Photo by Joelle Stephens

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Dave Corsi, vice president of produce for Wegmans, shared perspective on a panel Jan. 10 at the Global Organic Produce Expo about how Center for Produce Safety research continues to inform Wegmans and other buying organizations in regards to food safety standards for produce suppliers.

Corsi is also the chairman of the Center for Produce Safety, and Wegmans is a member of the recently formed Leafy Greens Safety Coalition, which also includes Walmart, Kroger, Costco and Yum! Brands. The group has convened with a goal to strengthen prevention of foodborne illness outbreaks, improve traceability of products, and increase collaboration between the buying community and federal agencies.

In the area of prevention, the group is considering distance from concentrated animal feeding operations as a key risk.

“Distances from (CAFOs) is an issue,” Corsi said. “You can have science and tell us that 1,200 feet may be enough in terms of the distance from a 100,000-herd cattle operation. We don’t think so. We don’t think 1,200 feet is enough because there’s so many other factors beyond just the distance. What are the barriers that you put in place? What if there’s a weather event that happens, a windstorm? What happens to the water that you’re using that’s coming right through a cattle operation and are you treating that water? Should you even grow an item like leaf near these major concentrated animal feed operations?

“So it’s those markers that we’re putting in place, and even in our coalition we may not agree on the actual distance — I think most have embraced a mile at this point, but I know we’ve got some folks, like ourselves, that are looking at a two-mile requirement now,” Corsi said.

Compost is another area the group is examining.

“We’re finding out that compost, at least as we continue to talk to (the Food and Drug Administration), finding out that that’s probably a bigger challenge than even the water issue that is at hand because we’re not treating the compost properly,” Corsi said. “We’re not sanitizing that compost as it should be in the time frame that you should be handling that product before you put it on a field.”

The coalition is looking to standardize some of their food safety expectations to make the industry safer and make the compliance process easier for growers.

“Those are the elements of prevention that as a group together we’re honing in on to see, ‘Can we be in unison on this versus having our own separate standards and having a poor grower work with a different set from each buyer?’ That doesn’t help them,” Corsi said. “Science can tell us one thing, but it’s the risk assessments, control analysis, that can help us understand how it can be more effective in prevention.”

The companies are moving forward on the traceability front as well.

“We’re committing to at least the inbound and outbound of our facilities, distribution facilities, to have traceback capability for product coming into our distribution centers,” Corsi said. “We’re all in a different place at this point, as a buyer, to where we are with traceability, but we’ll all have common ground by September, at least again at the distribution center.

“Then what’s next is the store capability and tracking from the store, and that’s going to take a little more time, but at least we’ll take the first step and make sure we commit to the distribution centers by September of this year,” Corsi said.

Marco Azzaretti, senior manager of marketing solutions for Tomra, and Doug Marshall, chief scientific officer of Eurofins, also participated on the panel. The discussion concluded with the same question for each industry member — what would you recommend a company do this year to strengthen its food safety position?

Azzaretti noted that every member of the supply chain needs to do its part to become enabled from a connectivity perspective so the industry can go to the next level when it comes to tracking and traceability. Marshall recalled the FDA’s finding more than a decade again that a majority of food handlers did not understand the risks associated with their products or the processes being applied to the products, and he added that the industry hasn’t come far enough in that regard. It is critical that everyone become educated on the risks at hand and how to mitigate them, Marshall concluded.

Corsi mentioned verifying best practices of suppliers and noted that Wegmans plans to have a few more boots on the ground to ensure that proper protocols are being followed. He also invited the audience to upcoming Center for Produce Safety Symposium, during which scientists funded by the organization share their industry-specific research and the implications the results could have for best practices.

This year’s CPS event is scheduled for June 23-24 in La Jolla, Calif.

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