Food safety conference offers Texans strategy

04/25/2013 06:29:00 AM
Pamela Riemenschneider

AUSTIN, Texas — A one-size-fits-all solution for food safety doesn’t fit in the diverse agriculture fields of Texas.

Garrett Edwards (from left), and Dennis Holbrook of Mission-based SouthTex Organics talk with Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples.Pamela RiemenschneiderGarrett Edwards (from left), and Dennis Holbrook of Mission-based SouthTex Organics talk with Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples at the Texas Food Safety Conference April 23 in Austin.That’s why organizers of the Texas Food Safety Conference 2013 want growers, shippers, importers, packers, distributors and retailers — anyone with a hand in fresh produce in Texas — to speak up as the Food and Drug Administration sets rules.

This is the second such conference the Mission-based Texas Vegetable Association has helped put together, the first being in 2011. The time was right to talk food safety, said Ray Prewett, TVA’s executive vice president.

“We wanted to establish a working group to come up with comments for the FDA,” Prewett said. “We know a lot of the action in terms of implementing (the federal Food Safety Modernization Act) is going to rest at the state level.”

The conference opened with an introduction and question-and-answer session via phone with Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., and an overview of FSMA rules from the local FDA representative.

“We wanted to acquaint the produce industry with what’s in these rules,” Prewett said. “And now we’ll go forward with establishing comments that address Texas-specific concerns.”

Some of those concerns include mixed-use farms, where a producer may have cattle or cotton in addition to fresh produce, and there is some uncertainty about where their income threshold lies for the purpose of FSMA exemptions, said Mary Ellen Holliman, coordinator for the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Organic Certification program.

Holliman and Julie Loera, food safety officer for the Texas Department of State Health Services, collected questions and comments to add to the state’s official response for the FSMA comment period, recently expanded four months past the original May 16 deadline.

The educational component of the conference included discussions about water quality, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plans and how the proposed FSMA rules could apply to those subjects for the fresh produce industry.

Water is critical

Juan Anciso, associate professor and extension vegetable specialist for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, talked about the differences in water quality issues relating to Texas and other major production regions. California leafy greens, he said, often are irrigated with deep well water, where Texas often is irrigated with surface sources.

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