Ahead Of The Game

Ahead Of The Game

While the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will mean new policy and procedures for some, others already have been there and done that. Many growers practice good agricultural practices (GAPs) and have them confirmed through third-party audits. And, some grower groups have instituted mandatory food safety programs, which should put them ahead of the curve as the FSMA is implemented.

It remains to be seen exactly how the new law will impact groups with food safety programs in place, but leaders from these various organizations say they have been impressed by the collaboration FDA has shown in recent years after taking lessons from past high-profile incidents.

Tomato Ordeal

According to Reggie Brown, executive vice president of Florida Tomato Exchange, both the industry and FDA have come a long way since the agency incorrectly identified tomatoes as the source of a salmonella outbreak in 2008. It was later determined peppers from Mexico were the source. “I will be the first to tell you the events from 2008 were very much less than ideal,” says Brown. “But since then, both the industry and agency went through that process of excruciating pain, which led to an opportunity to establish a much closer working relationship. The level of communication and cooperation between FDA and the tomato industry has gone up very significantly.”
 
 
Click here to see a video of Reggie Brown discussing the FSMA and his group’s disappointment over the Tester Amendment.
Today, Florida tomatoes operate under a mandatory food safety program, which is enforced by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The program was developed using the guidance document developed by FDA.
“We worked with the agency to develop our tomato metrics, and they have endorsed our program,” says Brown. “Florida has established and had significant success in tailoring the metrics to the different ranges of production in the state. We believe it will be viewed as a model on how to ensure tomato food safety nationally.”
 
So how have growers and packers taken to the program in Florida? Brown says the program has been running well. The biggest adjustment for some are the recordkeeping requirements, but he adds once these procedures are in place, maintenance becomes less of a burden.
“We have had a few enforcement actions, but the violations have not been great,” he says. “Most people already are doing the right things routinely just as a part of doing good business.”
 
In 2006, a major E. coli outbreak traced back to leafy greens in California, which resulted in a media firestorm that nearly brought the industry to its knees. The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (CLGMA) was established in 2007 in response to the disaster. The program is voluntary to join, but mandatory once a grower or handler becomes a member.
 
According to Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer of the CLGMA, about 99% of the state’s leafy greens producers now participate in the program. “We are almost four years into the program and members accept our food safety metrics and confirm this through audits by state officials,” he says. “We audit our handler members four to six times per year and growers at least once per year. We have a very thorough program that has really brought the industry to a new level when it comes to food safety.”
 
Horsfall reports the CLGMA has developed a good relationship with FDA as the agency has been working on its produce food safety rule over the past couple of years. He believes the FSMA could put a more specific timeframe on these rules, but will not likely change the basic set of metrics that FDA has already been developing. “We are optimistic the FSMA will not add another layer of inspections and requirements,” he says. “Rather, we will continue to work closely with FDA to show them what we are doing could be a model for its ultimate rules.”

Local Efforts

The Ohio Produce Marketing Agreement (OPMA) is currently being developed in response to concerns over the imposition of a national order the group fears would not take into account its growers’ local concerns.
 
According to Bob Jones Jr., who chairs the group’s advisory board, the OPMA takes what works from other food safety programs and takes the opportunity to improve the process to protect growers in Ohio. “Our program is a voluntary agreement and will operate under the guidance and approval of the Ohio Department of Agriculture,” he says. “We have worked closely with their food safety division to develop a program that will bring food safety to a higher level in the state.”
 
The OPMA provides a three-tiered approach, with tier I being the smallest grower and tier III the largest. The intensity of requirements is scaled to the size of operation. “We believe it is important for smaller growers to be included in the program,” says Jones. “Food safety is every grower’s social responsibility — regardless of size. This program is designed for growers by growers and will stand up to a high level of inspection from the state.”
 
The group has had an open dialogue with FDA as it builds its program. FDA officials were taken on a tour of Ohio produce farms both large and small to illustrate that rules must be scalable to the size of operations.
 
