“That was one of the big reasons for (the FPAA) asking the FDA to bring the labs down here.”
The labs were stationed at the border, at a customs compound, where the FDA has a permanent office.
“There were sort of three things going on (with the mobile labs in Nogales),” Strait said. “One, if you’re a grower and you know that the regulatory authority on the other side of the border is paying attention, you’re going to be as thorough as you can in making sure you’re following good farming practices.
“The second thing is prevention. It protects the public. Third, if you’re a distributor or wholesaler, and say you distribute to Wal-Mart or Kroger, anything that speeds the process is good for business. The extent to which we can speed the process saves the industry a lot of money and, in the long run, saves consumers money.”
While inspectors tested mostly for salmonella and E. coli, they also tested for pesticides and microbial organisms, said Jim Cathey, general manger for Nogales-based Del Campo Supreme and a former FDA inspector.
“They seemed to work very well,” Cathey said. “What was nice was having them finished at the end of the day instead of the five- or six-day wait we used to have. We’re not used to being sampled at that level, but we know now what that process could be should they build a permanent facility.
During the three weeks the mobile labs were in Nogales, there was not a positive test.
“That was, for us, great news,” Moore said. “It’s another verification that our growers are using all their good agricultural practices and following all the food-safety measures. It’s another important link in the chain that we continue to do everything we can with the science that’s available to make sure our products are safe for consumers.”
Now, if only the FDA can get its timing down better.
“The best news was that everything was safe, and there were no problems found,” Ciruli said. “But, we would love to see that during peak season, during high volumes. December through January is when we think they should be here.”