KINGSVILLE, Ontario Greenhouse growers in Ontario have one thing in common with virtually every other segment of the fresh produce industry in North America: They are waiting on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration"s produce rule that was due out Jan. 4.
In the meantime, other requirements are already in place north of the border, such as the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association rule that all members must pass an annual third-party food safety audit. Canadian regulations mandate that the growers belong to the association, so they have little choice regarding the audits.
George Gilvesy, general manager of the Leamington-based association, said Ontario greenhouse vegetable growers also have the Regulatory Cooperation Council watching their operations.
Early this year the council announced harmonization of food safety practices. About 70% of the vegetables grown in Ontario"s greenhouses are exported to the U.S., according to the association"s annual report.
Also, most of the Ontario growers are certified by the Safe Quality Food Institute, including Erie James Limited in Leamington, Ontario.
Stephanie Lariviere, regulatory manager for Erie James, said 2012 marks the fourth year the company has been SQF-certified.
Lariviere said Erie James is also participating in the Produce Traceability Initiative, which Jim DiMenna, president of Kinsgville, Ontario-based JemD Farms, said is just good business.
DiMenna is one of the few Canadians involved in the PTI organization. He is on the PTI leadership council and three JemD employees are involved with working groups.
DiMenna said his company"s operations in Mexico have been practicing traceability for two years. They shipped about 8 million cases from Mexico in the past year.
Food safety protocols at Ontario"s greenhouses range from hand sanitizer dispensers at the end of every row to avoid plant-to-plant cross-contamination and sterilization processes using dry ice, said Jay Colasanti, sales and marketing representative at Nature Fresh Farms, Leamington.
At Westmoreland Sales, Leamington, home to the Top Line brand, sales consultant Dino DiLaudo said GFS1 audits are the norm and the company is considering stepping up some farms to higher standards.
"If you are on top of the biological controls that you should be to operate a greenhouse, meeting the food safety requirements aren"t that difficult because you are already doing what you should be," DiLaudo said.
Clifford Produce is also stepping up food safety efforts, said Jennifer Selwood, sales coordinator. Based in Ruthven, Ontario, Clifford is GFS- and Primus-certified, but Selwood said the company is moving toward the next level with its traceability program.
"And we are waiting on the new rule to come out in the states," Selwood said.
Another Ontario greenhouse expanding its food safety efforts is Pure Hot House Foods Inc., Leamington, which is home to the Pure Fresh brand. The company created the new position of food safety director and hired Bob Donckers in February to fill it.