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.”
“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.)
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
California farmers are careful with crop protection products because they know the importance of producing safe and wholesome food for their customers across the nation and in their export markets. “However, I think that there are some real challenges facing growers in California today,” said Thomas Jones, senior analytical services director for the Fresno-based Safe Food Alliance.
“As growers send their commodities around the world, they’re facing increasing challenges of knowing the right chemicals to apply and at what levels. We have our own strict regulations within California, if needed, [that govern] not only the application but also the maximum residue levels (MRL) or tolerances allowed for various crops,” said Jones.
“That’s also carried onto the federal level; we have very strict EPA regulations. But as we [export] into other countries, they may have entirely different regulations,” said Jones. He noted this could be confusing not only to farmers, but also to registrants of crop protection materials because there is a lack of standardization of MRLs in different countries.
“Historically, there was the CODEX system, a UN-based system geared towards a more international standard for pesticide residues. It was very thought out, and very scientifically based,” Jones said.
However, as Jones explained, many countries do not want to follow the important scientific standard. “Increasingly, we are seeing countries want to establish their own systems, their own tolerances. They may be responding to their own political pressures within their countries.”
“We are seeing a process called ‘deharmonization’ in which every country wants to establish its own positive list of what is allowed and what is not allowed in [farm] products. Sometimes, those are in agreement with U.S. regulations and California state regulations; sometimes they are not. So it is important that [our] growers know not only what is legal in this country and in our state, but also what is allowed in their target [export] markets.”
Jones commented it is now known that some of these marketers [apply] random low MRLs and keep other MRLs high on some of their own products in order to get a marketing edge. “Some of those MRLs may or may not be based on any scientific standards.”
“There are a number of great tools out there,” he said. “There are a number of great software programs. Obviously, anything that [information growers] can get out of the print media or any educational courses are really essential. It is important to work with your Pest Control Adviser (PCA), as well. It’s important that [farmers] know what they are up against, as far as growing these crops,” said Jones.
The Safe Food Alliance is available to growers to help them qualify to meet the standards in the U.S. and abroad. “We [provide] training twice a year on fumigation safety for the various processors of dried fruits and tree nuts. We focus particularly on commodity fumigations and on what treatments are allowed and not allowed. We also have a full-service pesticide-testing laboratory and are very aware of the requirements in these other countries, so we’re happy to help both processors and growers with our monitoring efforts,” noted Jones.
Featured Photo: For these California-grown peaches to be shippable to any out-of-state U.S. consumers or international export markets, they must meet scientific Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs).
Aspects of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Explained
By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster
As many 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) provisions near their deadline for the first step in compliance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an extension for many aspects of the new rules to allow growers and processors more time to clarify certain provisions to ensure compliance. Jon Kimble, food safety services manager with Sacramento-based DFA of California, a non-profit trade association formerly called the Dried Fruit Association, weighed in on several FSMA provisions and compliance.
“The Preventive Controls Rule is the biggie that came out. This rule is largely based on the existing Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)structure that the food industry is familiar with, but with some slight modifications and specifics that are unique to the regulation,” noted Kimble. HACCP is an international standard that defines requirements for effective food safety control from biological, chemical, and physical hazards in the production processes that could cause the finished product to be unsafe.
The Preventive Controls Rules for Human and Animal Food was enacted September 18, for large operations. Small and mid-sized companies will have until September 2017 and very small companies have until September 2018.
The Produce Safety Rule, another critical part of the Food Safety Act that was published last November, provides farm standards for the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce for human consumption.
The Produce Safety Rule will come into effect for large farming operations within the next month.
Finalized earlier this year, the Sanitary Transportation Rule pertains to service scenarios where foods are exposed and not packaged. This rule covers food transported in bulk; vehicle cleanliness, design and maintenance, temperature control; prevention of the contamination of ready-to-eat food (from touching raw food, non-food items in the same load or previous load, and cross-contact with food allergen); training of carrier personnel in sanitary transportation practices; documentation of the training; and maintenance and retention of records.
The Sanitary Transportation Rule has a compliance deadline of April 2017 for large companies.
FSMA also includes the Intentional Adulteration Rule, which “relates to what we would traditionally call food defense or security measures to prevent intentional contamination of the food supply,” Kimble said.
Founded in 1908, DFA is one of the oldest food safety companies in the U.S. that provides commodity inspection services and support to packers, processors and exporters in the dried fruit, tree nut, and kindred product industry through commodity inspection, the Red Seal Program, and the Export Trading Company (ETC).
Safe Food Alliance, a new division of DFA of California serves as a resource to the food industry for any and all food safety practices. Services include food safety training and consulting, laboratory testing and analysis, and third party certification audits conducted by Safe Food Certifications, LLC.