Food Safety is a high profile topic in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry. It has gained media coverage nationwide and has received the attention of government agencies such as the Food & Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The food safety record in the avocado industry has been excellent with very few reports of food borne illness. The constant pressures from food retailers and food service establishments to address proper food safety issues have prompted the industry to adopt the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program and Good Harvesting Practices (GHP) for growing avocados in California. There are currently no government regulations enforcing food safety standards for avocado growers. West Pak prides itself in providing only the safest fruits and vegetables to our customers. We share responsibility with our growers to ensure total satisfaction for our consumers. It is our goal to facilitate the process by which our growers and harvesters become GAP certified.
West Pak has taken a proactive stance in pioneering food safety in the avocado industry. Our growers are encouraged to stand with us in minimizing the food safety risks of fruits and vegetables. Addressing the common risk factors outlined in this program will result in a more efficient response to emerging concerns about microbial safety of our fresh fruits and vegetables. Being ahead of the industry puts us on top of the game and first in line for success.
GAP certification benefits everyone in the line of production and helps prevent future food safety issues. The program seeks to identify all potential sources of food contaminants that may exist on a farm or ranch. The program is designed to give our growers all the tools they need to control and monitor any potential contamination sources commonly found on a ranch. Realistically, every ranch or farm has some potential food safety issues. A successful GAP or GHP program manages these issues effectively.
Key Components of GAP and GHP
Key components of grower operation have been identified that have the strongest impact on Food Safety. We strive to give our growers guidance and understanding in making informed decisions about food safety issues. To assist growers and harvesters we have developed food safety guidelines that will outline both GAP and GHP standards. The basic idea behind both programs is the same – identification and reduction of potential contaminants.
Avocado groves set for production should have a sustainable history. New ground for groves must not have been previously used as a landfill, a toxic waste site or a feedlot operation.
Any houses and buildings located in the groves must have a properly working septic tank and have a working restroom. The occupants that reside in the farm housing must respect the orchard by practicing common sanitary practices and maintaining the residence responsibly.
Adjacent land use is also a key component of GAP. It is important to note if your neighbor is using his land for a feedlot operation or other use deemed hazardous to the crop.
Water Source and Distribution System
Water use in crop production involves numerous field operations including irrigation, applications of pesticides and fertilizers, cooling, and frost control. Post-harvest uses include produce rinsing, cooling, washing, waxing, and transport. Water of inadequate quality has the potential to be a direct source of contamination and a vehicle for spreading localized contamination in the field, facility, or transportation environments. Wherever water comes in contact with fresh produce, its quality dictates the potential for pathogen contamination. If pathogens survive on the produce, they may cause foodborne illness.
Performing annual water testing is the most effective way to show that your water source is clean and fit for use. Back-flow control or prevention valves installed on the irrigation system are the cheapest and most effective way to prevent chemical contamination of your water source.
Employees should be trained to take notice when they do not recognize personnel on the ranch or if they notice any suspicious behavior. Most growers do not have fencing on their ranches and that is fine.
As long as there is a standard operating procedure written to mitigate problems associated with wildlife and or nonemployed persons on the ranch then you will remain compliant.
All employees, including supervisors, full time, part time and seasonal personnel, should have a good working knowledge of basic sanitation and hygiene principles. The level of understanding needed will vary as determined by the type of operation, the task, and the assigned responsibilities.
Good Harvesting Practices should always be observed while handling the fruit. Microbial contamination can occur in the grove during pre-harvest and harvest activities from contact with contaminated soils, fertilizers and water. Employees can be a primary vector for unintentionally contaminating fruit.
It is important for the grower to control the activity of ranch pests that may live in the grove. Examine your specific growing area to identify obvious sources that can lead to contamination. For example, if you have a wood pile on your ranch you should also have a control mechanism for the rodents that will be living in the pile.
Continuous cleaning practices in the groves can lead to very effective rodent control. Following the GAP program
will help prevent future hazardous rodent activity.
GAP and Food Safety Training
There are no mandates at this time to have a GAP Program, but a good employee training program is essential to maintaining compliance.
Growers and harvesters are encouraged to provide a training review on food safety risks and assessing them in the field. Employee training and re-training is a vital key to the success of reducing risks to food safety on the ranch.
Avocado ranches are primarily located in less populated areas away from homes or businesses. Having sanitary hygiene facilities is important for good employee hygiene and food safety. Ensuring safe management and disposal of the waste from the mobile facilities is vitally important to controlling any potential contamination issues in the field. Have a procedure for containment and treatment of any effluent discharge. Operators should be prepared in the event of any incidental leakage or spill of effluent in the field.
Animal manure represents a significant source of pathogens – particularly dangerous pathogens, such as Escherichia coli 0157:H7. Fecal matter is known to harbor Salmonella and must be closely managed to limit the potential for contamination. Animal manure is commonly used as crop fertilizer in the agricultural community to increase or maintain organic matter content in the soil. Properly treated, manure or bio-solids can be safe and effective. However, if untreated or improperly treated, use of manure or bio-solids significantly increases the chance of foodborne illness.
The safest way to fertilize your crop is to use premixed inorganic fertilizers and have them applied by a licensed applicator. The grower is required to maintain records of all purchases and subsequent applications for the calendar year.
All pesticide usage should be documented through Pesticide Use Reports (PURs) that are then submitted to the county in which the farm resides.
Pesticides should be applied according to label instructions of the manufacturing company, while following all federal and state ordinances. If different from the irrigation supply, water used to mix pesticides must be from a clean source demonstrated by testing results. When applying pesticides a trained and licensed applicator should make all recommendations and applications.
Equipment used to apply chemicals should be inspected to ensure the equipment is working properly. Storage ofagricultural chemicals in the production area should be assessed and controlled to minimize the potential for chemical safety hazards.