“Dirty Dozen” List is UnTrue and Fear Mongering

How Registered Dietitions Can Stop Food Fears Before They Begin Due to the “Dirty Dozen” List

By Elizabeth Shaw, MS RDN, CPT, CLT

Guess what? It’s that time again when media outlets will start covering the release of this year’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” produce lists. As a registered dietitian nutritionist in the media, this season is always a busy one.

I must first disclose I am an EOPP (equal opportunity produce pusher), a term I coined after realizing one in every 10 Americans is falling short of meeting their fruit and vegetable intakes. Being someone who has devoted their entire career to ensuring the public feels safe and informed about their food intakes, lists like the “Dirty Dozen” always make me feel like my messaging and the work I’ve strived so hard to do is taking three giant steps backwards.

Thankfully, the Alliance for Food and Farming invited me here today to share with you how we can stop the food fears before they even start!

Let’s rewind first, shall we?

The “Dirty Dozen” is a list produced by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that is released every spring with claims about produce items and “high” pesticide residues. I won’t repeat exactly what Dr. Carl Winter, toxicologist and professor emeritus, University of California Davis, had to say on the topic in this post here, but I highly encourage you to check it out.

Basically, there is flawed methodology not being conveyed to the consumer when the report is released. When this happens, an immediate fear is embedded into minds, leaving consumers apprehensive to purchase some of their favorite fruits and vegetables (like strawberries and kale, two of last years so-called “dirty” contenders.)

Here’s the deal: the produce picks included in the dirty dozen don’t tell consumers that the actual percentage of pesticide residue left on the items is so negligible, if present at all, that it poses NO POTENITAL RISK to humans, both adults and kids alike.

To me, that is just crazy! Right?

Not only do reports annually confirm the safety of both conventionally and organically produced produce (like the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) 2018 and the USDA Pesticide Data 2018 Report), but so do organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)

And, for those who are still uneasy and need more proof, the Alliance has a robust, state-of-the-art Pesticide Residue Calculator that allows consumers to identify the number of servings they would have to consume for their gender and age group each day to remotely come close to having pesticide levels present to pose a concern.

For reference, as an adult female myself, I would have to consume 453 servings of strawberries to be a concern! My daughter, a young toddler, would have to consume 180 servings! While she is a strawberry addict, it’s hard to ever imagine she would get close to meeting that number of servings in a month, yet alone a day.

As much as we know produce is safe to consume and the above studies are valid and based upon peer-reviewed resources, it’s inevitable the fear messaging will come out rampant with the “Dirty Dozen” release.

To jump ahead three steps, I’m here to show you how you can actively use messaging to support produce consumption (both organic and conventional) and ease the minds of your followers as well as consumers at large that ALL produce IS safe to enjoy!



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.

More People Interested in Ag at Food Safety of California Convention

Agriculture Is Noble Work

By Mikenzi Meyers, Contributing Editor

A panel at the recent Food Safety of California Convention gave viewers a glimpse of hope for a brighter future in the industry. The moderator of the panel was Tom Jones, senior director of analytic sciences with the Safe Food Alliance.

Although important topics like food safety and processing were discussed by the panel, Jones found himself most impressed by the audience.

“The number of young people that are interested in agriculture and the food industry really gives you hope for the future,” he said.

Jones also said he was also pleasantly surprised by the implied support from Capitol Hill in Washington. “They are actually quite excited to be involved with agriculture. They think it’s an important or noble thing to be doing that job for their representative in Congress, which is a real shift from even a few years ago,” he explained.

The Safe Food Alliance was founded in 2016 as a sister organization to the DFA of California, a nonprofit trade association that has expanded beyond quality inspections to servicing new commodities. To find out more about the Safe Food Alliance and their services, you can visit their website here.

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.

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.”

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.

Maintaining Food Safety – LGMA Part 3

Understanding the Farming Operation

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

California Ag Today met recently with Jon Kimble, and among other topics, he reported on food safety in the state of California. Kimble is the operations business development manager at Safe Food Alliance.

Jon Kimble, Safe Food Allicance

Safety is a big concern for those who work in the agricultural community. Kimble spoke on how it is important that farmers assess those on their property.

