Mariani Packing Co. Puts Food Safety Top Priority

Mariani Served as Chair of the Safe Food Alliance

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

The Mariani Packing Company is one of the largest specialty crop growers and handlers in the state, packing many different types of fruit on a massive scale. California Ag Today recently spoke with Mark Mariani, executive chairman of the Mariani packing company in Vacaville and the outgoing chairman of the Safe Food Alliance (SFA), an organization specializing in food safety among growers, packers, and processers to maintain high standards of food safety and prevent consumer illness.

“Our four major specialty crops areas is that we’re the second largest cranberry growers (with operations back east) and packers, (with operations back east), and we also grow and pack mangoes out of Mexico, Mariani said. “And we are probably the third-largest raisin grower/packer in California. We also repack prunes for the world market.”

Mariani said that the products that they bring in from Mexico are held to the same standard as produce grown inside the United States. Consumers always look back at the supplier when it comes to food safety, so they ensure that standards meet or exceed the U.S. standards.

Mariani reflected on his part in the Safe Food Alliance organization.

“It’s an exciting time for DFA (which still stands as an entity as it’s being morphed into the Safe Food Alliance) because of the growth and the fact that it is offering so many more services to our members. We recognize that for us to move forward as an industry, we have to be better than anyone else and especially foreign competition,” he said. “And you do that because you can create trust, and I think there’s a solid brand with SFA ,if you’ve been approved and a member … that you are operating within the SFA conditions.”

As the former chairman of SFA, Mariani enjoyed working with passionate people.

“The individuals in the DFA and SFA are passionate people that want to do and exceed the expectations or their members. And most importantly, you want to provide safe food for consumers,” Mariani said.

The new Chair of Safe Food Alliance is Dane Lance, President and CEO of Sunsweet Growers, the world’s largest and most famous brand of dried tree fruits including prunes, apricots, and mangos.

Agriculture Detector K-9 on Duty!

Agriculture Detector K-9 on Duty!

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

California Ag Today’s associate broadcaster Charmayne Hefley recently asked Soya, a mixed-breed agriculture detector K-9 (canine) with big responsibilities, and Samantha Tomlinson, Soya’s handler with the Fresno County Ag Commissioner’s office, what type of dog Soya is.

ST:      We don’t know exactly what she is for sure, but we’re thinking about getting her DNA-tested someday. We’re thinking she’s a lab-border-collie.

Samantha Tomlinson, Soya and Charmayne Hefley
Samantha Tomlinson, Soya and Charmayne Hefley

CAT:   How long have you and Soya been together?

ST:      We have been matched up since mid-July when we went through the training program in Georgia through the National Detector Dog Training Center.

CAT:   What is Soya able to do for the Ag Commissioner’s office?

ST:      Soya smells out parcels for potential plant material and she alerts us [to suspicious ones] by scratching. We check to see if [the material] has been properly certified and if it’s good to go.

CAT:   What are some of her recent detections?

ST:      She can detect a number of things. She was initially trained on five scents: mango, stone fruit, apple, guava, and citrus. From there, through scent association, she’s been able to find a number of additional agricultural materials, including avocados, blueberries, nuts, soil, cut flowers; anything that is plant material, Soya can find.

CAT:   What region does Soya cover?

ST:      Right now we’ve been covering only Fresno County because we still are in what we call the “acclimation phase,” as she’s still new. We’ve been working at FedEx and UPS, but we’ll broaden our horizons eventually and we’ll be in the post office, GSO, OnTrac, any service that ships parcels.”

CAT:   How important is it for the agricultural industry to have dogs like Soya working for it?

ST:      Well Soya and I are considered a “first line of defense” for California’s multi-billion dollar ag industry. She is in the facilities checking boxes sent from potentially quarantined areas from within the state and from outside the state for materials that may contain any pests or diseases that could prove detrimental to California agriculture.

CAT:   People may not know when they’re shipping certain items—certain plant materials—from one county to the next that the destination county may have a quarantine in place. How do people properly ship plant material?

ST:      Every county is actually different. If you are thinking of shipping some of your backyard fruits to your nephew or grandson, I would contact your local ag commissioner and make sure there are not any quarantines in place for both the county you’re shipping from and the county you’re shipping to. In these facilities, we look for boxes to be properly labeled with the growing origin and we inspect thye contents inside. Depending on what is inside, where it’s grown and where it’s going, we act accordingly.