VERO BEACH, Fla. — Florida citrus growers are preparing to hand Food and Drug Administration officials a good agricultural practices document showing how the industry is working to assure the fruit they pack is free of contamination.

Florida citrus growers develop food safety standards

Spearheaded by members of the Indian River Citrus League and Florida Citrus Packers Inc., the Lakeland-based fresh packers trade association, a group of growers and packers plan to submit the working document to the FDA within a month.

The document covers all the state’s growers and packinghouses and includes citrus grown for fresh and processed markets, said Doug Bournique, the league’s executive vice president.

Bournique said the project assembles all the safety practices growers follow, from planting citrus trees to shipping the fruit to domestic and overseas receivers.

“Knowing that this train is on the track and that FDA will be looking at our industry very hard, we thought we would engage the FDA in this process and show them that we want to work with them on development of GAPs for Florida citrus,” he said. “Up to 90% of this is already being done but it hasn’t been put together in one all-encompassing document.”

Bournique said the group plans to have one more meeting and complete the document, patterned after a similar practices league members developed in the late 1990s for water and production best management practices.

Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Groves LLC, said the efforts are similar to what Florida’s tomato growers have been doing with food safety. In July 2008, Florida legislators passed a law concerning good agricultural practices for the tomato industry, after growers and industry groups drafted the guidelines and lobbied for their approval.

“This is a proactive measure to position ourselves under this food safety issue,” Richey said. “Our industry is way ahead of the curve already and is working on something that we have already been doing. We didn’t want to be broad-brushed with the same set of rules that leafy vegetables grown on the ground and have water applied to them while our product is grown on a tree and off the ground which people have to peel to eat.”

California citrus leaders are working on a similar program, Bournique said.

According to the September issue of the league’s River Ramblings newsletter, an earlier version had to be scrapped after processers “became more vocal,” which caused the league and Florida Citrus Packers to start their own document that they said would better serve the industry, according to the league.

The group writing the document includes growers and packers representing DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, the Packers of Indian River Ltd., Dundee Citrus Growers Association., Dundee, , an agricultural consultant and Peter Chaires, Florida Citrus Packers’ director of strategic management and business development.