Food safety dominates first day of Florida tomato conference

Doug Ohlemeier of The Packer writes that during the opening day of the Florida Joint Tomato Conference, participants heard how the state’s tomato good agricultural practices and tomato best management practices are helping ensure safe shipments.

tomatoSince implementation of TGAPS, tomatoes haven’t experienced any recalls or outbreaks, Keith Schneider, associate professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition with the Gainesville-based University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said during a Sept. 8 tomato safety session.

He also noted the Sept. 4 multi-state salmonella outbreak of Mexican cucumbers distributed by San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce.

“All commodities are potential sources of foodborne illnesses,” Schneider said. “No one’s exempt. There is the recall in cucumbers for salmonella. Even things not traditionally associated with foodborne outbreaks (are subject to recalls). Those can be problematic. But I think we’re getting better with tomatoes and the record of tomatoes clearly speaks to that.”

In nine years of state tomato production inspections, the Tallahassee-based Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has issued 163 corrective actions, 120 failed audits and given 831 audit approvals, which means the farms and packinghouses passed the first time, said Steve Eguino, an agency certification specialist.

The average audit time is 3 1/2 hours and during the 2014-15 season, the agency conducted audits at 76 fields, five greenhouses, 81 packinghouses and 12 repacking operations, he said.

David Gombas, senior vce president of food safety and technology for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said, “I’m getting tired of talking with folks that don’t have it. They did a mock recall last year with an auditor and think that’s enough, but it’s like deer in the headlights. It will always be more expensive doing it that way than having one in advance.”