Food Safety Inspections Coming

Operations with More than $500,000 Are First

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Shelly Phillips is with the CDFA’s Produce Safety Program and supervises four inspectors with the eventual hiring of six more. She spoke about what to expect during a food safety inspection of farm operations at the recent Safe Food Alliance Conference in Monterey.

“These will not be surprise inspections. We will be calling and letting growers know that we want to inspect the operation and scheduling an appointment,” Phillips said.

From that point, an inspector will be following up with the farmer with logistic questions such as: “What are you growing?”, “When are you harvesting?”, and “What is the best time in terms of coming out to the operation?”

The goal is to have the inspection be collaborative between the farmer and inspector. It needs to be done during harvesting and handling conditions.

If an operation is unwilling or unresponsive, there could be an unannounced inspection.

“If we have called a grower three or four times and there are no return calls, and we have tried to reschedule multiple times, we may do an unannounced inspection because there might be a reason for the push back,” Phillips explained.

Also, if there are uncorrected produce safety issues, there could be an unannounced follow-up inspection.

“This will happen if we have been out to a farm under an announced inspection and there have been corrective actions that need to be observed, and there needs to be a follow-up; then there could be an unannounced inspection,” Phillips said. “We can also come out in response to a complaint or a foodborne outbreak investigation.”

Arriving On The Farm

“Let’s say the inspector arrives on a Tuesday … his or her identification will be shown, as well as a notice of inspection,” Phillips said. “They will want to speak to someone who is directly in charge. That person will be a farm manager or food safety manager, instead of someone not responsible for anything on a day-to-day basis.”

The inspector will explain the scope of the inspection based on what the grower is doing on the operation.

“If the grower is harvesting or packing, then we will be looking at that. We also want to see the grower training, [and] health and hygiene records.”

There is no set time length for the inspections, as it will depend on the size of the farming operation, as well as what the farm has prepared ahead of time for the inspector. Being prepared means having all food safety records available, and knowing where all water sources are. Also, if there are many observations that need to be corrected, then that could extend the inspection time.

Food Safety in the Field and Post Harvest

Farmers See Food Safety As Critical

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

There was a recent panel discussion at the Safe Food of California Convention on how to keep food safe in the field and post-harvest. Tom Jones, senior director of analytic services with the Safe Food Alliance, stated that microbial food safety is being looked at to see what the key factors are.

The morning session was focused on getting the essential points of microbial food safety, such as what to worry about, key parameters to minimize the chance of contamination, and chemical contaminants.

“California agriculture is involved in growing crops for around the world, and so there are other concerns that we have to think about, such as pesticides or mycotoxins, where regulations might be different in different countries,” Jones said.

The Safe Food Alliance has to think about what products the consumer, customers, and buyers are looking for.

Innovative ideas like Blockchain are being used to keep food safe by tracking information.

“There are alternative treatments to traditional thermal processes that maintain the freshness of the food and its nutritional quantity, but [are] also able to destroy the pathogens,” Jones said.

Experts in Sacramento are advocating for food safety every day. They also advocate for agriculture and the challenges faced both domestically and internationally.

“We talked about everything from the challenges of Immigration and Labor to proposition 65 toxins regulations, the current trade disputes internationally, and how those are impacting California agriculture,” Jones said.

CDFA To Hold Good Ag Neighbors Workshops

Workshop Designed for Produce Growers and Livestock Areas to Promote Food Safety

News Release

In order to facilitate dialogue between different sectors of California agriculture about cooperation to prevent future foodborne illness outbreaks, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is partnering with the University of California and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring the livestock and produce communities together for a series of workshops.

The workshops, titled Good Ag Neighbors, are designed for fruit and vegetable growers, livestock owners, and others interested in learning about how produce safety and livestock management practices can work jointly to promote food safety.

The workshops will be held in two California locations, with the first scheduled for June 11 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville. The second workshop is scheduled for June 13 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Robert J Cabral Ag Center in Stockton.

“Agriculture is complex,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “This is particularly true in California, where diverse agricultural operations often exist side-by-side, with each of them required to comply with a myriad of regulations designed to protect the public, the environment, and the food supply.”

Karen Ross, CDFA Secretary
Karen Ross, CDFA Secretary

Diversity is extremely important to the fabric of California agriculture. Also important is open communication channels between diverse partners. This has become more apparent with the CDFA’s newly created Produce Safety Program, which is working on behalf of the U.S. FDA to enforce produce safety regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The workshops will address lessons learned from recent investigations of produce-related foodborne illness outbreaks, examine key research findings, and consider future research needs.

