—Mario Estrada, Jr.
Food safety is one of the most important issues facing the produce industry today. What many may not realize is that when it comes to foodborne illnesses and food safety outbreaks, there is no difference between small and large farms or conventional and organic operations.
In 2011, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak occurred in strawberries from a small farm in the state of Oregon. It killed two people and sickened more than a dozen. Then just a few months later, one of the largest outbreaks ever occurred across multiple state lines—sadly, Listeria in cantaloupe killed 35 people and sickened 146.
Clearly, pathogens do not discriminate between small and large operations, meaning everyone needs to adopt and maintain Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) to keep consumers safe.
Produce associations, as well as academic, government, and private agencies have stepped up to help farmers take the necessary steps to pass the food safety audits buyers rightly require of their suppliers. Some states even offer partial reimbursement of auditing fees for farmers who complete and pass USDA GAP and Good Handling Practices audits. One great resource is the On-Farm Food Safety Project. This site helps farmers create a step-by-step, actionable food safety plan and provides the necessary forms and templates to download. Other informative websites include Primus Labs, UC Food Safety, United Fresh Produce Association (UFPA), and of course, the Produce Marketing Association (PMA).
Markon has long realized the seriousness of food safety. In fact, we were a forerunner within the produce industry—requiring all growers to meet strict requirements and submit documentation on an annual basis—before these issues became front page news. Now several of our members are taking it a step further by teaming up with the PMA to offer small farmer food safety workshops. Markon understands that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so we are working together with not just our own growers, but any and all farmers—to empower them with the tools they need to ensure that the fruits and vegetables going to consumers and restaurants are as safe as possible.
Remember, if you have any questions regarding foodborne illness or anything food safety-related, you can Ask a Food Safety Expert on the Markon website.