(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 13) SAVANNAH, Ga. — Southeastern growers heard the latest on how the recently passed food safety legislation will be enacted and how the timeline for implementation could affect them during the 2011 Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference Jan. 6-9 at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center.
The show, in its 13tth year, has also attracted record grower attendance.
Charles Hall, executive director of show co-sponsor Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, La Grange, said 2,300 growers, shippers, industry people and others participated, up from the 2,205 that attended last year’s show.
“We are ahead of last year and have had strong on-site registration,” he said. “The traffic on the trade show has been really good.”
During a Jan. 7 food safety conference, David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, outlined the timetable for what could happen when the Food and Drug Administration releases its produce rule.
“The regulation will have clear standards for all participants in the supply chain, from farm to market,” he said. “Every place not currently covered by a regulation will be covered by a regulation in regards to fresh produce. They’re wanting to seal the gaps. We will have standards, in that ‘this is what you have to do to be compliant’. They will be performance-oriented standards, hopefully, rather than numbers.”
Gombas said the FDA plans to write the rule this year and allow for 30-120 days of public comment after publishing it in the Federal Register. He said growers should expect a final rule to be issued in 2012 or 2013 and allow large companies a year and smaller operations two years to comply with the regulations.
Teri Miller, category manager for Food Lion LLC, Salisbury, N.C., said the chain works closely with its grower-shipper suppliers to implement Produce Traceability Initiative-compliant GS1-128 labels and Global Trade Identification Numbers for their case lots.
“We are not going to make it hard on you and make you comply with the milestones,” she said. “We want you to understand we are working on this. You walk me through your process, and I’ll walk you through ours’. What’s best for Shuman Bros. may not necessarily be best for B.C. Hot House. What’s best for To-Jo Mushroom may be completely different from the citrus industry. Let’s get together and work through this. We will do whatever we need to support that.”
Mark Shuman, general manager of Vidalia and sweet onion grower-shipper Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, who imports Peruvian onions through the Port of Savannah, said human error remains the biggest challenge growers experience in implementing a food safety program for packaged produce.
“It’s not just about making the delivery,” Shuman said. “It’s about empowering your retail partner to push that product through their store and to be able to gain an increase in their business and get their customer back in that store again the next week so we can have the P.O. again the next week and the week after that. That’s what the Produce Traceability Initiative does for us: it builds a level of trust and confidence.”
The yearly North American Raspberry & Blackberry Conference also met in conjunction with the Savannah meeting which was co-sponsored by the South Carolina Peach Council.