With the California Marketing Agreement deadline looming, it is time to focus on the next step. And that must be the processors themselves.
It is probably true, as the FDA stated in its report, that the E coli. 0157:H7 did in fact come from a field. It is simply terrific that we have so many initiatives designed to improve food safety at the grower level.
However, there is no reason to believe that any of these efforts will be 100% effective.
Therefore, we must operate on the assumption that “dirty” product will be delivered into processing plants — sometimes with E. coli 0157:H7 — and that it is the job of the processing plants to get it clean.
We ran an excellent letter on the subject some time ago from Dr. Karl Kolb of the High Sierra Group, entitled Pundit’s Mailbag — Farmers Are Not The Cause Of Food Safety Problems.
Certainly, as we need new GAP documents, we need new Good Manufacturing Practices documents that are, as the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative requested of grower standards, “specific, measurable and verifiable.”
But we really don’t have to wait. The British Retail Consortium standards are commonly perceived as first rate for a processing facility. Why don’t our processors make sure they are audited to these world class standards right now?
When new GMPs are developed, meeting world class standards will only put processors one step ahead on meeting these new standards.
And buyers, constricting the supply chain isn’t only important as it relates to growers; it is probably more important as it relates to processors. Start pushing your vendors to move toward a BRC audit.
The big danger of the CMA is that now that it is up and running, everyone will think their job is done.
We have to deal with grower standards for next year, nationalizing the grower standards, establishing processor standards and work on tomatoes, green onions, melons and berries.
Processors are job one: if you look at the beef industry, you will see the big changes are in the processing plants, not on the ranch. In the end the produce industry is unlikely to be different.