A series of upcoming workshops will help fruit packers understand how to make sure they deliver safe food to their customers.
Laura Mrachek, president of the testing laboratory Cascade Analytical, based in Wenatchee, Washington, and food safety consultant Susan Pheasant have teamed up to present four workshops this year in central Washington for companies that pack or process fresh produce.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act, has proposed new regulations that will impact fruit packers. The fact that there are no standard practices in tree fruit packing will make it difficult to request exemptions for the industry.
“We’re being asked as an industry to act more like food processors,” Mrachek said. “We’re handling food, not fruit. It’s a paradigm shift.”
Cascade Analytical offers Microbial Reduction Verification Program testing for packers, which is a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) based testing plan for microbial contaminants.
While the tree fruit industry is working hard to build programs that ensure food safety, Mrachek would like to see more focus on prevention and adoption of a systems approach rather than on testing and passing audits. And that requires more information.
“Bringing information to the industry so we can build better programs or make smarter decisions is the goal,” she said. “We want to help food facilities understand more about the quality and limitations of all of their systems, so they can understand where the risk is.”
The two-day workshops will feature national food safety experts who will guide participants on how to set up robust food safety procedures so they will be better positioned to reassure people about the safety of their product.
“It’s not about selling products or services,” Mrachek said. “It’s about making the best choice for your operation and understanding the consequences of not making these decisions soon enough.”
Topics of the workshops are:
March 3-4: Cleaning and sanitation
April 8-9: Risk assessments and lean manufacturing
May 6-7: Sampling and monitoring
August 12-13: Recall readiness
Cleaning and sanitation:
The cleaning and sanitation workshop for fresh produce packers and fresh-cut processors, which will be held at the Red Lion Hotel in Wenatchee, is designed for packing house managers as well as people who implement sanitation programs.
It will cover basic and advanced microbiology and risk assessment, as well as when and how to clean and sanitize.
It will look at the flow of product, flow of water, and flow of people in order to identify the potential for cross-contamination.
Participants will learn what chemicals are available, under what conditions they work the best and when they don’t work. There will also be opportunities for packers to meet one-on-one with speakers at their facilities.
The workshop is timed to allow packing houses to make any needed changes before next year’s harvest. •