Food safety is serious business to anyone in the produce industry, but Florida avocado growers hope for some degree of uniformity in the requirements.
“The standards keep getting raised a little higher all the time, and you’re always recertifying at higher levels,” said Bill Schaefer, vice president of marketing for Fresh King Inc., Homestead, Fla.
Some new levels of certification come at the demand of government regulation or requirements. Others are spurred by customer demand.
High costs for safety
It’s a domino effect each time a new certification method enters the industry. Once one grower becomes certified at a new level, others are sure to soon follow in order to maintain competition and credibility in the market.
“All of our farms are certified at the farm and packing levels and are PTI-compliant. We have been for several years. Now it’s really just keeping up with whatever the current environment calls for,” said Jessie Capote, executive vice president for J&C Tropicals, Miami.
These multiple certifications come at a price. Certification costs quickly add up, as well as the expense of refiling the certification documents every year.
Growers hope to pass on some of those added costs to consumers at the retail level.
“We hope that people recognize and agree to pay a little more for safer, quality product,” Schaefer said.
A cycle of evolution
Despite growing costs, growers continue to improve safety.
Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, has third-party audits for safety in its packinghouse and distribution center. It plans to add audits for fields and harvesting crews soon, marketing director Mary Ostlund said in an e-mail.
New Limeco LLC, Princeton, Fla., is set for the 2012-13 season with a new labeling system provided by ScoringAg.
The record-keeping and traceback system will allow the company to trace its product from “farm to fork,” according to a company release.
“We’re applying food safety procedures in the groves and (with) harvesting crews,” packinghouse manager Charlie Caves said.
Those procedures include new hand-washing stations in groves and on trailers and a daily sanitizer to spray the bins, buckets and picking bags to help protect against contamination.
“We have several good agricultural practice forms that are filled out daily that include worker food safety training and what sprays and fertilizers are used,” Caves said. “We take water samples from our irrigation wells and test (them) at Primus Labs.”
These advances in food safety programs and technology can make it difficult for growers because they have to continually adapt their methods to suit changing needs and requirements.
What was acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow, which causes the cycle to continue evolving.
“It’s hard to know who is the right one to use, and different retailers require different kinds of certification. That drives cost,” Schaefer said.
“There’s nothing static about farming,” Capote said.