NAPLES, Fla. During the opening day of the Florida Joint Tomato Conference, participants heard how the state"s tomato good agricultural practices and tomato best management practices are helping ensure safe shipments.

Since implementation of TGAPS, tomatoes haven"t experienced any recalls or outbreaks, Keith Schneider, associate professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition with the Gainesville-based University of Florida"s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said during a Sept. 8 tomato safety session.

He also noted the Sept. 4 multi-state salmonella outbreak of Mexican cucumbers distributed by San Diego-based Andrew &amp Williamson Fresh Produce.

"All commodities are potential sources of foodborne illnesses," Schneider said. "No one"s exempt. There is the recall in cucumbers for salmonella. Even things not traditionally associated with foodborne outbreaks (are subject to recalls). Those can be problematic. But I think we"re getting better with tomatoes and the record of tomatoes clearly speaks to that."

In nine years of state tomato production inspections, the Tallahassee-based Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has issued 163 corrective actions, 120 failed audits and given 831 audit approvals, which means the farms and packinghouses passed the first time, said Steve Eguino, an agency certification specialist.

The average audit time is 3 1/2 hours and during the 2014-15 season, the agency conducted audits at 76 fields, five greenhouses, 81 packinghouses and 12 repacking operations, he said.

David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, gave an update on the Food Safety Modernization Act.

He discussed what could be included in the rules which are expected to be published Oct. 31 and stressed the importance of developing a recall plan.

"If you don"t have a recall plan to understand what will happen if FDA gives you that call and tells you they found salmonella in your product, if you don"t know what to say to FDA and media, what you will tell your customers and your employees, who will tell your customers, if don"t have that already, please go get it," he said. 

"I"m getting tired of talking with folks that don"t have it. They did a mock recall last year with an auditor and think that"s enough, but it"s like deer in the headlights. It will always be more expensive doing it that way than having one in advance."

Gombas said the tomato industry is already doing what the rules are expected to require and said he doesn"t think the industry has a lot to worry about when the final rules are published.

The Sept. 8-11 convention attracted around 400 participants, similar to last year, according to conference organizers.