BYRON CENTER, Mich. — Michigan growers are waiting, along with the rest of the country, to see what comes of food safety legislation and traceability initiatives in the works.
“We have not rushed to be in front because at one point we had five different retailers come to us with five different ways they wanted things done,” said Todd Miedema, director of marketing for Hudsonville-based Miedema Produce Inc. “If you jump on some of those things you can get going in the wrong direction.”
Miedema said the company is keeping up and will be ready, but that in this case, being first is not necessarily a good thing.
Fred Leitz Jr., a partner in Leitz Farms, Sodus, said his main concern with food safety is that some might be required to oblige, while some might be exempt.
“It really bothers me that they’re trying to give exemptions to small growers because a lot of small growers go right to the public,” Leitz said. “If they’re not up to the same standard and there’s a problem in a category, it affects the whole category.”
Leitz said he’s especially concerned for field-packed produce — especially tomatoes — that may not be run through a packinghouse at all for smaller, local growers.
“I know it’s harder for smaller growers to do it, and if there are grants or whatever that’s fine, but if we’ve got to do it everybody should have to do it.”
Leitz said his operation is looking into new software and hardware to help keep up with traceability standards.
“We’ve been case-stickering for three years, and we’ll individually sticker when the customer needs it,” Leitz said. “The problem is we’re such a short season here in Michigan, that’s a high expense for such a short season.”
Leitz said he’s waiting to see what happens with the Produce Traceability Initiative, but that he’s already started in with the Global Trade Identification Number process.
“The way we’re doing things now it’s costing me about 22 cents per package,” Leitz said. “If we go toward PTI, it’ll probably cost closer to 28 to 30 cents, and those costs always come back on the grower.”
Dave Miedema, president of E. Miedema & Sons Inc., said his company is down to case-level traceability for certain customers, and is doing regular mock recalls.
“There’s change going on all the time,” said Randy Vande Guchte, president of Hudsonville-based shipper Superior Sales Inc. “We prepare the grower to make sure they’re compliant in every category they need to be.”
As with growers across the country, the biggest challenge has been documentation, Vande Guchte said.