(UPDATED COVERAGE July 28) It’s only two pages, but a document signed by U.S. and Mexican officials is being called a milestone in the pursuit of cooperative food safety efforts, especially for preventive practices and verification requirements for fresh produce.
“We know that food safety is more a journey than a destination, but there are times when we can point to a major milestone along the road. Today, we reached such a milestone in our long-standing relationship with Mexico by signing a statement of intent to establish a new produce safety partnership,” Mike Taylor, deputy director of the Food and Drug Administration, wrote in his blog on July 24.
Taylor and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg met with their regulatory counterparts from the National Service for Agro-Alimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) and Federal Commission for the Protection from Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) before signing the document.
“This collaboration is a priority for public health,” said federal commissioner of COFEPRIS Mikel Arriola Peñalosa in a news release. “The partnership will focus on implementing preventive practices and food verification measures that meet the guidelines and best international practices for produce safety.”
The statement of intent calls for:
- Exchanging information to better understand each other’s produce safety systems;
- Developing effective culturally-specific education materials;
- Identifying common approaches for training auditors; and
- Enhancing collaboration on laboratory activities and outbreak response/traceback activities.
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Nogales, Ariz,, attended the signing ceremony and said it is a good sign.
“With over a hundred years of produce exports to the U.S., Mexico is well entrenched into the U.S. food supply,” Jungmeyer said July 25.
“This agreement gives credence to the excellent work that the Mexican government and growers are putting into food safety advancements. It adds more trust to the relationship and is a sign that FDA likes what it is seeing out of Mexico.”
Officials at fresh produce industry groups also expressed support.
“We’re pleased to see the FDA announcement about cooperation with Mexico’s authorities on food safety,” said Ray Gilmer, vice president of issues management for the United Fresh Produce Association.
“United has been working with FDA and border associations in support of increased cooperation, and we look forward to continued progress under this agreement.”
At the Produce Marketing Association, former FDA official and PMA vice president for food safety and technology Jim Gorny said the document is a step toward an integrated and harmonized approach.
“As our largest fresh produce trading partner, Mexico is an important contributor to the global produce supply chain and assuring continuity of commerce with the implementation of the new Food Safety Modernization Act needs to be high priority for both government and industry,” Gorny said.
Hamburg noted in her blog that about a third of the foods regulated by FDA come from Mexico. The FDA estimates about $4.6 billion in fresh vegetables and $3.1 billion in fresh fruits, excluding bananas, are exported to the U.S. annually.
Hamburg also described a stop she and Taylor made at a mushroom growing operation, Hongos de Mexico, that exports part of its daily production of 60,000 pounds of mushrooms to the U.S.
“In addition to being an enlightening education on the process of growing and packing mushrooms, our visit to the Monteblanco facility was a living example of the critical role the private sector plays to ensure the safety of products for consumers in the U.S. and around the world,” Hamburg wrote in her blog.
“(The) Produce Safety Partnership Statement of Intent is just the latest example of the successful collaboration to reduce the increased risk of foodborne illnesses that naturally comes with a more globalized market. The partnership will support our work to implement preventive practices and verification measures to ensure the safety of fresh and minimally produced fruits and vegetables.”