the food safety programs, having the third-party audits conducted, not only in California but in our operations in Mexico and Chile."

Covering all food safety aspects is no luxury in this business, McDaniel said.

"It's absolutely necessary for a company to have all of the food safety requirements covered and looking to improve on those at all times," he said. "Customers are already comfortable with where our company is. We've been out in front of that from the very beginning."

Miami-based New Limeco LLC achieved certification from Primus Labs, as well as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, said Eddie Caram, general manager.

"It's all about making sure consumers take home a product that has been handled properly and that eats well," Caram said. "It's important that somebody who picks up a Florida avocado is getting the highest quality. We want the consumer to come back for more."

It's also important to assure retail customers that they're buying the safest product available, Caram said.

"I'm trying to target chain-store buyers and making sure that we are complying with everything the chain store needs for food safety," he said.

Fort Worth, Texas-based Fresherized Foods, which focuses on shipping guacamole produced under high-pressure processing, touts the safety of its own product, most notably Wholly Guacamole.

"It's a postpasteurization treatment," Jay Alley, vice president of sales, said of the high-pressure process. "It's a process where things are pasteurized, using 87,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. The vessel is sealed and pressurized at six times the deepest part of the ocean. It kills all the microorganisms."

The process provides a dose of reassurance to customers, Alley noted.

"With recent scares in the produce department, we're fortunate we can offer a couple of great, safe products," he said. "And the retailers appreciate it, because they know they don't have to deal with recalls."

Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc. has its own GAP program, and recently hired Keith Barnard to coordinate it, said Ron Araiza, the company's sales director.

"Our food safety program, with this GAP certification program, we're always looking forward and that will continue to be our priority," Araiza said. "It's a certification process our growers go through. There's a variety of items the growers have to go through to get that certification."

It's a way for Mission to be proactive on food safety, Araiza noted.

"It had not been done on the California avocado grower side, and we're just being proactive and getting our growers certified, so our customers can be assured that our growers are doing what they can to stay ahead of food safety on their product," he said.


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