Fresh produce could become contaminated anywhere in the supply chain, from seed planting to placing on a shopper’s dining table.

The produce industry needs to consider all areas of potential contamination, safety and traceability providers said.

Dan Vache, vice president of supply chain management for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said a section of the Food Safety Modernization Act plans to cover transportation.

He said Food and Drug Administration officials are still talking about the topic.

Vache said best practices cover condition of trailers.

If there’s an off odor in it, you probably shouldn’t load it,” he said. “It’s a matter of common sense. With the cost of transportation, we’re seeing a lot more stronger shipper relations with transportation.

“It’s because they want to make sure they have the carriers and need to make sure those good carriers stay in business.”

Vache said possible gaps in control at places including trailers point out how produce food safety doesn’t only encompass the produce industry.

Walter Ram, vice president of food safety for The Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles, said the FDA plans to address food safety risks during transportation as the agency progresses with the act’s implementation.

Small operation exemption

Like others, Ram, who served on the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association’s produce safety, science and technology committee and chaired United Fresh’s food safety and technology council, questions the Tester Amendment’s exemption of smaller operations from food safety rules.

“Small operations can have effective food safety programs without breaking the bank, but the key is they have to want to. Being unable and being unwilling are two different things.”

Buyers’ responsibility

Gary Fleming, vice president of strategic services for RedLine Solutions, Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., said regulators shouldn’t overlook the buying side.

“People need to know where the government is going to expect the industry to react,” he said. “Most of the legislation coming from the FDA in the proposed rules focuses on the growers’ side. How will that translate to the retailers and the buying community?

“It’s very clear how the food safety protocols will impact the growers’ side of business but not so clear how they would impact the buyers’ side.”

Jim Gorny, senior adviser for produce safety at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, agreed but pointed out there are a number of reasons for the agency’s shipping point focus.

He said the origination points are where most of the epic outbreaks began and said Congress directed the agency to focus on the start of the chain.

“We understand food can become contaminated anywhere throughout the supply chain but we’re really focusing on these (packing and processing) facilities,” Gorny said. “These rules are not a cure-all, but they’re definitely a step in the right direction.”