Many growers have been using sustainable practices, but are now upping efforts.
Valley Fig Growers, Fresno, Calif., has invested in a wastewater treatment facility, said Linda Cain, vice president of marketing.
The facility takes wastewater from the plant, which used to go into the sewer system in Fresno. It now goes into a holding pond.
The pond contains microbes that eat “the good bits that are in the water,” Cain said.
“The residue that comes out is like 10% of the original waste water at post treatment.”
All of the biological parts that would have gone into the sewer system and been treated within the sewer are now done on the company’s property.
The company also captures the methane byproduct of the microbes and uses it to power some of Valley Fig’s generators and to heat the plant.
“We have people touring the plant all the time to see the whole system in place,” Cain said.
Sunsweet Growers Inc., Yuba City, Calif., is taking sustainable steps in its production and constantly trying to be more efficient and less wasteful, said Jeff McLemore, product manager for dried fruits.
The company’s Web site contains information that outlines what the company is doing in the way of sustainability.
Kingsburg-based Sun-Maid Growers of California is a leading player in the organic dried fruit category, said Joe Tamble, vice president of sales.
“We offer both six pack and minis in the organic variety,” Tamble said.
While there are organic products in the dried fruit industry, it’s very small when compared to other areas in the food industry.
The organic category has continued to grow over the last two to three years at a steady rate, but it’s small, Tamble said.
Overall, the dried fruit industry is doing a lot to improve product safety, Richard Peterson, executive director of the California Dried Plum Board, Sacramento, Calif., said.
A study is being conducted to document that the dried fruit industry is low risk.
“It hasn’t been completed yet,” Peterson said.
“High heat is involved in the dehydration process. The fruit is dried at a very high temperature. It’s only 20% moisture. Pathogens will die at the heat level. Also, during the re-hydration process, the fruit is exposed to a steam that’s high heat.”
After seeing what’s happened with pistachios, peanuts, and leafy greens, the industry remains careful, Peterson said.
Sun-Maid has focused on food safety for years. The company strives to deliver safe products, Tamble said.
“We have (U.S. Department of Agriculture) testing facilities at our production facility at Kingsburg, Calif. We have random testing of all of our items to make sure we adhere to the standards and procedures and following all the requirements,” Tamble said.
Dried fruit in various forms is being used in foodservice.
Figs are appearing on menus in fresh and dried form, and in anything from a duck roast in a port reduction sauce, to a dessert that features a fig and ice cream, Cain said.
Foodservice is an area that Sun-Maid has been involved in for a long time.
“That division continues to do very well for us as the demand of our product is very, very strong — not just in the U.S., but across the world,” Tamble said.
There will be an emphasis on the use of dried plum powder and puree in meat products in the foodservice industry, Peterson said.
The products add moisture to the meat. Processed meats decline over time, and the plum powder keeps the meat fresh and tasting good. The powder can eliminate “warmed over flavor,” Peterson said.