Growing Safe

Growing Safe

Eddy, David

In response to Salmonella outbreaks, the almond industry has come out with a safety program for growers.

THE salmonella outbreak in almonds in 2001 was a “watershed event for the industry,” says Richard Waycott, the president of the Almond Board of California. It shook the industry because it made everyone realize that the food safety chain was only as strong as its weakest link, and prompted the board to rewrite its Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) for growers. Another outbreak in June of 2004, which also prompted a recall of raw almonds, has spurred the board to act again, and it has recently released a new GAPs rewrite titled “The 7 Practices of Successful Almond Growers.”

The food quality and safety program is modeled on the best-selling self-help book by Stephen J. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In that book, Covey wrote: “If you want to achieve your highest aspirations and overcome your greatest challenges, identify and apply the principle or natural law that governs the results you seek.” This strategy was applied in writing the GAPs.

Food safety is the almond board’s top priority, says Waycott, because nothing is so critical to the industry’s success. “We have a very successful industry, and we don’t want to jeopardize our position as a worldwide leader,” he says. “Not only are these practices the right thing to do, but it’s a very good business decision you’re spending pennies to protect a multi-billion-dollar industry.”

When many people consider food safety in almonds, they think of the processors’ role as being most important, but that’s not necessarily the case. As Waycott notes, it all begins in the orchard. “It starts with the growers,” he says. “They are our first line of defense.”

Here is a brief look at “The 7 Practices of Successful Almond Growers.”

1. Documentation – Maintaining readily retrievable records of all almond farm operations is essential and beneficial, especially when it comes to food safety. Your GAP program should start with a written plan.

2. Employee Training – A written employee training program is crucial to the success of a GAP program. Written procedures for equipment operation, product handling, and employee hygiene should be used in the training of all individuals who take part in year-round orchard management.

3. Fertilizer and Soil Amendment Practices – The improper handling and use of manure is a potential risk factor for foodborne illness. Almonds are considered a high-risk crop for contamination due to demonstrated potential for the almond kernel to come into direct contact with potential contaminants on the ground at harvest. Using manure (feces, urine, and other excrement) increases microbial risks and can contribute to foodborne illness.

4. Water Quality and Sources Water used in the production of almonds can be a source of microbial contaminants. Identifying the source of water for irrigation, spraying, and cleaning (hands and equipment) and recognizing that water may need to be tested will assist in the prevention of potential contamination.

5. Field Sanitation and Employee Hygiene – Worker hygiene plays a critical role in minimizing potential contamination. Awareness of the role of personal hygiene and responsibility by all employees should not be taken for granted. Note: This is a federal and state requirement.

6. Orchard Floor Management Whenever almonds touch the ground, the potential for microbial contamination increases. Whenever moisture or dust comes in contact with contaminated almonds, infiltration and rapid growth of the pathogen may result, elevating the potential for foodborne illness.

7. Pest Control – All animals, wild and domestic, are potential sources of contamination. They can harbor, or could be a vector for, a variety of pathogenic agents such as Salmonella or infectious forms of E. coli.

By David Eddy

Senior Western Editor

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Copyright Meister Media Worldwide Sep/Oct 2005

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