Prince: Produce industry has responsibility for food safety

Too much food safety knowledge has been lost in the industry, too many good people have left.

That, or something like it, is what Gale Prince told me the last time we chatted during breakfast at some hotel near Nashville as part of the Bite Me ’09 tour when I asked, why are there so many outbreaks from food firms audited by third parties?

Gale, longtime food safety honcho at Kroger and a past-president of the International Association of Food Protection (it may have been IAMFES back then), told the Texas Food Safety Conference in Austin the U.S. produce industry has “a moral and legal responsibility” to do what’s right for consumers.

“Things that have never been a problem before are now.” Salmonella and allergen identifications have increased. “In 2010, 72 percent (of contamination issues) were related to Salmonella. Allergen incidents have tripled.”

He says 94 percent of produce recalls involve microbiological contaminants with more than 60 percent of those identified as Salmonella. “In the ‘60s, when I started my career, we found Salmonella in eggs. Now it’s common in many products.”

Prince, president of SAGE, a food safety consulting firm, also said,

“Management must be committed to food safety. You cannot delegate your responsibility to regulatory and customs inspections.”

The key for produce companies and producers is “back to basics. Follow good agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices. Know the product and processes and maintain facilities and equipment.

“Don’t take food safety for granted,” he says. “We can’t tolerate complacency in food safety.”