Local must be safe, panelists stress - The Packer

Local must be safe, panelists stress

10/19/2010 12:02:43 PM
Andy Nelson

ORLANDO, Fla. — Retailers and foodservice providers love to sell locally grown fruits and vegetables, but not at the expense of food safety.

Andy Nelson

Johnna Hepner, director of food safety and technology for the Produce Marketing Association, speaks at an Oct. 17 workshop on locally grown produce at PMA's Fresh Summit 2010. Dave Corsi, from left, vice president of produce and floral operations for Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Market; Hepner; and Michael Spinazzola, president of San Diego-based Diversified Restaurant Systems were three of five panelists.

That was the main message at a roundtable workshop Oct. 17 at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2010, “Keeping it Local: The Pros and Cons of Local Sourcing.”

The popularity of local isn’t likely to wane anytime soon, panelists said. For instance, by next summer, the Subway restaurant chain will have several locally grown-themed campaigns in place, said Michael Spinazzola, president of San Diego-based Diversified Restaurant Systems, which procures Subway’s produce.

Panelists were unanimous in their opposition to different food safety regulations based on farm size, a current debate as the Food and Drug Administration considers legislation on the issue.

“It doesn’t matter whether you grow 10,000 acres or one acre,” said Dave Corsi, vice president of produce and floral operations for Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets. “Crops grown on one acre can make a lot of people sick. Food safety protocols have to be equal.”

Corsi strongly encourages marketers not to reinforce the popular perception that locally grown produce is safer.

“It’s all the same standard,” he said.

Despite perceptions to the contrary, getting small growers who cater to demand for locally grown produce up to speed on food safety doesn’t have to be difficult, panelists said.

Grower workshops sponsored by PMA, Sysco Corp. and Primus Labs have driven that point home for Rich Dachman, incoming PMA chairman and Sysco’s vice president of produce.

“(Growers) come in feeling intimidated and leave thinking, ‘This isn’t a big deal — we can do this,’” Dachman said.

The produce industry, Dachman said, needs to get that message across to Congress.



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