Local Farmers Ensuring Food Safety Long Before Federal Bill

Even before President Obama signed a new food safety law on Jan. 4, 2011, Yuma-area farmers had been voluntarily taking steps to ensure the healthy vegetables they produce don't end up being a health risk instead.

It all starts at ground zero with the soil and water that nurture the plants from seed to maturity. It includes the workers and equipment used in the fields to plant, cultivate and harvest the crops. And it extends to the packing houses and salad plants where the vegetables are cooled, processed and readied for distribution to consumers across the country.

With a new company in town, it even includes sterilization of the semi-trailers that haul the thousands of cartons each day to their destinations.

There's a lot at stake for the multimillion-dollar industry that goes beyond the bottom line for farmers and shippers. They also want the assurance that the food they produce is the safest and healthiest it can be from field to fork.

No one wants a repeat of a foodborne illness tied to consumption of a contaminated fresh vegetable.

Congress passed and Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act in early in 2011 that goes into effect next spring, setting in motion comprehensive measures to prevent the problems that make people sick. It calls for new safety requirements for some fruits and vegetables, authorizes the Food and Drug Administration to order a recall of non-meat food items, increases inspections of domestic and foreign food facilities, and requires farms and processors to maintain records so foods can be traced back.

“The impact to our local area growers will be somewhat minimal since the fresh produce industry itself has much stricter policies and guidelines already in place than those recently signed into law,” said Kurt Nolte, executive director of the Yuma County Cooperative Extension.

Not long after the E. coli outbreak in bagged spinach in 2006, California and Arizona each came up with leafy greens marketing agreements that established certain guidelines to prevent contamination in vegetables while growing and processing them. The agreements have served as models for other states.

Read more from this article that appeared in the January 1 issue of the Yuma Sun at the link below.

Contact name: 
Kurt Nolte
Contact email: 
knolte@arizona.edu
Released date: 
Jan 5 2012