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  • Categories: Education Events, Food Safety, PMA Wednesday, October 05, 2011

    Fresh Summit Highlight: Small Growers and the Food Safety Modernization Act

    The focus on local sourcing is shining a spotlight on smaller and local growers. Yet the limelight brings with it an increasing need and ability to comply with food safety measures, presenting both opportunity and challenges for these same growers.  Likewise, produce buyers face multiple hurdles in putting together a fully-compliant food safety program incorporating local and small growers.

    Despite the apparent exemptions for small growers provided for in Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), small and local growers are not exempt in the eyes of the marketplace from having an effective and verifiable food safety program. All growers have sound reasons for ensuring they follow the most up-to-date food safety practices. Pathogens don’t discriminate based on size or location; therefore we all need to be focused on developing risk and science-based food safety programs. At a time when our country faces an obesity crisis and consumers and buyers are looking for both “local” and year round suppliers of safe produce, suppliers without adequate food safety programs could find themselves at a market disadvantage.

    This dilemma provides the motivation for the Small Growers & the Food Safety Modernization Act: Challenges & Workable Solutions seminar during PMA’s 2011 Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition, October 14 through 17 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The session is designed to provide a forum for smaller growers to talk about the opportunities and challenges they face in developing a food safety program.

    During this session, I will moderate a panel of small growers that will share their experiences in developing food safety programs. I’ve specifically asked them to talk about their motivations, the challenges they’ve faced and the opportunities they’ve encountered. With that base, we’ll then add a panel including retail and foodservice buyers along with food safety experts and regulatory officials to discuss integrating different size growers into a food safety plan. We’ll be able to share the panel’s perspective on how we might be more effective in creating inclusive food safety education, training and operational programs befitting small and local growers. 

    This session has also been developed so our industry can provide direct input to the FDA on the scalability of food safety programs. As the Food and Drug Administration proceeds with developing the rules and regulations to implement the FSMA, we have an opportunity as an industry to help them write informed rules while at the same time reach out to smaller and regional growers to help them build state of the art food safety programs.  Certainly, one thing we’ve learned over the last decade is that we are all in this together regardless of commodity, location or size of our production.  I look forward to a stimulating discussion during this session and hope to see many of you there.

    For more information on registering for Fresh Summit, or any of the workshops, please log onto our website www.pma.com and look for the Fresh Summit link under Events and Conferences.

    Categories: Food Safety, PMA Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    Real World, Hands-On Food Safety at Fresh Summit

    Food safety is a vital produce industry issue and will be a key theme of our educational programming at PMA’s 2011 Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition, October 14 through 17 in Atlanta, Georgia. I’d like to share some information about what we have planned this year to help you bring crucial food safety solutions back to your business.

    Food safety has evolved to the status of a top business function in our industry – just as important to the operation of the company as sales, production, or human resources. Many have heard me speak in the past to the importance of fully integrating food safety into the fabric of the company and executing it daily. Our learning lab on Food Safety and Crisis Management for Your Company is designed as a unique hands-on experience combining two critical perspectives on the importance of developing a comprehensive food safety program in your company.

    The session will incorporate experience from both the operational side of the industry as well as the scientific community to help participants explore why a food safety culture is essential to a company’s continued success. Through a series of exercises, attendees will identify real-world ways to address key food safety issues. In a unique feature of the session, PMA Chief Operating Officer Lorna Christie will share her crisis management expertise. Because even the best efforts may not prevent a crisis, every company should be prepared with a crisis management plan. Lorna will cover the elements of a good crisis management plan, gaps that may exist in your current plan and ideas to update it to “crisis plan 2.0.”

    Presentations will be given in a learning-lab environment, so come prepared to work. The session is designed to provide ample opportunity to use the presented information in a hands-on application via discussion groups. A series of exercises will help identify real-world ways to build this culture in your own business. Our goal is to stimulate thoughts and ideas you can take home to use in your company and give guidance on how to communicate your efforts to your customers, regulators and consumers.

    Another critical vault of information will be opened at the workshop Imagine That! Food Safety Research with Real World Business Solutions. As many already know, PMA founded the Center for Produce Safety along with Taylor Farms, the University of California at Davis, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture in late 2007. Since 2008, CPS has funded 55 research programs totaling $9.2 million. CPS has also now held two symposia, in 2010 and 2011, to present some of the initial research findings, and discuss them with growers, shippers, processors, regulators and members of the buying community. 

    However, funding food safety research in and of itself is not enough, the research must be translated into what it means for the people who need to use the data in building effective food safety programs. While the CPS symposia broke new ground in uniting leaders in academia, government, and from all levels of the produce supply chain in an interactive discussion of the research’s real-world opportunities, there is still room to grow. This Fresh Summit workshop will provide a great opportunity to highlight some of the significant CPS research results delivered thus far and talk about our key learnings. We’ll put this new research into laymen’s terms and outline business implications for suppliers and buyers resulting in research findings you can actually use.

