(Oct. 13, 4:10 p.m.) Growers throughout the produce industry are ready to comply with new requirement to label fruits and vegetables with the country of origin. Many pepper growers, however, made big strides in this direction even before the requirements took effect Sept. 30.

For example, Christopher Ranch, LLC, Gilroy, Calif., invested in automatic label equipment to secure the price look up stickers to bell peppers. Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif., also has the ability to sticker any pepper with a country of origin label. As a result, the vegetables are identified with a “Product of USA” or “Product of Mexico” label.

“We can sticker all of our fancy fruit peppers and individually mark all of our boxes,” said Jeff Taylor, salesman, who said that foodservice typically prefers not to have the stickers on the individual peppers. “We can tell where the peppers are picked, where they are packed, and we have traceback capability by block ID.”

Six L’s Packing Co. Inc., Immokalee, Fla., has integrated labeling into its processes.

“We are a fully audited company, from the farm all the way to our packinghouses and distribution facilities,” said Jaime Weisinger, director of sales and purchasing. “We’re one of the most thoroughly and highly food safety rated companies in our business.”

COOL compliance

The COOL legislation affects not only pepper growers, but also all vegetable and fruit companies, as well as some meat providers, nationwide. Operators and retailers must inform American consumers about the country of origin for produce and certain cuts of meat and fish by properly labeling their products.

To meet this requirement, fresh produce companies need to affix “a label, stamp, mark, placard, or other clear and visible sign on the covered commodity, or on the package, display, holding unit, or bin containing the commodity at the final point of consumption,” according to the COOL legislation.

The COOL laws were inspired by American consumers, Weisinger said.

“The general public forced this bill into law,” he said. “The ‘Joe Q’ general public wants to know where the produce is coming from. They can’t tell a difference between a pepper grown in Mexico and Florida.”

For that reason, foodservice and retailers are required to disclose that information on the boxes that they ship.

“Every single box has to have some notation to the origin of that product,” Weisinger said. “We already have that process in place, and we are fully COOL-compliant right now.”

Focus on safety

Food safety is the most important issue in the pepper industry, Taylor said.

Ben Wiers, vice president of Wiers Farms Inc., Willard, Ohio, agreed. His company has made a significant financial investment in its food safety programs. The company has the ability to take a pepper and then identify exactly where it was planted within a 2-acre area.

“We can go to a 2-acre spot in our field, do any checks and balances,” Wiers said. “We can then follow it all the way to our refrigerated trucks, where it is shipped to our market. We spend a lot of time, effort and money to make sure we have a safe food supply for our customers.”