With new federal rules fast approaching and produce recalls causing a domino effect nationwide, New Jersey growers are ramping up their food safety certifications and plans.
The state’s produce industry leaders are designating staff members to make sure their companies meet the requirements under the Food Safety and Modernization Act, which has many rules going into effect sooner rather than later.
Consalo Family Farms, Vineland, N.J., is audited by Primus GFS, which is recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative. Chelsea Consalo, vice president of produce operations, is charged with keeping the business adhering to all the food safety guidelines.
Sunny Valley International, Glassboro, N.J., requires all its suppliers to participate in third-party food safety audits that meet GFSI standards.
The marketing company works closely with each supplier to develop, implement and improve food-safety programs.
There are two staff members whose job duties include training suppliers on food safety initiatives, said Bob Von Rohr, marketing director.
The company also works to meet Produce Traceability Initiative guidelines.
Flaim Farms, Vineland, N.J., started putting traceability stickers on both its pallets and boxes, especially on romaine, said Ryan Flaim.
“It says when it was harvested, who picked it and the irrigation well number,” Flaim said.
“We’re doing that now to sell the product and make retailers feel better about it.”
Some farms use independent auditing companies that do site visits to help, and the state department of agriculture also has several similar programs.
It’s a nearly two-decade practice.
At the turn of the century, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, in collaboration with Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, developed the first statewide third-party audit system in the U.S. to help growers evaluate their operations for food safety.
This system was incorporated into the United States Department of Agriculture’s Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices Audit Verification Program.
Each grower is responsible for creating a food safety plan, according to FSMA.
Once growers do a self-evaluation and modify their food safety plans as needed, the Rutgers station can review their food safety plans and facilities prior to the third-party audit.
Many growers in New Jersey have the NJDA’s auditors perform the audit. Once the audit is successfully completed, the grower receives a certificate.
Rutgers station and the state department have trained more than 3,300 people since 1999 on food safety, third-party audits and train-the-trainer sessions, as well as developing manuals.
Still, the 2018 food safety romaine lettuce recalls in California have had a ripple effect on the market in the Northeast, regardless of whether consumers were in danger.
The Jersey Fresh program has long kept its members vigilant on this issue, said Tom Beaver, director of marketing for the state’s agriculture department.
“It was horrible when we couldn’t get the greens into hands last year, because we could identify they were all safe,” said New Jersey secretary of agriculture Douglas Fisher.