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Melissa Partyka, a staff research associate for the Western Center for Food Safety, encouraged growers to "not game the system, find ways to comply with the new ag water requirements." <b>(TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)</b>

Melissa Partyka, a staff research associate for the Western Center for Food Safety, encouraged growers to “not game the system, find ways to comply with the new ag water requirements.” (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Researchers are still working to get the word out to the industry about the requirements for growers and packers of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which made it a key topic at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association annual meeting.

Marc Verhougstreate, assistant professor at the University of Arizona, shared some guidelines for growers who must sample their irrigation water to establish a water quality profile.

His tips: sample before noon, collect samples at any point across the canal where safe access is available, and explore and document up to 1,000 meters upstream to ensure no potential contamination or outfalls exist.

He also recommended growers take a composite five samples to perform a single E. coli assay or report the geometric mean of five individual samples.

Melissa Partyka, a staff research associate for the Western Center for Food Safety also shared some tips for getting started and taking a water sample. For more on her tips, visit the July issue of Good Fruit Grower.

Some growers also have been wondering about whether overhead, evaporative cooling has a negative effect on fruit that is already contaminated.

Researchers conducted a three-year study in two orchards, evaluated fruit at different inoculation rates to determine the effects of overhead cooling.

They looked at three different varieties of fruit—both immature fruit and fruit at maturity—and in different positions within the canopy.

Generally, they found that there is a rapid microbial decline within the first 48 to 96 hours after inoculation, followed by a slower rate of reduction.

Evaporative cooling did not increase survival of E. coli in the studies, said Ines Hanrahan, projects manager for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.

Many questions remain what the Food Safety Modernization Act will mean for fruit packing facilities.

But instead of waiting for answers, it’s important for people to pass their questions along to industry organizations that can push the FDA for answers now, said Kate Woods, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

That way, facility managers can have the information they need to make changes before inspectors arrive next year, she said.

Unlike many food processing facilities that have process steps to kill microbes, the food safety focus for fresh fruit packing is largely sanitation practices, the panel on preventive controls for facilities said.

The new regulations will mean lots of new documentation, including a site-specific hazard analysis, trainings, and preventive control strategies, including sanitation, processing, and supplier strategies.

But, on the whole, panelists said the tree fruit industry is ahead of the game on many food safety preventive controls measures.

“There’s not that much we have to change in how we farm and what we do, we just have to document it better,” said Ines Hanrahan, project manager for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. “We have a lot of work ahead, but we can definitely do it.”

Prepare for robotics, invest in platforms, chose varieties that will be popular in 20 years and sacrifice chore time for planning time.

Those are a few nuggets of wisdom shared by a panel of growers in the Tuesday afternoon session regarding maximizing revenue.

Rod Farrow of Lamont Fruit Farms in New York, Tonasket, Washington, grower Sam Godwin, Dan Plath of Washington Fruit and Produce in Yakima and West Mathison of Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee detailed their experiences with H2A workers, canopy width, orchard technology and other “game changers” of the industry.

“Most growers don’t spend anywhere near enough time planning,” Farrow said.

Attendees also heard Alison DeMarree, a New York orchardist, discuss budgeting for equipment, the benefits of a platform and limiting non-bearing trees to 20 percent of your acreage to avoid cash flow problems when planning for replacing older varieties with new ones.

– by Shannon Dininny, Kate Prengaman and Ross Courtney