“FDA is very serious about the food safety charge it has been given, but not quite sure how to get there,” says Jones. “It is very refreshing to see them reach out for input at the grower level prior to rulemaking versus post rulemaking and taking comments after the fact.”
Currently, the OPMA is collecting signatures on a petition that will go to the Ohio Department of Agriculture this spring for codification. Growers already are signing up for membership in the group and will be implementing its four core food safety principles. Audits will begin this year and the program should be operating at full capacity by the 2012 growing season.

Training Is Key

Providing growers and packers with knowledge of how to implement the practices mandated by any food safety program is critical to success. “We have been providing training for our tomato metrics even before the program was mandatory,” says Brown. “The training is now a mandatory part of the program, but we’ve been providing it for three years now. “The biggest challenge has been the educational process because there was some ignorance of what the requirements are. However, that is becoming less of a factor every month, as they understand what they need to do, put the procedures in place to do it, and record and validate they are doing it.”

Harmonization A Must

While existing food safety programs might have different approaches to achieving goals, they almost all agree there must be harmonization in the auditing process. “I believe we have to get to a point of harmonization,” says Horsfall. “Even setting the FSMA aside, there is way too much duplication in the system. We see a lot of the same standards in place across various third-party audits. What we don’t have and need is a single recognized way for a grower to verify to his or her customers that food safety standards are being met.”
 
“We are getting some acceptance from our tomato customer base for harmonized metrics in Florida and California,” says Brown. “Ultimately, our goal is to cut the inefficiencies of auditing duplication out of the system to the benefit of not only producer community, but also further up the chain.”

