Berry growers implementing new traceability procedures

07/22/2010 01:59:42 PM
Susie Cable

Food safety and traceability are complex issues for the produce industry. Berry grower-shippers said they are at various stages of implementing new procedures.

The Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission trains crew supervisors on food safety with its strawberry-specific program and tools for harvest workers, said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director. She said the commission trained nearly 1,800 people, or about 80% of the industry, during the past 14 months. The commission had held 32 workshops as of early July.

The commission’s study guide is low-tech: It consists of a binder with a flip chart of illustrations accompanied by English and Spanish explanations.

Lessons include hand hygiene, safe harvest practices and biosecurity. The program earned the commission an Innovation in Training award in April from NSF International, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Red Blossom Farms, Santa Ynez, Calif., has a fulltime team of inspectors and managers guiding it in industry food safety and traceability initiatives and keeping its protocols updated, efficient and effective, said Michelle Deleissegues, director of marketing.

This year, the company is adding an additional audit for Global Food Safety Initiative standards to its existing general audits conducted by Primus Labs for all of its products and growers.

Red Blossom labels its clamshells with encoded stickers identifying grower, ranch, crew and pick date. Consumers can access the information online.

Within the past year, Red Blossom added a Google Earth option to the consumer traceback website so consumers can see a photo of the ranch where the berries were picked, Deleissegues said.

Watsonville-based California Giant Inc. in January hired its first full-time food safety manager, Eric Valenzuela, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing. Valenzuela works in the fields to ensure compliance with food safety policies and serves as a proactive resource for the company’s growers, Jewell said.

“We think when it comes to food safety and traceability, we would rather spend most of our efforts on prevention and good practices, so you never have to implement a traceability program,” Jewell said.

California Giant does have a traceback program for all of its blueberries, Jewell said, and last year it began piloting the HarvestMark program from Redwood City, Calif.-based YottaMark for its strawberries.

Implementing the traceback system for blueberries was easier because they are shed-packed, instead of field-packed as strawberries are.


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