The mushroom industry is one of a few industries — along with leafy greens in California and tomatoes in Florida — to have a specific U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved food safety program.
Just about all mushroom growers follow at least some of the provisions of the mushroom good agricultural practices developed by the American Mushroom Institute, Washington, D.C.
Many companies have gone beyond those standards with extra food safety measures.
To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pa., has achieved SQF 2000 level 3 certification from the Safe Quality Food Institute, said Paul Frederic, senior vice president of sales and marketing.
The company scored above 96% in May when it renewed its certification, he said.
SQF is an international standard for food producers and is one of six food safety standards to gain accreditation by the Global Food Safety Initiative, Frederic said.
“SQF level 3 is the highest level that you can achieve today,” he said. “We’re very proud that we’ve gotten to that.”
To achieve that milestone, a company must document its safety policies and procedures and implement extensive monitoring and record-keeping systems, he said.
“It takes a big investment in dollars and time,” Frederic said.
Several companies have attained some level of SQF certification and that number is growing, said Laura Phelps, mushroom institute president.
Mushroom producers have long been proficient, skilled and proactive, said Gary Schroeder, director of SQF-certified Dole Mushrooms, Kennett Square, Pa.
Years ago, the industry set out to find a way to make its product even better, he said. The result was MGAPs.
“We as an industry are very proud of being the first (national) industry group to have a program that was endorsed and approved by the USDA,” he said.
The industry continues to “make sure we do everything we can to stay in front,” he added, making MGAPS “a very successful program.”
Food safety remains a concern among produce buyers, said James Sweatt, director of sales for Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms Inc., Gonzales, Texas.
Traceability is the aspect of food safety that those buyers now are focusing on.
“They want to make sure they can track product through the system to the end user,” he said.
Some retailers want to see quick-response codes that consumers can scan to go to a website and find out where a product was grown.
“They’re trying to get as high-tech as they can,” he said.
Some end users even want to know who picked the product they bought, he said.
Kitchen Pride is looking at QR codes, and the company may add them within six months to a year, Sweatt said.
“Food safety is still the bull’s-eye out there,” he said.
Food safety is becoming more important among retailers and foodservice broadliners, Frederic said.
Buyers regularly question the company about its food safety practices, but Frederic said the industry as a whole “has a bit of a leg up” in the realm of food safety and food security because mushrooms are grown indoors with “no birds flying overhead or pigs running through the field.”
“We have a controlled crop,” he said. “That’s why mushrooms are probably least at risk when you look across the commodities.”