The workshops are being conducted by the UC Davis Western Institute for Food Safety and Security and will include presentations by researchers and industry representatives. The day-long agenda will focus in the morning on reviewing regulations, laws, and practices already in place to protect food and environmental safety, while the afternoon will be spent in various breakout groups examining how these practices can be leveraged.

Participants should come prepared to share their experiences as well as their produce safety questions.

The workshops are offered free of charge. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.wifss.ucdavis.edu/good-ag-neighbors/.

Consumer Protection Is Top Priority for LGMA

New LGMA Irrigation Requirements Mean Heightened Food Safety Measures

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

As consumer protection continues to be a number one priority for producers, main pathogen routes are of the utmost importance for guaranteeing safety. The California Leafy Green Marketing Agency (LGMA) is a program that works to continually keep the lettuce industry safe and maintain confidence in food safety programs—but as pathogens begin to evolve, it takes a team effort to combat future threats.

Mike Villaneva, LGMA technical director, told California Ag Today, “It’s been a tough 18 months, and it’s the challenge with these outbreaks … we never really have a good answer about what happened and how it happened.”

In the leafy greens industry, water becomes a focal point in pathogen prevention. “We’ve got 12 years of testing water, and we’re pretty confident of water in the deep wells along the Central Coast, but down south is a different ballgame—that’s open surface water,” Villaneva said.

On April 19th, the LGMA board met and voted to strengthen mandatory food safety practices required on farms. One facet included prohibiting overhead irrigation 21 days prior to harvest unless the water is sanitized.

“They’re looking at some other potential testing and data that could lower that down to 14, but right now they’re sticking with the 21 overhead,” Villaneva said.

The California Leafy Green Marketing Agency continues to show their commitment to ensuring a safe, stable food supply through foodborne illness prevention. More information about the program can be found on their website at www.lgma.ca.gov.

Food Safety Is Paramount In California Agriculture

Researchers Hone in on Bacteria Genome to Isolate Pathogens

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

Food safety is paramount in the specialty crop farm industry; but when a bacterium causes a food safety problem, there is important work to determine the exact fingerprint of that bacteria.

Matthew Stasiewicz, assistant professor of applied food microbiology in the area of food safety at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition, said it’s important to determine the genome of these bacteria that are causing problems.

“The biggest thing that has happened in the field of food safety is that the U.S. government has committed to using whole genome sequencing as a primary public health surveillance tool. So, if you have a foodborne disease and go to a doctor, and they isolate that organism, it will go into a nationwide database—now international database—that can link that organism’s genome sequence to whatever else shows up in the database. So, at the same time, if pathogens are isolated from foods potentially as part of an outbreak, those sequences can be [entered into the database] and [experts can] gather information from food sources as well as clinical patients. And that’s just a major tool.”

Stasiewicz said the genome is important because we need to know the true source of that bacteria. “The pathogens that can make you sick can be distributed in the environment.

So just because you potentially got sick from eating food and maybe you got an E.coli O157:H7 infection in your hometown, even if someone else two towns away got the same infection with E.coli O157:H7, we don’t know if that’s related, even if you potentially ate the same food,” Stasiewicz said. “That could come from the soil in your town, your local grower, a local grower somewhere else, or from a common source, common grower, or common packer, and gotten you both sick. This genome sequence information allows us to make those links much more clearly.”

Stasiewicz said this is an important pioneering effort to reduce food safety illnesses. “Importantly, from the food standpoint,” Stasiewicz said, “we want that information so we can find that and eliminate it. No food processor wants to make anyone sick. No grower wants to make anyone sick. So, we need to identify those concerns.”

More Facts About the “Dirty Dozen” List

New So-called “Dirty Dozen” List is Baseless

News Release

To everyone that has read about the “Dirty Dozen” list and is now confused and conflicted about buying the more affordable and accessible fruits and veggies, this blog is for you.  Keep in mind that the “Dirty Dozen” list is designed to make you worry and be fearful.  After all, fear is a very powerful motivator, and the list authors attempt to increase safety fears to motivate and influence consumers’ produce buying decisions.

So here are some facts about the “Dirty Dozen” list that underscore you can consume either conventional or organic produce with confidence.  Both are safe, and the right choice is to eat more every day.

