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Illnesses caused by foodborne pathogens are becoming much easier to track and investigate, and new science — whole genome sequencing — is enabling outbreaks to be traced to the source of the investigation.

That means apple growers and packers need to up their game, according to Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety and health for Wal-Mart.

“What you did for food safety last year is no longer good enough, and you’re going to have to do something different this year and next year,” Yiannas told some 300 industry members at the annual meeting of the U.S. Apple Association in Chicago.

Today’s supermarkets have tens of thousands of food products, and there will be new products derived from apples that will introduce new risks over the next 20 years, he said.

“This concept of history of safe use, don’t let that lull you into complacency,” he said.

A few other tips:
• Ask questions and question assumptions.
• Manage real, regulatory and perceived risk. If you aren’t an expert on true, public health risk, get experts.
• Prevention costs less than an outbreak. The things you have to do are meaningful, and they can be done with low cost structures and still allow you to be profitable and have a healthy business.
• Create a food safety culture, not a program.

Yiannas noted that, during an outbreak, retailers suffer the shortest amount of time, while the country of origin suffers the longest. “The apple industry wins and loses together,” he said.

Several regions also offered their forecasts for the 2016 harvest on the meeting’s first day.

Europe is forecasting its third largest crop at 12 million tons, down slightly from 2015.

China, meanwhile, is predicting a harvest of 43.8 million metric tons, a 2.8 percent increase from 2015 and a nearly 11 percent increase over the five-year average.

– by Shannon Dininny