Terms like GlobalGAP and Primus and Davis labs are familiar to the Chilean produce lexicon, growers, shippers and marketing agents say in discussing safety issues related to that South American country.
“Chile has been always in the forefront of the good agricultural practices,” said Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America with the Sonoma, Calif.-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Association. “The structures that Chile has put in place to ensure the safety of food that’s exporters, it’s always been a world leader in that regard.”
In fact, Chile’s more than 17,000 growers act more or less as one unit, in terms of food safety, according to marketing agents.
If there are any potential hiccups on the safety front, it may be on the other end of the supply chain, whether in North America or elsewhere, said Dan Carpella Jr., director of sales and marketing, Nathel International, Pittsgrove, N.J.
“The biggest challenge on imports is that requirements that North American retailers want with one compliance to bar-coded PLU’s (price look-up stickers), etc., are not required all around the world,” he said. “Given that the dollar has been so weak and the export companies in South America are looking more to other markets for the majority of their product, they’re not necessarily in a hurry to put the costs into their facility to comply with those standards when the rest of the world is not requiring them to.
“That’s the biggest right now on the imported side. Because the U.S. is probably not the primary market for South American imports, just because of the economy, South American exporters don’t have the same motivation for compliance as, say, the California grower would.”
That Chile has followed tough European safety standards for years has provided an important level of assurance, said Maggie Bezart, marketing director with the Aptos, Calif.-based Chilean Avocado Importers Association.
“Chilean produce is one of the safest,” she said. “Their growers are GlobalGAP-certified, which is one of the most restrictive.”
Chilean growers and shippers are ahead of the food-safety curve, said Chris Kragie, vice president of Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing Inc.
“They’re probably above most companies here in the U.S.,” Kragie said. “They’re all PTI-certified and PTI-ready. I know we’re definitely going to try to put that together by the January startup date.”
Maintaining those standards, once the product reaches North America, is essential, said Julio Ortuzar, Chilean consultant with Weston, Fla.-based Fresh Results LLC.
“There are two things with food safety and Chile,” he said. “Most of the packing facilities we get product from are all certified with good agricultural practices and procedures, so there’s a lot of concern with regard to that, and we use the ones that are all certified. That’s one thing. We also take care of the product we bring in. We’re trying to comply with all traceability issues. Taking those concerns into account is what we’re focusing on.”
Years of dedication to safety protocols have paid dividends for Chileans, said Mike Bowe, vice president of Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Springs, Fla.
“For years, they were going through all the bells and whistles with PrimusLabs and Davis Labs, getting their fields inspected, staying current and compliant,” he said. “They’ve been doing it for years and have always been ahead of the game. Once they start, they’re like soldiers. They keep going.”
Josh Leichter, Newark, Del.-based vice president of the East Coast and grape category director with the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group, agreed.
“I think it’s just the standardized food-safety protocols that are now widely in place in Chile,” Leichter said. “We work primarily with GlobalGAP or Primus as our main bodies. I think food safety is something that’s firmly established in Chile. The United Kingdom is now one of their more important markets, and five years ago, the U.K. was probably ahead of the United States in their requirements. I’d say the Chilean suppliers are fully up to speed on any food-safety requirements and have had those programs in place for some time.”