Strawberry grower pilots Equitable Food Initiative

06/12/2013 12:58:00 PM
Coral Beach

Strawberries from Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce this season under the Limited Edition label are an example of how an after-hours conversation among “odd bedfellows” can improve food safety, according to those involved with a pilot program.

The program is the first demonstration of the Equitable Food Initiative launched by Oxfam America, part of the international non-profit Oxfam organization.

In addition to the San Diego-based grower-shipper Andrew & Williamson, retailer Costco Wholesale Corp. and cafe operator Bon Appétit Management Co. are participating. The two chains are paying a premium price for the strawberries from the pilot.

Ernie Farley, manager for Andrew & Williamson, said the firm “volunteered to be the guinea pig” for the pilot program that started in 2012.

Equitable Food Initiative training at Andrew & Williamson Fresh ProduceCourtesy Andrew & Williamson Fresh ProduceChris Filice, farm manager for Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, discusses with field workers how they can improve food safety during a training session as part of Oxfam America’s Equitable Food Initiative.“About three years ago at a Costco suppliers meeting Jeff Lyons discussed the need for fresh produce to do something about food safety collaboration,” Farley said. “We have had such success (with the pilot) that we are instituting the program into almost all of our operations.”

Oxfam America’s Peter O’Driscoll said additional discussions among “odd bedfellows at an industry event” led to the program pilot. O’Driscoll is project director for the program — the Equitable Food Initiative — which Oxfam officials plan to spin off as a standalone non-profit entity.

“We had growers, labor, processors and retailers talking about how there are good reasons for all of those groups to work together on food safety for fresh produce,” O’Driscoll said. “We realized we had a sincere interest in engaging the workforce (in fresh produce) in food safety.”

O’Driscoll said the Equitable Food Initiative drafted a set of verifiable standards for a certification system that will enhance food safety while guaranteeing decent wages and safe work environments. The standards are partially based on requirements in the Food Safety Modernization Act, O’Driscoll said.

“But our standards exceed FSMA,” he said.

Farley said the pilot at Andrew & Williamson’s Sierra Farm has proven that training field workers as the first line of defense in the battle for food safety is popular with employees and provides “endless opportunities to increase value for consumers and reduce shrink for retailers.”


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