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The U.S. consumer enjoys what is widely believed to be the safest supply of fresh produce in the world but more precise means of detecting food-borne pathogens and increased emphasis on regulations are increasing pressure on growers, shippers, packers and others in the industry to decrease potential for contamination.
“We have very safe produce,” said Ray Prewett, president, Texas Citrus Mutual and executive vice president of the Texas Vegetable Association, “but we also know that one bad incident can wreck the whole industry, as happened with spinach back in 2006.”
That increased scrutiny, including the recently passed Food Safety Modernization Act and a National Leafy Greens Market Agreement, which is currently under a 90-day comment period, prompted the Texas produce industry to sponsor, along with a number of state and national associations and Texas state agencies, to hold a Texas Food Safety Conference recently in Austin.
“”The conference was very timely,” Prewett said. “The Food Safety Modernization Act is a game-changer for the produce industry. It will take a year or more to write the rules so it was a good time to get together with folks in all segments of the produce industry and collect information and prepare for the changes.”
He said the conference also allows industry representatives to prepare comments to submit regarding the national Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
“Also, we want growers and packers to come away from this conference with some practical tools they can use. We focused on some of the major things folks have to deal with on a daily basis, things like water, animal intrusions, soil borne pathogens, and field worker training in proper sanitation practices.
“We wanted to give folks the opportunity to get into the details of what they need to be preparing for.”
Prewett said he was pleased with the response to the conference. “This was a good first step,” he said.