    We’re on exciting new turf here as we utilize research specifically targeted to our industry’s needs. As I’ve said so often before, food safety is personal and customized — it’s not one size fits all. Participants in both these workshops should come prepared to think about this information as it relates to their specific operation and to embrace these discussions for the betterment of our business, our customers and our consumers. I look forward to some constructive interaction at both these sessions.

    For more information on registering for Fresh Summit, or any of the workshops, please log onto our website www.pma.com and look for the Fresh Summit link under Events and Conferences.

    Categories: Center for Produce Safety, Food Safety, Research Wednesday, May 04, 2011

    New Round of CPS Food Safety Research

    Meg Miller:
    Hello, this is PMA public relations manager Meg Miller, and welcome back to our audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob” with PMA’s Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. We have joining us special guest, Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, Executive Director of the Center for Produce Safety at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Bob chairs the center’s Technical Committee and is a member of the center’s Executive Committee. The CPS has just closed its 2011 request for food safety research proposals at the end of March.

    Bob, Bonnie, what should our listeners know about this new round of research request?

    First, Meg, let me set the stage…CPS and its partners sponsor research activities designed to fill basic knowledge gaps in specific areas of food safety practices for fruit, vegetable and tree nut production, harvest and post-harvest handling. The objective is to provide the produce industry with practical, translatable information that can be used at all levels throughout the supply chain. To date, CPS has funded 43 research projects with a total investment of nearly $6.8 million.

    That’s right Bob. Now, the center and its public and industry research partners are making $3 million available to fund general and commodity-specific projects to address additional food safety research needs in the fresh produce industry. It’s important to note that this is a global research effort. We want to reach out as widely as possible geographically. In the past we’ve had institutions in Israel and Canada doing some of the research.

    Bonnie, can you tell us what specifically the new funding request is looking for?

    The 2011 RFP seeks to fund both produce-general food safety questions and commodity-specific questions. Core research priorities for produce in general look to better understand risk potential and to develop more effective food safety management tools in the following areas:

    • The use and cultivation practices regarding compost, soil amendment and fertilizer,
    • Buffer zones for domesticated animals,
    • Co-management of food safety and the environment,
    • Water,
    • Harvest practices,
    • Post-harvest produce cooling methods,
    • Post-harvest transfer of pathogens via water used during handling and processing, and
    • The significance of “positive” product test results and actual capacity to cause illness.

    And, this RFP’s commodity-specific food safety research pertains to almonds, tree fruit, leafy greens, pistachios, strawberries tomatoes, and a number of different commodities.

    How did research priorities get set?

    The RFP’s general research priorities were identified in industry risk assessments and prioritized by the CPS Technical Committee, an independent advisory board including experts from industry, academia, government and nongovernmental organizations. That group revisits those priorities on an ongoing basis to ensure they main current. The commodity-specific research priorities were developed with industry partners. 

    The CPS Technical Committee and our research partners have a wealth of information to base decisions on. After the first CPS Symposium last year, we hosted an event with FDA to review the state of food safety knowledge in different areas.  That event gave us some ideas on where more research needed to be done. On top of that, both Bonnie and I talk with people throughout the course of the year and take this input to the CPS.  We also look back on what we’ve already funded, as well as research by others, to see if topics have been sufficiently covered or if more needs to be done. The program works very hard to stay current, be flexible, and ensure it addresses the most urgent food safety research needs and issues.

    When will these projects be implemented?

    Proposals were due the 31st of March, and we’ll be announcing the awarding of the projects in the fall of 2011. Projects are typically one to two years but some can be shorter.  We want to be flexible to ensure we accomplish whatever research needs to be done.

    These projects all have a pretty quick research time frame, and that indicates the practical focus of this research. We want to be very timely and very hands-on because we’re dealing with the issues growers and processors face every day.

    So how does all this research fit in with the real-world produce industry?

    Well, Meg, as CPS’ research programs mature, our projects represent a greater and greater part of the produce chain. We initially started with production, then added processing, and we’ll continue to identify needs further along the chain. 

    This is such an important concept. One thing the history of outbreaks in recent years has taught us, is that we’re all in this together. So, while research looking at the survival of pathogens in a field may not seem important to someone who runs a store or restaurant, it’s actually as crucial to them as it is to the grower.  People at all points of the supply chain are affected by food safety issues. The entire industry is indeed tied together, so research at all those various points is important.

    CPS also recognizes the need to evaluate research and determine when decisions can be made from the results. That’s where the CPS Symposium comes in and we’ll talk more about that next time.

    We will definitely look forward to it. Thank you Bonnie and Bob for sharing with us today how this next round of research is important to our industry. Listeners, for more information on the CPS research or the upcoming symposium, go to www.cps.ucdavis.edu.
    Thanks for joining us!