Many New York apple growers are now complying with a European food safety initiative required by some European retailers. Though the program involves extensive record keeping and documentation of practices, there are some benefits, says orchardist Roger Lamont.

Lamont, who is in charge of the food safety program at Lamont Fruit Farms of Albion, New York, believes that some positives have come from the program. Lamont, his brother George, and production manager, Rod Farrow, grow nearly 600 acres of tree fruit in western New York, with the majority of acreage planted to apples.

The initiative, EuroRetailer Produce Working Group guidelines for Good Agricultural Practices, known as EurepGAP, involves following good agricultural practices and being certified by a third-party that such practices are implemented. Retailers in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, important export markets for New York’s Empire apple crop, require that suppliers be EurepGAP certified.

“We were doing 80 percent of the things in the program already, but they were just not documented,” Lamont said.

Traceability is the number-one issue of the market-driven program. Each bin of fruit going into the packing house has a grower and orchard lot number that stays with it through the packing process and is stamped on the packed box.

Growers must provide the packing house with reports on pesticide applications and other food safety practices.

Some changes are minor ones, like more attention to hygiene and food safety, he said. “Now, I find that I’m washing my hands all day long.”

Lamont adds that they are now over the psychological hump. “It’s been a good thing once we got over it and upgraded things and got it figured out.”

Third-party inspections are done two to three times a year at their facilities. To remain in the program, they must be recertified every year.

The New York apple industry has been working to resolve issues surrounding who is qualified to perform third-party certifications. Work is also under way to reduce the number of annual inspections.