(Dec. 11) BALM, Fla. — Growers who packed a Florida agriculture expo heard about food safety issues.

The second yearly Florida Ag Expo, taking place Dec. 6-7 at the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences' Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm east of Tampa, heard from a number of speakers who reminded them about the importance of maintaining safe produce shipments.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said the state’s food safety efforts should help provide Florida’s agriculture a competitive edge.

“Food safety is the No. 1 issue in every poll we did at the department (of agriculture),” Bronson said. “The whole industry will have to focus on some of these food safety issues.”

In a Dec. 7 food safety session, fruit and vegetable growers heard about what they can do to preserve produce’s safe and healthy image.

Elizabeth Bihn, project coordinator of the National Good Agricultural Practices program at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., said produce growers sometimes forget that fruits and vegetables are ready-to-eat foods and that farmworker training remains critical for food safety.

Robert Gravani, a professor in Cornell’s food science department, said the workshop provides useful perspectives on using GAPs.

“The produce industry last year had a lot of adverse things,” he said. “You need to be knowledgeable about these issues because they’re not going away.”

Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, said food safety documentation remains critical. He told attendees about the numerous audits DiMare’s national operations undergo.

“I hate audits,” he said. “I get inundated on a weekly and sometimes on a multiple-day basis with customers demanding food safety audits and verification of those audits, from farm to packinghouse. So don’t tell me about audits. It’s every day. It seems like it’s getting worse.”

The show also featured talks on possible alternative crops for Florida growers such as peaches, plums, raspberries and crops for ethanol production.

Expo turns a spotlight on food safety
Shawn Crocker (right), executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover, talks with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson on Dec. 7 at the second yearly Florida Ag Expo in Balm.