RED BLUFF, Calif. — Cleanliness and good record-keeping will be keys to success in the prune industry as new federal food safety standards take hold, an expert advises.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is finalizing sweeping new food safety rules that would require such precautions as making sure workers’ hands are clean and animals are kept out of fields.
The Food Safety Modernization Act’s produce section will apply to prunes, despite the fact that they’re dried for hours in ovens, noted Tom Vogel, director of food safety for DFA of California, a food safety consultancy.
“The goal of this legislation is to reduce microbial contamination,” Vogel told about 60 prune producers at a University of California Cooperative Extension-sponsored workshop here Feb. 21.
As part of good hygiene practices, Vogel said it will be important to explain to workers why they’re important. He noted he once saw a worker sneeze into his hands moments after washing them.
“It’s important that workers understand that cleanliness of hands and utensils is going to be very, very important,” Vogel said. “We’re very good at explaining what to do but not why.”
Vogel said farmers will have to maintain a regimen for cleaning bins and equipment and for keeping domestic animals away from growing areas. Growers will also have to keep track of soil amendments, test agricultural water quality and maintain records of equipment and sanitation management, he said.
Vogel explained the FDA had previously focused on the safety of food processing, but illness outbreaks from produce over the last 10 years prompted Congress to regulate safety measures “from farm to fork.”
Some farms will be exempt, such as those with less than $25,000 in annual sales, Vogel said.
“I know the thinking is that dried fruit shouldn’t be involved in any contamination,” he said. “But in 2001 the tree nut industry was saying the same thing.”
Regulators began looking more closely at nuts following illnesses resulting from contamination of almonds, pistachios and walnuts, he said.
Vogel said growers should use their industry’s good-agricultural-practice manuals as a guide.
“A lot of things with regard to proposed safety rules are considered to be good agricultural practices,” he said.
DFA of California: http://www.agfoodsafety.org
Food Safety Modernization Act: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/default.htm