Growers adopt food safety protocols

05/27/2011 10:05:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — South Florida’s avocado grower-shippers are keeping their production and packing facilities updated on food safety procedures and investing in proper food safety practices.

Among them is New Limeco LLC, Princeton, which is trumpeting a major food safety achievement — a recently implemented traceback system that the company says makes it stand out from the crowd.

Although New Limeco has had the capability to trace product to the groves, the new system, run by ScoringAg Inc., Bradenton, adds new capabilities that allow the tracing of fruit from grove to consumer, said Eddie Caram, general manager.

“We are going to have a traceability program that no one else in south Florida as a grower or packer has,” Caram said. “We have seen the major chain stores coming to us and inquiring because that’s where they need to be and where they need us to be. They are going that extra mile on traceability. We have a traceback program where consumers can actually punch into the computer a few numbers and will see a display of the field the avocados were picked. No one else has that down here.”

The change has helped New Limeco see more retail buyer interest, Caram said.

The system generates unique identifiers applied on bar codes for each lot picked and provides New Limeco a full recordkeeping and traceback system that complies with Food and Drug Administration standards.

“Let’s face it,” said Don Edgar, New Limeco’s operations manager, “the FDA says the consumer has the right to know the relevant information about the products they buy. This allows the consumer to access a public record providing a complete history of how their item was handled until the time it was purchased. This will actually give the small farmer the tools to stay in business without going bankrupt.”

This spring, M&M Farm Inc., Miami, received third-party certification for its packing operations from ASI Food Safety Consultants in St. Louis.

Manny Hevia Jr., M&M’s secretary-treasurer, said visiting an automobile dealership’s repair facility opened his eyes.

“The area where they change oil and guys are working with machines, it’s a cleaner environment than a large portion of where food is being handled,” Hevia said. “Every time I change oil in my car, they’re working in a cleaner place. Of course, that was a new dealership, but it was a motivating factor as I really felt bad, because here I own a place where food is handled.”

Although M&M has long packed under safety practices, he said, the operation hadn’t documented the procedures and made the necessary changes to satisfy an audit.

Other growers-shippers also have been working on certification.

Although Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., has long had its packing facility third-party audited by PrimusLabs, Santa Maria, Calif., the company is nearing third-party certification for all its avocado groves and crews, said Bill Brindle, Brooks’ vice president of sales management.

Brooks has conducted a pilot program for the Produce Traceability Initiative-compliant GS1-128 labels and the Global Trade Identification Numbers for case lots, Brindle said. Brooks is working with key retailers to ensure they meet buyers’ requirements.

“Theoretically, a lot is supposed to be done by the end of this year,” Brindle said. “But as I talk with people in the industry, most of them are in the position where we are, where they’re trying to figure out what needs to be done and the most efficient way to do it. When you do things like that, you really don’t want to have to do it twice. You don’t want to race out there first and do it one way when another big retailer tells you to do it a different way. You don’t want to be in a position where you’ve already invested in it and find out it has to be done differently.”

J&C Tropicals, Miami, is working with Primus to have its groves certified.

“We expect to achieve certification by August,” said Jeanette Rodriguez, J&C’s vice president of marketing. “We are shooting for PrimusGFS, the industry’s highest standard or benchmark, with worldwide certification.”

J&C is seeking dual certification of its harvest and packinghouse crews, Rodriguez said.



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