A new food safety guidance handbook for California citrus growers targets production and harvesting practices.

The Food Safety Good Agricultural Practices for California Citrus Growers highlights many of the steps already in use, said Bob Blakely, director of industrial relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

“Much of it is already being done, but the whole purpose behind this project is to get all growers on the same page,” he said. “Then we can assure our customers that we’re continuing to apply good safety practices.”

Blakely, a member of the technical working group that drafted the handbook, said it is in response to the Food and Drug Administration’s request for input as the federal agency drafts its own food safety standards.

Growers, but not packing facilities, are covered because “most of the packinghouses have had GAP standards in effect for several years,” Blakely said.

The working group, led by Auburn-based California Citrus Quality Council President Jim Cranney, is developing sample food safety templates to assist growers and harvesters prepare food safety plans consistent with harmonized standards being developed by the fresh produce industry.

“Each individual plan will detail how the grower is following food safety standards,” Blakely said. “Auditors will be able to look at the plan to verify the good agricultural practices.”

The state citrus industry plans to submit the food safety handbook and standards to the FDA for review in advance of the agency’s proposed food safety rule, which is expected to be released in 2011.

“The FDA fully recognizes the rule needs to be flexible enough to be commodity specific,” Blakely said. “It also recognizes the rule must be operationally specific, or in other words, to be flexible enough to apply to a large commercial operation right down to the small family farm.”