Companies on the buy side of produce must have a commitment to food safety that permeates their organizations, ensuring that buyers on the desk share the same commitment as corporate VPs.
Buyers must show the same diligence and care in buying every case of produce, no matter whether it’s from a year-round major supplier or a local supplier who can only serve a few stores for a few weeks in the summer.
Our industry faces some terribly difficult challenges because we don’t have that magic bullet of a kill step that would prevent illness on those rare occasions when bacteria get onto our products.
My friends in the meat industry have a much greater incidence of raw product contamination than we do.
But they have the luxury of cooking their hamburgers.
When we add fresh lettuce, tomatoes and onions to that burger, we need to be 100% safe, 100% of the time.
For fresh produce, our only answer is a supply chain equally focused on food safety at every level of the business.
If there is a silver lining in the dark clouds we’ve experienced as an industry this summer, I hope that it refocuses every company on its own personal responsibilities.
We each have a critical role to play, and that must be our commitment every day, with every case of produce.
We won’t prevent foodborne illness by pointing fingers at each other. Our only hope is to work together.
Tom Stenzel is president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
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