(Oct. 31) SAN DIEGO — The produce industry needs to work on its infrastructure in order to best survive a crisis.

That was one of the themes from the “Report Card from the Regulators,” workshop Oct. 23 at Fresh Summit 2006, which covered components of a healthy diet, produce safety, outbreaks, and making a nutritious product safer.

A.G. Kawamura, California’s secretary of agriculture, said there is a need to set a benchmark for safety as the industry looks for ways to reduce risk and move forward in an effort to establish 100% safety. He added, though, that the industry must always recognize that a significant amount of science and information remains to be uncovered.

“The one thing that comes to mind in this last year is the ‘Katrina to California infrastructure,’” he said.

He said that if California’s water system, which provides almost 80% of the state with its water supply, as well as its agriculture systems, were to be overwhelmed, the state would be faced with a devastating, catastrophic collapse of the entire infrastructure.

“Every company needs to get involved in the political system to make sure the infrastructure does not break down,” he said. “Having a good infrastructure, whether it’s water or transportation, impacts your ability to deliver fresh produce.”

Kawamura also commented on pest exclusion programs.

“How many of you can afford to be shut down, not by foodborne illness issues, but by invasive species, where we put a quarantine on an entire area?” he asked.

He pointed out how the discovery of a single peach fruit fly in a residential area of Fresno almost shut down all Fresno County production.

“If you shut down one county, immediately some think you need to shut down the whole state,” Kawamura said. “It’s unfair how some people use their ability to ban products. You have to talk to your legislators and others with authority and stress that if the infrastructure is not in place your commodity can be shut down.”

He said the industry must be involved in crafting legislation rather than waiting for a problem and having to react.