Food safety not a problem for citrus

06/21/2012 10:07:00 AM
Tom Burfield

Food safety need not be much of a worry for those who buy oranges, clementines and other citrus items, since the category to date has a positive track record, some say.

Concerns should be even less for anyone who buys citrus from South Africa or other countries that ship to Europe, said Mayda Sotomayor-Kirk, chief executive officer for Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla.

Growers in countries that have to meet European food safety requirements have long had food safety programs in place that are “very detailed and very precise,” she said.

“For them to come to the U.S., it’s very simple because their food safety programs are already in place,” she said.

If a retailer asks about your food safety program, and you tell him that you ship to Europe, his response likely will be, “Say no more,” said Paul Marier, senior vice president of sales and marketing for St. Laurent, Quebec-based Fisher Capespan, which imports citrus from South Africa and other countries.

“Virtually all U.S. retailers appreciate the high food safety standards Europe has,” he said.

If a grower is certified to ship to Tesco and other European chains, U.S. retailers are satisfied, he said.

They still require certification, he said, “but the discussion doesn’t last a long time.”

Chile also typically meets or exceeds U.S. food safety standards, said Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif.

“Chilean (good agricultural practices) requirements are very stringent,” he said.

Chile was a pioneer in the food safety arena because the country exports so much of its product, he said.

It’s not unusual for foreign growers to outshine U.S. growers on the food safety front because many domestic growers do not export, and U.S. food safety requirements are not as strict as those in Europe, Sotomayor-Kirk said.

Some U.S. shippers are “internationally focused and forward thinking with strong food safety programs,” she said. “But others are not.”

Oranges by nature are a safe piece of fruit because they are grown off the ground and have an inedible peel, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.

Nonetheless, growers are becoming increasingly aware of retailer and consumer concerns about food safety.

While they traditionally have followed good food safety practices, growers now spend more time documenting those practices to comply with certification requirements, he said.

Growers have practices in place in the packinghouse that take good care of what might come into the facility from the field, he added.

“Citrus is washed, brushed and cleaned before it goes into the carton,” Blakely said.



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