New Limeco LLC has made recent investments in food safety programs.

Eddie Caram, general manager of Princeton, Fla.-based New Limeco, credited a beefed-up program as one of the reasons the company is successfully boosting its Guatemalan papaya business.

Better quality and increased consumer awareness are reasons New Limeco has bumped its typical weekly volumes from four or five containers to nine containers per week, Caram said.

But food safety-related reasons can’t be discounted. In particular, New Limeco’s persuasion of its grower partners — not just Central American growers of papayas, but also growers of other fruits and vegetables — to get up to speed.

“One of our Guatemalan growers got his plant Primus-certified, and it’s opened the doors to more chain store business” in the U.S., Caram said.

The same has been true for other New Limeco commodities, including chayote squash, Caram said.

“We’re bringing in two loads of chayote per week, and we’re going into more chains,” he said. “We’ve increased food safety and traceability, and it’s helped us open more doors.”

New Limeco employees Don Edgar and George Leon manage the company’s food safety and traceability program. Last summer, Leon was promoted to assistant packinghouse manager.

Edgar and Leon are overseeing a program that takes New Limeco’s food safety and traceability efforts to a whole new level, Caram said.

“We’re doing something new — tracing serial numbers at the box level.”

New Limeco also has changed some of its machinery in an effort to boost food safety and traceability capabilities, and the company is trying to make sure its suppliers are keeping pace.

“We’re trying to incorporate the same (standards) with our offshore growers so we have complete traceability and we can all work as one,” Caram said.

Food safety and traceability have always been integral to New Limeco’s operation, but lately the company has been working even harder to stay on the cutting edge.

“It’s very important to us that our growers are certified so it can be traced back” all the way to the field level, Caram said.

If there’s a recall or if a customer just has an issue with the quality of something they bought from New Limeco, the customer can give the company the serial number of the product to find out where and when the product was grown, packed and shipped.

In the early years of its food safety program, it was enough for New Limeco to good manufacturing practices/good agricultural practices and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point certification, Edgar said.

That was then, this is now.

“Two years ago, we broke away and went to a global food safety-certified” program that enhanced the program New Limeco already had in place, Edgar said. “Rather than just follow the procedures of GMP and GAP, now we have a complete profile, a food safety diagram laid out by our management team.”

Edgar said New Limeco learned many lessons from the story of Jensen Farms, the Colorado cantaloupe shipper responsible for a 2011 listeria outbreak that killed at least 33 people and sickened 147 in 28 states.

New Limeco hired a company that specializes in building customized traceability plans for businesses to help ensure that, in the event of a recall, the company would have what Edgar called a “complete circle” of accountability.

“They helped us devise a new inventory management and accounting system,” he said.

Now, Edgar says New Limeco is in the process of “taking PTI a step further” by helping its grower-partners add serial numbers at the case level to match what New Limeco is doing at the receiving end.

Within two years, Edgar said, the company hopes to have its major growers on board with the project. By February, New Limeco should have one of its major papaya suppliers up and running, and by June 2014, the company expects to add at least a few more growers to the list.

Central American growers already have taken huge steps to get up to speed when it comes to food safety and traceability, Edgar said.

“We’ve gotten the growers on board to receive certification,” he said. “If you’re supplying Wal-Mart or another company, you have to be third-party audited. And they’re all up and running with Global GAP and Primus.”