  • Arbitrary Methodology: According to Dr. Carl Winter, toxicologist, University of California, Davis.: “This year’s EWG list is produced using the same arbitrary methodology the EWG has used in the past.  Most importantly, the EWG focuses upon the presence (or absence) of pesticide residues in its methodology and public statements rather than on the actual amounts of pesticides detected, which are extremely low.  To accurately assess consumer risks from pesticides, one needs to consider three major factors – 1) the amount of residue on the foods, 2) the amount of food consumed, and 3) the toxicity of the pesticides.  The methodology used by EWG ignores all three.”
  • Meet Organic Standard: Did you know that the vast majority of conventionally grown produce tested by United States Department of Agriculture could qualify to be labeled “organic,” specific to their residue levels? It’s true. The USDA allows organic produce to have residues that are “less than 5% of EPA tolerances” and the majority of residues found on conventionally grown produce are below this level.  This nicely illustrates how low residues are, if present at all.
  • You Can Eat A Lot of Kale:  If you are concerned about residues on kale, you would have to eat a lot more each day to see any health effects.  In fact, a man would have to eat 26,061 servings in a day.. Click here to continue reading and to like and share this blog post. 

Expert Emphasizes Farm Equipment Safety

Nut Harvest Safety – Part 4

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

On the job injuries are all too common in agriculture when working with tractors and other machinery. We spoke with Paul Williams, a senior loss prevention consultant with the State Compensation Insurance Fund, about the importance of farm equipment safety.

One big safety concern is unguarded PTO shafts and missing guards, which could also lead to a hefty fine. Checking these areas are part of the preseason inspections that should be done at harvest. Farmers should get out there and make sure everything is working properly.

Farm Equipment Safety
Paul Williams

“It is cheaper to repair equipment in the shop than it is trying to make the repairs in the field. Just proper maintenance and making sure things are properly guarded,” Williams said.

According to Williams, wearing seat belts while operating tractors is also extremely important. “Every year we get these fatalities operating tractors. Fifty fatalities a year maybe in tractors; they’re all so preventable,” he said.

“We are all used to driving cars in our California, wearing our seat belt. We get on farm equipment, all of the sudden we don’t know what that seat belt’s for anymore,” Williams said. “There are all kinds of excuses for not wearing a seat belt. At the end of the day, your safety is worth the extra three seconds it takes to put one on.”

Even if your tractor has rollover protection, it is very important to wear a seat belt as well. A lot of safety equipment is the cause of death when a worker does not wear their seat belt.

“They are ejected and tractors roll over and what kills the worker? It is that rollover protection that crushes them into the ground,” Williams explained.

Many workers rush because they think that it makes them more efficient. If you are being rushed, you are putting yourself at risk.

“The whole idea at the end of the day is to go home to your family, safe. Be able to return the next day to your work. You should always work to provide, to live, not live to work,” Williams said.

Wawona Packing Co. Takes Precautionary Step of Voluntarily Recalling Products

Wawona Packing Company of Cutler, Calif. is voluntarily recalling certain lots of whole peaches (white and yellow), nectarines (white and yellow), plums and plots packed between June 1, 2014 through July 12, 2014 due to the potential of the products being contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Wawona Packing has notified retailers of the specific lots being recalled. No other products are impacted by this recall. To our knowledge health officials have not linked any illnesses to this recall.

Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and other with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only from short0term symptoms such as high fever, sever headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The recalled products were shipped directly to retailers and wholesalers who resell the products. Because we do not know the locations of the companies that purchased the products from our direct customers, the company is issuing a nationwide recall. Consumers can identify the recalled products by the information on www.wawonapacking.com.

Anyone who has the recalled products in their possession should not consume them and should discard them. Consumers with questions may contact Wawona Packing at 1-888-232-9912, M-F, 8am – 11pm ET, or visit www.wawonapacking.com for a copy of this press release.

Wawona Packing has already notified its business customers and requested that they remove the recalled products from commerce. Wawona Packing is voluntarily recalling these products in consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The recall was initiated based on internal company testing. The company shut down the implicated packing lines, retrofitted equipment, sanitized the facility and retested. Subsequent daily test results have been negative.

“We are aware of no illnesses related to the consumption of these products,” said Brent Smittcamp, President of Wawona Packing Co. “By taking the precautionary step of recalling product, we will minimize even the slightest risk to public health, and that is our priority.”