Mandatory practices help ensure safer results

08/31/2012 09:33:00 AM
Tom Karst

While buyers may demand third-party audits, GFSI certification and PTI compliance from California and Arizona producers, those same receivers seem to be sourcing from other local marketers with no food safety programs whatsoever in place.

Likewise, Steve Patricio, president of Firebaugh, Calif.-based Westside Produce and chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, Dinuba, told me the “buy side” has dropped the ball in recent food safety outbreaks.

Too much faith has been put in procurement partners who haven’t done due diligence in regard to food safety issues, he told me.

Are some buyers trading food safety assurances for lower delivered costs? Are retailers so captured by the romantic vision of local producers that they are willing to overlook insufficient and sketchy production and handling practices?

I’m sure no retailer would want to agree to that characterization. But foodborne outbreaks continue to occur and more must be done to prevent them.

Can buyers and sellers of a particular commodity create a fraternity of those who always adhere to food safety principles and only do business with only those who do as well?

Can that “quality-checked” program also deliver traceability compliance?

A solution like that must be considered.

While local producers of fruits and vegetables will always have roadside stands and farmers markets to sell to, only those with an appropriate level of food safety and traceback capabilities should be trusted with supplying the commercial food system.

I was interested to read recently that Japanese retailers are increasing marketing of private-label fresh vegetables by investing in their own farming operations and also by entering into direct contracts with growers.

One of the advantages cited for retailers trying that approach in the story from the Daily Yomiuri was the ability to tout food safety attributes of private-label produce.

I don’t think retailers in the U.S. are inclined to invest in lettuce or melon fields, but they may give it more than a passing thought if the industry cannot together make final progress toward food safety and traceability compliance.

For the industry it should be GAPs, PTI, taxes and death, and preferably in that order.

tkarst@thepacker.com

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