By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau
Food safety has to be a cooperative effort involving the local, state and national levels, but it all comes down to what happens close to home, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration official suggests.
“Food safety is a local deal,” says David Acheson, former FDA assistant commissioner for food protection and now director of Food and Import Safety with Leavitt Partners in Salt Lake City, Utah. “The reason is that no matter what happens at the national or even global level, implementation must be done locally.”
Arizona farmers and ranchers concur. “Farmers have adopted safety assurance practices but we can’t do this alone,” says area grower Tim Dunn who is the vice president of the Arizona Farm Bureau. “We need the public’s help. In fact, individuals from the surrounding community can become our best advocates for helping us ensure that their food from field to fork is the safest and healthiest it can be.”
“Food safety truly is a cooperative effort involving the local, state, and national levels,” he continued, “And it is about what happens close to home.”
Yuma lettuce and vegetable growers know this better than anyone. Due to more stringent self-imposed food safety guidelines, Yuma lettuce growers are fencing their fields, posting “no trespassing signs,” auditing their food safety measures and monitoring their water supply to protect their crops from contamination.
Adds John Boelts, Yuma area produce grower and in leadership with the Yuma County Farm Bureau, “The reason food safety is a local deal is that no matter what happens at the national or even global level, implementation must be done on a field-by-field basis and almost on a plant-by-plant basis. You take something, you plant it in dirt, you don’t cook it, you don’t irradiate it, but you protect it. It’s at ground zero where the most important safety measures must take place.”
Despite some food-safety challenges over the past few years, Americans still have a reliable, safe food supply. “America has the safest food supply in the world,” Leavitt Partners’ Acheson says, noting that it’s amazing that relatively few food poisoning cases are reported considering that 300 million Americans eat three or so meals a day. “What we’ve got to do is make it safer.”
There are a number of factors that have contributed to these fresh-produce contaminations, Acheson points out, including that Americans now want and expect to get a full range of fresh produce, 365 days per year, and they are eating more of it.
Another factor is the way Americans want their produce—convenient. In the old days, you’d buy a head of lettuce and your family would eat it, and if there was a problem, it would affect only one family.
“These days, you take that head of lettuce, you chop it up and mix it with thousands of other heads of lettuce,” and in this way contamination can be spread,” Acheson explains.
In Arizona, growers and the Arizona Department of Agriculture have already taken steps to ensure a safe and healthy food supply. The Arizona Leafy Green Products Shipper Marketing Agreement industry-initiated program set standards and procedures for leafy green shippers last fall to ensure food safety standards of all leafy greens.
Participation is voluntary, but will provide an Official Mark to the signatory shipper that the leafy green products contained in the package or bin have been grown, packed, shipped, processed and/or handled in accordance with the best management practices and other marketing agreement requirements, including inspections, trace back records and verifications.
You can support the effort by keeping pets on a leash when walking near agriculture fields growing produce for human consumption, alerting local farmers and ranchers if you see wild or domesticated animals roaming produce fields, and encouraging neighbors not to go into fields to pick produce because of contamination issues.
Arizona Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving and improving the Agriculture industry through member involvement in education, political activities, programs and services.
For more information contact Julie Murphree at (480) 635-3607 or go to http://www.azfb.org.