Berry Industry Drafts Food Safety White Paper

With food safety stories continuing to make headlines, many segments of the produce industry are trying to be proactive in establishing policies and practices to address the issue. Berry growers are no exception; this past February, members of the National Berry Crops Initiative (NBCI) compiled a white paper outlining food safety recommendations, suggested policy standards, and grower practices in the field. Click here to read the white paper.

According to Joe DeVerna of Ocean Spray Cranberries, the white paper is more about policy recommendations than about grower recommendations. “Many growers and handlers are already encouraging the development of Good Agricultural Practices,” says DeVerna. “Our first priority is that developing government policies reflect scientifically-based crop-specific risk.”

The white paper offers several recommendations on how to accomplish this, including supporting research to assess the microbiological risk of each berry crop; making sure produce safety standards are commodity specific and region specific; and ensuring that any standards do not lead to multiple audit systems and skyrocketing costs.

“Growers already understand the risk to their business of a food safety outbreak,” says DeVerna. “Our hope is that the recommendations developed in the white paper will provide the framework through which growers can better understand the bigger issues of food safety policy, namely: scientific-risk assessment, crop-specific standards, standardized testing, and the benefits of single on-farm audit systems. Growers are already grasping the critical food safety role that GAPs, tracebacks, and crisis management plans play in protecting their businesses from such devastating economic setbacks as product recalls.”

When it comes to standards, the white paper addresses the issue of voluntary versus mandatory policies. While stopping short of making compliance mandatory, the paper notes that, “the impact of a foodborne outbreak is so significant that it compels maximum participation in voluntary programs.”

The white paper also points out that there are huge differences among berry crops in size, horticulture (some are low growing, some are tall shrubs), and growing season (some are perennial, others are annual). “It would be inappropriate to develop one-size-fits-all standards for berry crops, but much more appropriate to evaluate the separate risks for each berry crop type,” says DeVerna.

Check out the NBCI website at www.nationalberrycrops.org for more information.

To read the NBCI white paper, click here.

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