(April 10, 11:51 a.m.) Mexico’s association for greenhouses and other protected crops recently committed to be certified under the Safe Quality Food Program of the Washington, D.C.-based Food Marketing Institute.

The decision by AMHPAC, Asociación Mexicana de Horticultura Protegida AC, Culiacán, Sinaloa, follows last summer’s Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, which hampered Mexico’s tomato exports to the U.S. The association has 150 grower members.

“AMHPAC’s commitment to the SQF Program is a commitment to observe the highest international standards for food safety and quality, and, most important, have their members independently certified that they meet these standards,” said Jill Hollingsworth, vice president of food safety programs for FMI.

“Food safety has always been a concern to our industry and what made that clear was the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak last year, which affected Sinaloan growers monetarily,” said Eric Viramontes, spokesman for the greenhouse growers’ group.

Teaming up

After many hours of research, the association’s directors realized growers needed to unite in order to make food safety a priority, he said.

“Individual (grower) efforts to abide by a certification food safety program is not enough. If your next-door neighbor is not doing the job right, well, that could affect all Mexican growers, so we decided to unite and make an industry effort,” Viramontes said.

“For American consumers, this will add another layer of assurance that certified food suppliers from Mexico are taking extra steps to enhance the safety of the food they produce,” Hollingsworth said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Mexico exported 526.5 million pounds of greenhouse tomatoes — the country’s largest greenhouse produce crop — to the U.S. in 2007-08, compared with 382.3 million pounds in the 2006-07 season.

“By working with our members to obtain SQF certification, our plan is to ensure the integrity of our products anywhere they are delivered worldwide,” said Cesar Campaña, chairman of AMHPAC’s board of directors, in a news release.

“Many retailers have committed to do this. Now is our time to do the same,” he said in the release.

Viramontes said the greenhouse group’s goal is to certify 100 growers in the SQF program this year.

The association represents shadehouse and greenhouse growers in 22 Mexican states, with a total production area covering 9,000 acres, producing 900,000 tons of bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes and specialty items, Viramontes said.

“While only 48% of the total greenhouse growers are members of AMHPAC, they represent 85% of the total growers that export their products to the U.S.,” he said.

John Schulz, director of business operations at the SQF Institute, which administers the food safety certification program, said all of the greenhouse growers in the association should be certified by 2011.

“Certification will cover safe growing practices, packaging and distribution,” he said in the release.

Mexican greenhouses agree to food safety program
AMHPAC, Asociación Mexicana de Horticultura Protegida AC, Culiacán, Sinaloa, has committed to be certified under the Safe Quality Food Program of the Washington, D.C.-based Food Marketing Institute.