Berry, greenhouse growers work on food safety

The California Strawberry Commission is in the midst of its second food safety risk assessment.

The Packer reports the commission itself — not third-party auditors — is doing the assessment, following the harvest gradually from south to north. The work began in late 2011, and should be completed sometime this year.

Groups like Ontario greenhouse veggie growers require that all members must pass an annual third-party food safety audit.

Third-party audits alone can be a useful tool but not enough. Some individual greenhouse operations participate in additional auditing and traceability schemes, but not everyone; and any commodity is only as good as its worst grower.

The California strawberry types are focusing on field issues such as water, wildlife, compost and labor because there are the major potential sources of foodborne illness singled out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others.

Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the Watsonville-based commission, said, “We have a hand-harvested crop, so we’re dependent on making sure farm workers who are the last people to touch strawberries before consumers do are aware they have a real important step in the food safety process.”

The same group of commission representatives is doing the assessment in every region of the state.

On its website, the commission recently expanded its food safety section at www.calstrawberry.com/members/fsp.asp.

The commission is also working with berry growers in Oregon and Washington to support their efforts in food safety education.

Following a deadly E. coli outbreak in July 2011 that was the result of a deer incursion in an Oregon strawberry field, growers in the state decided to take preventive measures in preparation for the 2012 season.

Laura Barton, trade development manager with the Oregon Department of Agriculture said, “It doesn’t matter what size grower is involved. It only takes one berry to impact the entire industry. One of the challenges we identified when we started talking about this was how to find all of the smaller growers. It’s not like there is a list.”