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories
Citrus
July 26, 2017
Despite Controversy, Most Major Ag Groups Support Sam Clovis’ USDA Nomination
Most of the major agricultural associations are coming out in support of President Donald Trump’s nomination of Sam Clovis to Read More
Citrus
July 26, 2017
If We Want American Farm Workers, We Have to Offer Even More [Opinion]
Now is the time to lobby for ways to attract American labor. One idea? Offer college tuition and student loan forgiveness in exchange for farm work. Read More
Apples & Pears
July 25, 2017
Tips to Transition to an Apple Fruiting Wall System
Follow these suggestions to make the move from a 3-D spindle-shaped canopy to a 2-D system using mechanical pruning. Read More
Diamondback-Moth-adult-Stormy-Sparks
Crop Protection
July 25, 2017
Vegetable Field Scouting Guide: Diamondback Moth
Due diligence is needed to help take down this pest of biblical proportions. Read More
Disease Control
July 25, 2017
Brown Rot Sinks its Teeth into Michigan Cherries
Unseasonably wet weather causes outbreak, and growers are warned it can spread to peaches. Read More
Fruits
July 25, 2017
Michigan’s a Hit with Tree Fruit Growers
International Fruit Tree Association’s annual summer tour draws nearly 250 attendees. Read More
Farm Management
July 25, 2017
Grants Allocated to Tackle Changing Climate in Fruit, Vegetable Production
Projects designed to develop new approaches to mitigate effects of changing growing environment. Read More
Farm Management
July 24, 2017
American Farm Bureau Weighs in for Grower in Clean Water Act Suit
John Duarte, the owner of Duarte Nursery, one of the largest grapevine and nut tree suppliers on the West Coast, recently gained Read More
Disease Control
July 24, 2017
Researchers Find Detection Method for Crown Gall Disease
Oregon State University researchers developed molecular tools to work with commercially available kits that allow the user to quickly and effectively test plants for the disease, using a dipstick that reveals the presence of the pathogen within minutes. Read More
Vegetables
July 24, 2017
23 Of The Latest Pumpkin Varieties
Browse this slideshow for more details on 23 pumpkin varieties you need to know about from the nation’s leading seed breeders and distributors. Read More
Citrus
July 23, 2017
USDA Invests $7.6 Million toward Beneficial Insect Research
Projects to promote beneficial organisms as part of a pest control strategy. Read More
Citrus
July 22, 2017
Representative from Washington Proposes Amendment to H-2A Program
Move broadens use of H-2A to all of agriculture to include those with multiple crops and harvests. Read More
Insect & Disease Update
July 21, 2017
University of California Launches Website to Update Growers on Citrus Research
Easy-to-read format designed to give growers up-to-date information on huanglongbing and Asian citrus psyllid research. Read More
Hurricane Matthew satellite image as it brushed past Florida
Citrus
July 20, 2017
Atlantic Hurricane Forecast Taken Up a Notch
Current conditions in the tropics warrant marked revision in potential storm season scenarios. Read More
Sunset on Florida potato field day
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Researchers On a Mission to Find More Places for Growing Produce
Federal grant to aid exploration of food security solutions for the future. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
July 26, 2017
Despite Controversy, Most Major Ag Group…
Most of the major agricultural associations are coming out in support of President Donald Trump’s nomination of Sam Clovis to Read More
Citrus
July 26, 2017
If We Want American Farm Workers, We Hav…
Now is the time to lobby for ways to attract American labor. One idea? Offer college tuition and student loan forgiveness in exchange for farm work. Read More
Apples & Pears
July 25, 2017
Tips to Transition to an Apple Fruiting …
Follow these suggestions to make the move from a 3-D spindle-shaped canopy to a 2-D system using mechanical pruning. Read More
Crop Protection
July 25, 2017
Vegetable Field Scouting Guide: Diamondb…
Due diligence is needed to help take down this pest of biblical proportions. Read More
Disease Control
July 25, 2017
Brown Rot Sinks its Teeth into Michigan …
Unseasonably wet weather causes outbreak, and growers are warned it can spread to peaches. Read More
Fruits
July 25, 2017
Michigan’s a Hit with Tree Fruit Growers
International Fruit Tree Association’s annual summer tour draws nearly 250 attendees. Read More
Farm Management
July 25, 2017
Grants Allocated to Tackle Changing Clim…
Projects designed to develop new approaches to mitigate effects of changing growing environment. Read More
Farm Management
July 24, 2017
American Farm Bureau Weighs in for Growe…
John Duarte, the owner of Duarte Nursery, one of the largest grapevine and nut tree suppliers on the West Coast, recently gained Read More
Disease Control
July 24, 2017
Researchers Find Detection Method for Cr…
Oregon State University researchers developed molecular tools to work with commercially available kits that allow the user to quickly and effectively test plants for the disease, using a dipstick that reveals the presence of the pathogen within minutes. Read More
Vegetables
July 24, 2017
23 Of The Latest Pumpkin Varieties
Browse this slideshow for more details on 23 pumpkin varieties you need to know about from the nation’s leading seed breeders and distributors. Read More
Citrus
July 23, 2017
USDA Invests $7.6 Million toward Benefic…
Projects to promote beneficial organisms as part of a pest control strategy. Read More
Citrus
July 22, 2017
Representative from Washington Proposes …
Move broadens use of H-2A to all of agriculture to include those with multiple crops and harvests. Read More
Insect & Disease Update
July 21, 2017
University of California Launches Websit…
Easy-to-read format designed to give growers up-to-date information on huanglongbing and Asian citrus psyllid research. Read More
Citrus
July 20, 2017
Atlantic Hurricane Forecast Taken Up a N…
Current conditions in the tropics warrant marked revision in potential storm season scenarios. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Researchers On a Mission to Find More Pl…
Federal grant to aid exploration of food security solutions for the future. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Farm Labor Stories Making the News This …
The agricultural labor shortage is strong enough that the consumer press is beginning to report on it regularly. Here are the stories making headlines this month. Read More
Sweet Corn
July 19, 2017
Variety Specs | Production Tips: Corn &#…
Each month, American Vegetable Grower® will offer growing tips on specific varieties, supplied by the breeder or distributor. This month, we’re offering Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Florida Grower Magazine is Seeking Your …
Life hacks are common in social media threads these days. They are those clever ideas or tricks aimed at making Read More