(Sept. 28) ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Food safety is always a topic of great concern among fresh-cut producers.

To that end, representatives of the Food and Drug Administration and Western Growers presented updates on food safety programs from governmental and industry perspectives at ExecTrends 2004, the fall meeting of the International Fresh-cut Produce Association.

Speaking on Sept. 27 at a session titled “Assuring Produce Safety From Field to Fork,” Michelle Smith, interdisciplinary scientist with the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, gave updates on several key FDA food safety programs.

First was the Produce and Imported Food Safety Initiative, which was started in 1997 to partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the industry to develop guidance on good agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices for fruits and vegetables, with particular attention to the field and packing house levels.

“If your goal is prevention, it only makes sense to go back to the early stages of the chain,” Smith said.

The initiative released its Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables in 1998. Since then, Smith said, the FDA has studied foodborne illness outbreak investigations through 2002 and found that, in most cases, the most likely causes of contamination were preventable.

Smith said an updated version of the guide will be coming soon.

Meanwhile, the FDA also is working on its Proposed Produce Safety Action Plan, with the goal of filling in food safety gaps in the production, handling and preparation of produce to minimize food borne illness.

Smith said a final action plan is in development and is expected to be released sometime in October. In the meantime, she said, the key to fighting foodborne illness is collaboration between the government, the industry and consumer groups.