From small family farms to large corporate operations, potato growers and shippers in Idaho say they are working to meet Produce Traceability Initiative milestones.
However, many potato people in the state also say they have been able to trace their product — at the individual package level — for years.
Jamey Higham, vice president for business development and foodservice at Potandon Produce LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho, said the company is working diligently to meet the PTI milestones. Potandon is the exclusive provider of fresh potatoes for General Mills’ Green Giant Fresh brand.
“We already have third-party audits, and we are more compliant every day,” Higham said. “We can already trace our potatoes by package, and we have been able to for quite some time.”
At Pleasant Valley Potato Inc., Aberdeen, Idaho, four potato-growing families combined efforts years ago to operate a packing shed that handles russets grown on their farms. Ryan Whalen’s grandfather started the operation, and Ryan is now on the sales staff at Pleasant Valley.
“We know where our potatoes come from and where they go,” Wahlen said.
“Last year 100% of what we shipped we grew. This year it will be about 95%. We have been able to trace product for years at the box level, and now we are working toward traceability on individual consumer bags.”
Wahlen said the Pleasant Valley approach to food safety isn’t about the size of the operation. It’s about doing the right thing, which will benefit growers and consumers in the long run.
That very philosophy was the message from Dan Vache, vice president for supply chain management for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., when he addressed members of the Idaho Grower Shipper Association at its annual conference on Sept. 2. Vache is also a member of the PTI committee.
“Some of your companies are ahead of the curve,” Vache said. “For those who are not, we are here to help. The potato industry hasn’t had an incident yet, but food terrorism is a concern with all commodities.
“No one is going to come up to you and ask where you are at (with the PTI milestones) because it is a voluntary program. But there are people who can help you with it. Don’t over complicate it.”
At Rigby Produce Inc. in Rigby, Idaho, the Mickelsen family is on top of the situation. Bryan Mickelsen, general manager, said the company was adding GTINs on their cases.
The company is also in line to gain GSFI certification this year.
“We are ready to meet the next milestone,” Mickelsen said. “PTI is costing a little more than we anticipated, but we are doing it. We have always been able to trace our potatoes and onions, though.”