A one-size-fits-all set of Good Agricultural Practices for the entire produce industry doesn’t make sense, California citrus grower-shippers say. Instead, they’re proposing their own standards based on widely accepted principles that would be appropriate for oranges, lemons and other citrus.
Led by the Auburn-based California Citrus Quality Council but with support from California Citrus Mutual and the California Citrus Research Board, the industry has developed GAPs that take into account several citrus-specific factors.
For example, unlike lettuce or products grown in soil, citrus grows on trees, high off the ground and is protected from most animal life and ground contamination. And consumers typically don’t eat the peel.
Citrus growers are reluctant to “really dive into programs that are not needed in order to improve food safety,” said Jim Cranney, president of the California Citrus Quality Council.
Nor do they want to get bogged down in practices that aren’t relevant to citrus.
Growers say their product has an exemplary food safety record, and they’re reluctant to fork over funds to implement unneeded GAPs.
The cost can be “huge and burdensome,” Cranney said, especially for small growers who may be asked to combat risks that may not exist.
California’s citrus industry, like growers in Florida, has come up with its own set of GAPs in a document that likely will be formalized after the first of the year, Cranney said.
A few gaps remained and more research still needed to be done, he said in early October.
The document was prompted by customers who often try to differentiate themselves “by denigrating the supply side,” saying the industry is not doing enough to meet food safety and other standards, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.
However, each customer seems to have its own definition of what those standards are.
“They won’t standardize, they won’t harmonize, so we’re going to do it for them,” Nelsen said.
“We’re going to formalize the food safety program that CCQC and CCM have worked on,” he said.
Members then will be asked to adopt the program.
“When challenged by activists and/or customers, everybody is going to be able to say, ‘We adhere to the citrus industry’s food safety GAP program,’” he said.
The GAPs comply with the United Fresh Produce Association’s harmonized document and meet the food safety standards required by most auditors and retailers, Cranney said.
Grower-shippers have expressed support for the program.
“Citrus is different than lettuce,” said Tom Wollenman, general manager for LoBue Bros. Inc., Lindsay, Calif. “The likelihood of citrus being contaminated is far lower than many other agricultural products.”
That’s because citrus is washed, waxed and chlorinated in the packing shed and then peeled before it is eaten, he said.
“You have a chance to peel your potential problem away before you consume it.”
There are two levels of standards for produce, said Alex Teague, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Limoneira Co., Santa Paula, Calif.
The first is standards that apply to all commodities, but the second is for industry-specific requirements.
“We’re trying to be proactive in helping the industry narrow those down,” he said.
Ideally, there eventually will be a single set of standards that are accepted by the marketplace, he said.
“We’re all working our way toward that.”