IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Florida grower-shippers keep close eyes on food safety developments affecting their industry.
For years, they have been improving and documenting safety practices on their farms and packing operations.
Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade, isn’t remaining still on the food safety issue and has moved forward on traceability.
The co-op has implemented the Food Marketing Institute’s Safe Quality Food Institute program.
Adopting the program last year, the co-op began at Level 3, the highest level an organization can achieve, said James Jacks, Pioneer’s vice president of research and development and quality assurance.
“Everyone is asking you to go to SQF,” Jacks said. “All of our farms scored excellent. We are quality-conscious in everything we do. It has been a little difficult at times, but it’s something everyone understands that this is the way to go.”
Pioneer, Jacks said, is working on field and packinghouse traceability, having conducted pilot programs in its Bainbridge, Ga., corn and beans operation.
High pressure water in the hydrocooling process can pull labels off the wooden crates, creating a potential bottleneck with traceback of corn.
Pioneer, however, has found a way of performing traceback without losing the traceability capability, Jacks said.
“We don’t want to wait for the government to tell us we have to do it (traceability) and have no experience in it,” Jacks said. “We want all the experience we can get so when they say ‘go’, we will be ready.”
Greg Cardamone, general manager of eastern vegetables for L&M Cos., Raleigh, N.C., said the grower-shipper has moved from third-party audits to SQF certification for its Georgia and Florida operations.
It has its Moultrie, Ga., and Immokalee, Fla., packinghouses SQF-certified.
“We feel that was the next step and a step necessary to take to increase our awareness around the food safety and to show a commitment to our customers that we’re not just satisfied with the status quo,” Cardamone said. “We heard in the industry that getting the SQF certification would be key to moving forward.”
Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee, hired a full-time food safety staffer during the spring of 2008.
Kiley Harper-Larsen is director of compliance and safety for Branch Inc. and Branch grower R.C. Hatton Farms Inc.
Harper-Larsen formerly worked as a faculty member with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ and Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension.