Food Safety: Protecting Consumers, Protecting Brands
June 15, 2016
The Acheson Group Lends Commodity Groups Food Safety-Based Brand Protection
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
With the overall importance of food safety, it's important that growers remain diligent in the enforcement of their food safety protocols. Dr. David Acheson is the Founder and CEO of The Acheson Group; a consulting firm for food and beverage companies as well as those who provide technical support to the food industry.
He noted that part of risk management is taking the particular commodity into account. Things like leafy greens and cilantro are examples of some of the more high-risk crops. One method of mitigating the risks involved is through the adoption of good agricultural practices. “That gets back to everything from controlling the quality of water that you’re using to irrigate, especially if its spray irrigation,” said Acheson.
Some other ways of lowering risk include making sure the equipment that’s being used is properly sanitized, checking for animal encroachment, as well as being mindful of the time it takes to get the product refrigerated after its been harvested. Acheson noted that, “as soon as you chop it out of the ground, you’ve got exposed surfaces and you’ve got pathogens where bugs can grow.”
Another area of vulnerability is making sure employees follow the established food safety protocols. Acheson said that when his firm is assessing the risk of an operation, “We’re always looking for, not only are you talking the talk, but are you walking the walk." Safety means relying on people to follow procedure, "Most companies have good policies and procedures written but do they translate in the fields? To the way the workers are operating?” Acheson said.
Ensuring that all of the safety measures come together in a coherent and effective way is the cornerstone to a successful agricultural operation. Acheson noted that, “The good operations, they’re going to walk the fields just before they harvest to look for any evidence of obvious animal encroachment and are continuing to watch as they move down through the field harvesting the product.”
One way the USDA has tried to limit the risk involved in one particular crop was through the adoption of the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement. “I think it was a great step forward,” said Acheson. “I mean, really what it was doing was codifying good agricultural practices in California.”
The agreement has been so successful; it was used as a template for the FDA's Produce Safety rule. By codifying good agricultural practices through the leafy green agreement, the FDA has taken it a step further with their increased area of jurisdiction. The “FDA has got global jurisdiction over leafy greens and produce that’s grown anywhere in the world that’s coming into commerce in the US,” said Acheson. “If you’re growing spinach in Salinas, or you’re growing spinach in Mexico, or anywhere in the world and you’re bringing it into the US to go into interstate commerce, you are required to follow the produce rule.”
Food safety is of great importance to farming operations of all sizes. “To me, no food company is too small to pay attention to food safety, they can’t.” said Acheson. He also noted that enforcement of safe handling practices is what sets some operations apart from others.
Acheson said, “That’s where you start to see the difference between the good ones and the not so good ones. Because the good ones will say, ‘this is a priority, we need to stop harvesting the rest of this field. It’s maybe 10 acres, but we’ve got to plow it under because we’ve got risks that we can’t control.’” Acheson continued, “That’s where you differentiate from the ones who will say, “well there’s ten acres, maybe we can use 9 of those acres and we’ll just plow under one acre of it.”
It all comes down to being diligent in the adherence to food safety directives. While it can sometimes be challenging for growers to always strictly abide by healthy agricultural practices, the alternative of being lax in enforcement could create dire consequences for not just an individual grower, but an entire commodity group.