When Steve Patricio says “bean-counting computer jockeys” frequently hamper food safety efforts, some might think he doesn’t have much respect for certified public accountants.
That’s not the case: Patricio is a CPA, as are his sons Garrett and Blake.
Courtesy Westside ProduceSteve Patricio, Westside Produce However, when Patricio put his knack for numbers to work in 1976 as chief financial officer for Tri Produce, Firebaugh, Calif., he quickly came to understand food safety isn’t an optional cost.
“I grabbed onto food safety issues early in my career,” said the co-founder of Firebaugh-based Westside Produce and chairman of the Center for Produce Safety advisory board. “I saw an absence of knowledge in the produce industry and the scientific community.”
By the mid-1980s, Patricio acquired the hat of melon manager in addition to his duties as CFO for Tri Produce. He said when the cantaloupe industry was virtually shut down in 1991 because of outbreaks related to fruit from Mexico that had been top-iced in Texas, he knew something had to be done.
“I vowed to do whatever I could to keep that from happening again,” he said.
As it turns out, he could do quite a bit, and while he was doing it he found the time to co-found Westside Produce. Today the company ships up to 6,000 acres of cantaloupes annually.
Working with the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, the California Melon Research Board and researchers at the University of California-Davis, Patricio helped develop guidelines and best practices for the commodity.
“The industry was very supportive,” Patricio said. “It changed how we did business in California.”
When the Center for Produce Safety was founded and housed at UC-Davis, it was natural for Patricio, who turns 60 on Nov. 4, to become involved.
Now, as chairman of the center’s advisory board, he works to disseminate food safety information outside the confines of California.
“Steve shows endless passion to have a produce industry that provides a quality and safe product each and every day of the year,” said Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, executive director of the center. “He has been a visionary in food safety.”
Part of that vision means looking at things some in the industry would rather ignore.
“Steve never allowed the California melon industry and cantaloupe handlers to be complacent in dealing with food safety, despite the absence of outbreaks from California fruit,” said Trevor Suslow, an extension researcher for UC-Davis and a volunteer at the Center for Produce Safety.