They do not take responsibility and are under pressure to make sales and think tools such as audits amount to a food safety program, he said. He also blamed buyers who are inconsistent in their commitment to food safety, giving breaks for locally grown produce growers or other groups.
The industry is facing a new reality — not just with the government’s expanded role but also with the widening threat of lawsuits that come earlier in a crisis, are more numerous and threaten a wider swath of the industry, including retailers as well as grower-shippers.
“This all comes down to accepting change,” Whitaker said.
Early in the process
Whitaker’s presentation was followed by Jim Gorny, PMA’s vice president of food safety and technology, giving an overview of the food safety act. November brings a close to the FDA’s comment period on four proposed rules:
- standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding Produce;
- preventive controls;
- third-party auditor accreditation; and
- foreign supplier verification programs.
After the comment period, rules will be amended and published in the Federal Register and then phased in over several years.
“We are very early in this process,” Gorny said.
Gorny said PMA is concerned about arguments to exempt some commodities based on an absence of reported illnesses associated with a commodity.
PMA holds that rules should be based on practices instead of reporting, which may not cover the bases.
Exemptions for items that are usually cooked, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, also concern PMA because tastes change.
As far as produce importers are concerned, PMA encourages FDA to expedite the process for countries with comparable standards and protocols, Gorny said. Gorny also said the FDA should make a distinction between a regulatory audit and a consulting audit.
In all cases, the proposed rules require the FDA to be notified of problems. However, this could discourage companies from using audits to assess their operations and devising food safety plans.
Once PMA’s scientists laid out the groundwork, Bryan Silbermann, PMA president and CEO, led a discussion with a panel that included Nate Sprague, produce merchandising manager for Hannford Bros., Portland, Maine, and Vic Salvalnello, director of produce and floral for retailer-owned co-op Allegiance Retail Services, Iselin, N.J.