(Oct. 15, 2:49 p.m.) Compared to certain other produce items that have been in the news over the past year or so, citrus can be considered a relatively safe product, grower-shippers say.

“We’re one of the least-risk commodities,” said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter. “Our areas of vulnerability, which are really slight, are in the packinghouse.”

Nonetheless, grower-shippers are not oblivious to the need to implement effective food safety practices.

“It’s an issue not to be taken lightly,” said David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus Association Inc., Delano, Calif. “We’re doing a lot in that area.”

The company employs a full-time food safety officer and makes sure all of its facilities are certified by PrimusLabs.com and AIB International, Krause said.

Paramount has extensive information technology systems for traceback and traceforward ability, he said.

The fact that the company is vertically integrated and controls the farming operation also is an advantage, he said.

At Bravante Citrus, Reedley, Calif., sales manager Ross Bailey said the company is third-party certified by several firms, including Primus and Emeryville, Calif.-based Scientific Certification Systems. The company’s packing facility is new and highly rated for food safety, he said.

Buyers definitely are more concerned about food safety, he said.

“Traceability and food safety are a big concern for everybody’s customers these days,” Bailey said.

Food safety also is top of mind at Mulholland Citrus in Orange Cove, Calif.

“You never want to say that you are immune to a problem,” said Fred Berry, director of marketing. “It’s definitely a concern.”

The company, which is Primus certified, has the capability of tracing back all individual consumer packs, not just master packaging, he said.

Retailers want to know that proper cultural practices are followed and that the packing facilities are certified, he said.

“Everyone has to be concerned about food safety,” added Randy Jacobsen, sales manager at Cecelia Packing Corp. in Orange Cove.

Customers now demand traceability, and some want shippers to use the new DataBar bar codes that identify the shipper of each orange, he said.

Shippers have to prepare for any food safety emergency and treat their product as though it’s as susceptible to a food safety threat as any other item.

Justin Bedwell, director of marketing for Z&S Distributing Co. Inc., Fresno, Calif., said he is glad the company has an affiliation with General Mills through its vegetable program. He said the company applies the standards that General Mills mandates in its vegetables to the Z&S’ citrus and tree fruit programs.

General Mills growers must meet exacting specifications, like having recall programs in place, arranging for third-party audits and being able to track lot numbers to ensure food safety.

Citrus growers need to learn from the problems that grower-shippers of other commodities have endured, Bedwell said.

Many of the customers of Wildwood Produce Sales Inc., Kingsburg, Calif., have asked if the company is third-party certified, said Alex Marriott, sales manager.

Royal Vista Marketing Inc., Visalia, Calif., also is Primus certified, said Todd Steele, an owner.

“Customers want to make sure we have a food safety program in place,” he said.

The company must keep records that track information such as where product is grown and what types of chemicals were used on it.

Citrus industry not immune to food safety concerns
A worker sorts lemons in the Dinuba, Calif., packinghouse of Delano, Calif.-based Paramount Citrus Association Inc. Paramount offers lemons year-round and employs a full-time food safety officer, making sure all of its facilities are certified by PrimusLabs.com and AIB International, says David Krause, president.