PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida fruit and vegetable leaders heard about the food safety challenges affecting their industry and the importance of tracing back the products they ship to their customers.

During a Sept. 28 session on traceability at the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s 66th yearly convention, growers learned how the industry is grappling with traceability from the grower-shipper end to retail distribution centers.


FFVA attendees learn about traceback challenges in distribution

Doug Ohlemeier

William Pool, manager of agricultural production and research for Wegman's Food Markets Inc., Rochester, N.Y., from left, talks about traceability with Alan Newton, vice president of information services for A. Duda & Sons Inc., Oviedo, Fla., and Gary Fleming, vice president of industry technology and standards for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., during a session at the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s convention in Palm Beach, Fla. Panelists discussed how the industry is grappling with traceability from the grower-shipper end to retail distribution centers


In the panel discussion, William Pool, manager of agricultural production and research for Wegman’s Food Markets Inc., Rochester, N.Y., discussed how the 73-store chain recently handled a recall of four cases of bunched spinach it had received from a distributor that had sourced from Salinas, Calif.-based Ippolito International LP.

Ippolito in mid-September issued the recall over concerns that shipments to 12 states and three Canadian provinces could have been contaminated with salmonella.

“We have some 800-pound gorillas in the rooms,” Pool said. “You have challenges and we have challenges. The real expensive gorilla is scanning outbound cases. Ultimately, if I want to limit my liability on product on the shelf and boost the confidence of customers, I have to deal with that. There has to be a better way. I’m not sure of the final solution, but we have to have a better way of knowing what comes in our back door and what we send out to our stores.”

Gary Fleming, vice president of industry technology and standards for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., said proposed legislation in Washington, D.C., essentially points to the produce traceability initiative.

“If we have electronic traceback mandated, we will figure out how to do this as an industry,” Fleming said. “If the consumer doesn’t think produce a safe choice, we will all be hurt financially and some of us will go out of business. Some shipments will slip through the nets as we can’t test every bulk load. We have to have some process in place to quickly locate what the problem is so when we are guilty by association, we can clear ourselves. Just because you may not be the guilty party, don’t think you’re in the clear. You have to prove you’re in the clear.”

The convention continues Sept. 29 with sessions on sustainability, crisis planning for averting negative publicity and an awards luncheon.