Avocados may have a natural safety edge on other fruits and vegetables, marketing agents say, but the industry still is working hard to stay ahead of the rush of regulations enveloping the produce industry.

“Here in California, we’re probably 50% GAP-certified now,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing with Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.

The Produce Traceability Initiative goes hand-in-hand with that progress, Wedin said.

“We’re right on time with PTI, and we’re ready to be applying GTINs (Global Trade Item Numbers) and supplying them to customers,” he said.

The stepped-up safety programs have a head start with a product that’s already considered low-risk in terms of safety problems, Wedin said.

Nevertheless, he added, the company and industry are working to meet all the mandated safety milestones.

Everyone is involved in rigorous food safety programs, said Eddie Caram, general manager of Princeton, Fla.-based grower-shipper New Limeco LLC.

Retailers likely will lead the way to full certification in all food safety programs across the board, said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales & marketing with Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc.

“That’s a big part of our mission right now, convincing the grower of the value of certification,” he said.

He said retailer Wegman’s has announced that next fall it will require good agricultural practices certification on all products.

“That’s what will probably push it, in my opinion, when the retailers require it,” he said.

International advantage

Chilean avocado shippers’ experience with transporting product to Europe has given them an edge in safety compliance, said Adolfo Ochagavía, president of the Chilean Hass Avocado Committee.

“Because of (European) requirements, the Chilean avocado industry implemented, for example, HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) certification in the packinghouses,
GlobalGAP (certification requirements) in groves and other certifications related with the big worldwide retailers many years ago,” he said.

Wedin said his company is part of producesupply.org, a nonprofit consortium of 13 fruit and vegetable grower-shippers who, according to the organization’s website, hope to “help move produce industry e-commerce forward, so all buyers and sellers can benefit by reduced costs and better information.”

That includes food safety information, Wedin said.

Eduardo Serena, marketing director with the Avocado Producers and Exporting Packers Association of Michoacán, said growers in his organization also are used to “world-class” safety standards.

Serna said third-party audits are regular occurences and that Mexican avocados abide by numerous international standards, including traceback within an hour, fruit never touching the ground, independently certified packers, and other guidelines.