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    Why Small Grower Food Safety Matters

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob”.  Today I’d like to welcome PMA’s Director of Food Safety and Technology, Johnna Hepner, to talk about the intersection of two very hot topics.  Johnna, small family farms are the life’s blood of our industry and with the buy local trend many small growers are getting a renewed shot in the arm. However, as we’ve seen increasing focus on produce food safety, many small growers feel they’re being pressed to do something that is overwhelming.

    Yes Julia, that’s right. The focus on local sourcing is definitely shining a spotlight on smaller growers — and with that spotlight has come discussion over whether they should be required to comply with federal food safety measures.

    So Johnna, are food safety and small grower two mutually exclusive terms?

    Some might think so, Julia. In fact, it has been suggested that small farms should be exempted from some of the food safety legislation currently being debated by Congress. But that’s not in anyone’s best interest, and especially not that of the small grower. Small growers as well as large ones all have sound reasons for ensuring they have the most up-to-date food safety practices.

    Well, why should the food safety rules have to apply to small growers?

    First of all, we can’t say that small growers don’t cause foodborne illness outbreaks. The identified causes of produce-related outbreaks, like field-level contamination or contaminated inputs like water, don’t discriminate between small or large producers. And even now, smaller outbreaks could be slipping under the radar, since it typically takes a critical mass of illnesses to catch the public health community’s eye.  Currently about 70 percent of reported foodborne illnesses are never linked to a specific source.

    And where are buyers on this?

    Johnna :
    The reality is that the market is another real driver for this. Most buyers already require their produce suppliers to have food safety programs, and to be audited. If you want to sell your goods to the retail or foodservice market, you will be required to address food safety – buyers won’t risk anything less. So if small growers don’t comply with all the accepted standards, it could actually result in potential business being closed to them.

    So, small growers should be included. But how do they get started, if they haven’t started already?

    It starts with the risk assessment and risk management process, Dr. Bob has spoken extensively about this in previous posts. Since the food safety net can’t have any holes in it and nobody wants to risk their farm or harm consumers, all producers must use baseline standards to conduct risk assessments – and then minimize the risks those assessments expose.

    The good news is that food safety programs and costs are scalable. As a small grower, you’ll probably face lower food safety costs than a larger grower. For example, you likely have fewer water sources, less acreage, fewer products produced – and fewer buyers requiring audits.

    Where can they get help if they need it?

    You can start right here with this blog, which contains a wealth of information on understanding and implementing food safety. And PMA members have access to our food safety staff, which include top-level subject matter experts who understand our industry and can really help deliver real-world solutions. We’re accessible to you.  And finally, the PMA-founded Center for Produce Safety is a tremendous source of ongoing food safety research and information. Their website is cps.ucdavis.edu.

    Last but not least is the local grower food safety workshop series that PMA is putting on with Sysco Corporation, I discussed this in a previous post.

    I think we all agree that our first commitment must always be to protect consumers. PMA is committed to working with our industry’s small and local growers to ensure that you too can thrive and grow in this new reality.

    Absolutely! Thank you Johnna.

    Listeners, you can learn more about food safety topics at AskDrBob.pma.com. Thanks for joining us!

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