“If you see somebody getting out, and getting into your fields, certainly you want to talk to them and make sure they are not going to impact the safety of your products, because that is your financial future.”

Operations such as U-Pick, people out in the fields, or people part of an activity raise concern. Risks may be managed in terms of providing hand washing, communication, putting up signs, and making sure they understand that they can impact the safety of others when they’re out in the field.

“It really comes down to just practical due diligence, activities, recommendations that come right out of the good agriculture practices that has been developed over the past few decades,” Kimble said.

Kimble also spoke to California Ag Today about the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (LGMA). This puts standards and measures in place to protect the safety of the crops.

“That is a great example of voluntary activity rising up from within the industry to control risks and control hazards,” he said.

The industry has established the best practices, which have led to a world class food safety program through the LGMA.

“The first compliance dates are coming up in January, and I think a lot of growers do not realize how soon their compliance dates are hitting,” Kimble said.

Expert Talks Protecting Our Food Supply And Industry

Maintaining Food Safety – Part 2

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Continuing our series on food safety in the state of California, we spoke with Jon Kimble, Operations Business Development Manager at Safe Food Alliance, and he explained the need for worker awareness when it comes to protecting our food supply.

“Too often, we see these recalls on foods where people are getting ill. Many times, it gets tracked back to an employee. Somebody’s got a virus, somebody’s got a bacteria, they’re sick,” Kimble said. “They come in contact with the food while they’re ill, and that translates back to getting out in the food supply and making people sick.”

“That’s what we’re trying to minimize. In a practical sense, in cases where we’ve observed people getting sick from things, we track that back, see what the source is, and try and share that information with everybody so that they can minimize that from happening in the future,” Kimble explained.

There are economic implications to consider as well.

“It is really paramount to prevent not only economic damage to your own farm and your own business, but also an entire industry,” Kimble said. “We see [that] one bad apple affects the whole industry.”

“We’ve even seen situations, such as a few years ago ,where there were some contaminated peppers, but they suspected tomatoes initially. It impacted an entire year’s harvest of tomatoes,” Kimble said. “We want to minimize the damage to the industry, and how people protect their businesses legally, by doing the right thing.”

Buyers are also setting a higher standard of quality, in light of the new rule.

“The regulation does set a minimum requirement, but buyers, customers, purchasers are setting a higher standard,” Kimble said.

“We’re seeing that trickle down effect as a result of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), that even folks who aren’t necessarily required to do certain things in their operation are being asked by their customers to do above and beyond what the regulation requires, and even in advance of their compliance dates for the regulation.”

“We’ve seen it both on the processing side and on the growing side, that customers are starting to raise their expectations for growers,” he said.

This is Part 2 of a 3 Part Series.

FSMA Produce Rule – Part 1

Mandatory Training Under Way

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Jon Kimble, the operations business development manager at Safe Food Alliance in Sacramento, spoke to California Ag Today recently about the Produce Rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

“The new produce safety rule that FDA has released under FSMA is a rule for growers,” he said. “For part of that rule, certain trainings are required, and the training that we’re conducting has been approved by the FDA. It’s been developed by the Produce Safety Alliance, and meets those requirements that they want to have a supervisor or somebody involved in the operation trained according to this training or equivalent to it.”

“We’re very excited, in that we are working with the California Farm Bureau Federation on many of these trainings. We’re looking forward to working with growers and helping them understand what the regulations say and some practical ways to apply the regulations within their operation,” Kimble said.

Kimble explained that the mandatory training covers every aspect of the operation. “Things that you’re doing before planting, during harvest, and even afterward when the produce is being handled in packing houses,” he said.

The training entails topics such as worker hygiene, water control, soil amendments – the whole gamut of the operation.

“The focus is minimizing potential contamination. We all understand that a farm is not sterile,” Kimble said. “We also understand there are potential sources of contamination that need to be minimize. That’s the focus: minimizing contamination – and the main primary emphasis is really on microbial or biological hazards.”

“Of course, there are chemical and physical hazards, but FSMA is focused on microbiological, including bacteria, viruses and parasites,” he said.

This is Part One of a Three Part Series on Maintaining Food Safety