Local suppliers can't treat produce as a hobby - The Packer

Local suppliers can't treat produce as a hobby

10/26/2012 10:59:00 AM
Greg Johnson

As Americans, we like to root for the underdog.

Politicians have tapped into that essence in this election season, lowering debate expectations, running as outsiders whenever possible.

Greg Johnson, EditorEven Yankee fans began to turn on their team in the playoffs, perhaps seeing what the rest of the nation sees: rich, spoiled mercenaries against the upstart Orioles and then Tigers.

I’ve always thought an unspoken appeal of local food has been supporting the underdog.

Sure, we like to think we’re helping the environment when we buy local, but only a small fraction of the energy spent getting fresh fruits and vegetables into our homes is in transportation.

We like the concept of the small grower.

When the Food Safety Modernization Act passed Congress in late 2010, there wasn’t much consumer fuss about the so-called Tester Amendment, which exempted small farms (those with annual sales under $500,000) from some food safety requirements.

The little guys need help against the bigger guys, after all.

But lately, I can’t help but feel like the little guy is letting us all down.

While we see reports seemingly every week about produce recalls from established national companies, they’re usually accompanied by the phrase “no illnesses have been reported,” meaning the food safety system is working pretty well and potentially tainted product is being removed.

But the past two years, many of the outbreaks with illnesses and deaths have been from small farms.

Last summer we had Colorado’s Jensen Farms with cantaloupes and organic sprouts from a small farm in Germany leading to deaths. This year, a local Indiana cantaloupe outbreak caused illnesses and deaths.

No company wants to get involved in a food safety outbreak.

But some do a better job of staying out of them or quickly containing them.

As my father used to tell us kids when we’d have a careless accident and explain that we didn’t mean to, he’d always respond, “You didn’t mean NOT to.”

Chamberlain Farms outbreak

Not to pick on Chamberlain Farms of Owensville, Ind., but the most recent outbreak in the produce industry could have been avoided.

After last summer’s deadly outbreak from Colorado, cantaloupe industry leaders organized a January meeting and they later settled on cantaloupe-specific good agricultural practices.

They were non-binding, and clearly Chamberlain Farms did not follow them.

Indiana Health Department officials reported “alarming findings” in an October report on the farm. Among the violations were standing water in the shed and on equipment; porous wood and carpet on food-contact surfaces; leaking water valves and pipes; and no testing or records of monitoring chlorine in the wash water.

Prev 1 2 Next All

Comments (1) Leave a comment 

e-Mail (required)


characters left

Garland Jaeger    
Los Angeles, CA  |  November, 01, 2012 at 03:40 PM

I couldn't agree with you more Greg! The majority of negative environmental impacts occur during production-not transportation. Therefore the argument about "food miles" is becoming less relevant. The key seems to be ensuring that all produce, grown locally as well as internationally, is grown with the highest production quality standards possible. The more we can work together throughout the supply chain, the better. The ultimate goal after all, is to increase more consumption. So consumers should feel confident that the produce they're buying, local or not, is a safe and healthy product.

Feedback Form
Leads to Insight