Take time to learn about food safety programs before beginning
Donny Schlect, orchard food safety coordinator for Highland Fruit Growers, Inc., Yakima, who has been involved with implementing food safety measures on his own family farm, recommends that growers who aren’t following a formalized food safety program to begin first by attending a food safety seminar.
“There are lots of seminars available,” he said during a food safety panel discussion at the Northwest Cherry Institute meeting in January. “Attend something, so you can to start to get a handle on the issue.”
Then spend the next few months looking at programs of neighboring growers, and gather information from your packing house or marketer, he suggested.
“For a small- to medium-sized grower, simplicity is the key,” Schlect said, adding that many of the recommendations of programs would be nice to implement, but growers often don’t have the luxury of time. “You can cross off some on the list as not applicable.”
He recommended dividing up the food safety program into three or four phases—a manageable number to work on. “Give yourself a six-month window to set up your program and then spend some time on it every week. Focus on one item at a time, break your list down, and group some things together.”
He estimated that it took about six months to put everything in place in preparation for an audit. Deciphering exactly what is needed to pass an audit can be difficult, he warned. Most programs require a farm audit to verify that the requirements have been implemented.
“You don’t have to go through the process alone,” Schlect said, noting that dialogue with other growers and industry members is crucial. “Use every resource available, from your packer, to GRAS2P [a preaudit program of the Washington State Horticultural Association], to others.”