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/.

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. 

Food Bloggers, Dietitians Learn More About Produce Safety in Salinas

“Facts Not Fear” Educates Participants on Vegetable Production

News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh

The Alliance for Food and Farming, in conjunction with Markon Cooperative, hosted its second “Facts Not Fear” Produce Safety Media tour last week in the Salinas Valley.

“Our goal is for … [registered dieticians], health and nutrition writers and bloggers to see firsthand the care and commitment farmers have for producing safe and wholesome foods.  We believe we met that goal.  But, what we learn from our tour guests continues to be just as valuable,” said Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, based in Watsonville.

In addition to farm and facility tours, the AFF and Markon facilitated a round table meeting where tour guests were joined by farmers and farming companies, scientists, regulators and chefs for a free-flowing discussion that encompassed food safety, farming practices, food waste, pesticide use, food safety regulations, new technologies, health and nutrition, and consumer outreach.

The RDs, bloggers, and writers attending the tour reported they enjoyed the chance to tour the farms one day and then discuss what they saw with these experts.  They also appreciated the opportunity to share their information needs and concerns directly during the round table discussion.

And, what were some of our key takeaways from guests?  Consumers want transparent and honest communication regarding food safety and food production practices.  The RDs, bloggers, and writers share The Alliance for Food and Farming’s concerns about produce safety misinformation and appreciate and need access to scientists and experts that can assist them when addressing consumer questions and correcting misconceptions.

“And, they were very impressed with the technological advancements they saw in the harvesting and processing of produce,” said Thorne.

“While the importance of seeing the fields and harvest and touring processing facilities cannot be underscored enough, meeting and connecting with the people growing our food, directly sharing concerns with farmers and scientists in a group and one-on-one setting and the expansion of their produce industry network is of equal importance for our guests,” Thorne explained.

“Our sincere thanks to everyone who allowed us to visit their farms, watch the harvest, view their processing facilities as well as joined us for the round table discussion,” Thorne said.  “And, our thanks and appreciation to our tour partner, Markon Cooperative, for making this tour possible as well as our tour sponsors Cal-Giant Berry Farms, the California Strawberry Commission and the Produce Marketing Association.”

Thorne also praised the 2017 and 2018 tour alumni.

“We will keep the conversation going and look forward to learning more from the attendees as we all work toward our shared goal of increasing daily consumption of organic and conventional fruits and veggies,” she said.

The host, The Markon Cooperative, supplies the food service industry fresh fruits and vegetables.

Food Safety is Critically Important for Consumers

Safe Food Alliance’s Big Lab in Kingsburg Will Serve Ag Industry

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

California Ag Today recently spoke with Tom Jones, senior director of analytical services with the Safe Food Alliance, about the new state of the art food safety lab in Kingsburg.

“We have laboratories, not only here but also in Kerman, Winters, as well as Yuba City,” Jones said. “But this is a big lab; our main lab that will provide plenty of space for research and testing.”

food safety
Tom Jones Sr. Director of Analytic Services for Safe Food Alliance

“We were in a laboratory in downtown Fresno that … was less than  8,000 square feet. We’re now in more than 20,000 square feet, and it’s made a tremendous difference—a lot more space and capacity for us to do our work,” Jones explained.

There is adequate room for additional sample storage, more instrumentation as the business grows and more people doing more work.

“We also have room for additional incubation of samples, so in the microbiological testing, that’s a big issue,” Jones said. “It is a much easier place to work in.”

“The first piece of instrumentation actually installed in the new lab before we officially moved in was our GC Mass Spectrometer Time of Flight system, and it’s a powerful system to be able to analyze for unknown compounds,” Jones said. “If you have a problem … you can take that sample, run it through the GC Mass Spectrometer and start getting data right away. Even if you don’t know what you’re exactly analyzing for, you can actually start the process there, so that’s really exciting.”

“You need qualified people to run that machine So, that’s a big part of the testing world as well. And the end goal of all of this new technology is to keep consumers safe,” Jones continued. “Our mission is to see a safe food supply from farm to fork, and we’re really excited to have this facility because we can test to a wider range of food products, using a wider range of analysis. We are here to help support our agricultural community as well as the food processing community as we export to the world.”

(Additional Photo is of the Open House at the new lab in Kingsburg.)

Safe Food Alliance Helps Keep Food Safe

Standard is Parts Per Billion Today

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

California Ag Today recently spoke with Mark Mariani, executive chairman of the Mariani Packing Company in Vacaville and outgoing chairman of the Safe Food Alliance, which recently opened a new laboratory in Kingsburg to provide further research into food safety.

Mark Mariani

“We’ve been members since 1946, and the fact that the produce industry is self-policing is very unique,” Mariani said.

“The reason why we enjoyed the DFA and now the SFA is the fact that we are very concerned about food safety and so we are in a very unique industry in the sense that we self-police ourselves and so this is not something new. We’ve been doing it for over 100 years,” he explained.

“It’s not the new trend, and so being part of the DFA and SFA gives us the opportunity to not only look at the way we do our practices in our manufacturing practices, but also it gives us an opportunity to look at how we test our products,” Mariani said. “And back in the day, we used to be happy with one part per million detections of something. Today, we’re insisting on one part per billion.”

President/CEO Westside Produce on Food Safety

Stephen Patricio, President and CEO of Westside Produce, a grower, packer and shipper of cantaloupe for California and Arizona, talks about food safety of our locally grown foods.

“The Center for Produce Safety is a 7 year-old organization that facilitates science-based actionable research to improve the quality as well as the safety of the healthy fruits, vegetables and tree nuts we are so proud of,” said Patricio.

Patricio commented that in general, growers have a great understanding of food safety. “There’s been a tremendous awareness over the years I’ve been actively involved, and we’re maturing everyday. Realistically, the industry matures, the workers mature, because the elements of food safety don’t exist in an ivory tower or in an office, or in a tractor or in a shop; they exist everywhere on the farm,” said Patricio.

“From the absolute beginnings on the dirt all the way through the packing houses to the shipping docks to the sales offices; it’s a culture. Food Safety is a culture, not just an action,” he added.

And for those consumers worried about the nutrition and safety of their produce, Patricio reassures that everyone involved in produce cares just as much as they do. “What I continue to tell people is that there is not a farmer, producer, or grower anywhere who doesn’t eat the product that they produced themselves. And, they feed it to their family, their children, their grandchildren. And they’re proud of it, they’re happy with it.”

Patricio continued, “If that’s the approach that people simply take to their daily actions and activities, well, I don’t have to worry about the safety of food. We just have to use our heads and manage temperature and everything from spoilage to cross-contamination that can happen anywhere. But you do a good job of creating a safe product,” said Patricio.

The beauty of California produce, according to Patricio is that it is “not a sterile environment. Everything isn’t produced in a factory, taken off a shelf, or torn out of a plastic container. It’s all healthy and from nature. It’s in God’s container and we just have to do our job of not contaminating it.”