It’s About Food Safety: Period

November 8, 2012

If we had to pick one overriding and recurring theme in the fresh-cut — and fresh produce – industry right now, it would probably have to be food safety.

After a summer that seemed rife with recalls and incidents of contamination in certain commodities, it’s top of mind.

And it has to be. For consumers’ sakes, and for the industry’s sake.

That’s why Western Growers and the Produce Marketing Association have formed a new partnership to collaborate on food safety in fresh produce.

It’s not that there isn’t a lot already going on. Cantaloupe growers in Colorado and California have instituted stringent safety measures, along the lines of those in leafy greens. A national cantaloupe guidance effort should be rolling out its own set of best practices if it hasn’t already. There are a couple of groups working to improve safety in sprouts. The industry has made great strides with its Produce Traceability Initiative. And the Food Safety Modernization Act is sure to bring its own set of guidelines.

But Matt McInerney, Western Growers’ executive vice president, said this latest partnership with PMA will take aim at the very basic premise that if produce is being sold for human consumption, food safety standards must be followed at every step in the supply chain.

“Despite all of the efforts of everyone in industry and our association to focus on food safety, it continues to be a challenge,” he said. “Everyone in the supply chain should be focused on the safety of fruits and vegetables.”

Most of Western Growers’ members undergo mandatory audits by third parties – a practice that Western Growers supports. And the industry is “only as strong as our weakest link,” he said.

“Every transaction in the movement of that produce needs to review their obligation to food safety,” he said. “Frankly, in the 21st century, if people are unwilling to take those steps … how can you continue in business if you’re not going to do the essentials to assure food safety?”

The new collaboration is in the preliminary stages, but McInerney said he expects the leaders who participate to approach it from a broad perspective. The issue isn’t just about one or two commodities, or geography, he said. No, it involves produce of all varieties and forms ­ and the idea that no matter what it is or where it’s produced, “it’s safe and following certain protocols.”

Without that, public health is at stake. And so is consumer confidence.



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