Michigan producers continue to tweak, and in some cases overhaul, their food safety and traceability programs to comply with industry regulations and requirements.

“Food safety issues are our No. 1 priority,” said Todd Miedema, marketing director and principal at Miedema Produce, Hudsonville, Mich. “Our industry has been very food safety conscious, and for the past couple of years it’s really been a focal point.”

The most important thing is to keep the consumer safer and to increase consumer confidence in fresh produce, Miedema said.

“If we can trace back in a better, more timely fashion, we’re also making it a safer environment for us to do business in,” Miedema said.

For Hudsonville-based Superior Sales, the tactic has been to stay a step ahead of the industry when it comes to food safety.

“We continue to try to stay ahead of the game on the food safety front,” said Todd DeWaard, sales manager. “We strive to keep our growers to the highest levels of certification and employ one person full-time and another part-time year-round just to handle all the changing regulations, as well as handling all of our growers in these regards.”

Bruce Heeren, vice president of Belding-based Michigan Fresh Marketing, said the company plans to add bar code labels to its packaged cartons this season as part of its efforts to meet Produce Traceability Initiative standards.

Dave Miedema, president of Byron Center, Mich.-based E. Miedema & Sons, said his company has been preparing for GFSI-approved audits.

“It’s all good, but it’s a lot of paperwork,” Dave Miedema said. “It’s a lot more of my time, but we feel we have to do it.”

Dave Miedema said he’s a little nervous about the proposed national leafy greens initiative, which would act as a national marketing order for leafy green products, as is done in California and Arizona through the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Dave Miedema is a past president of the Leafy Greens Council, and said during his time on the board, the group did not back such a marketing order.

“We’re not against food safety, but we just felt if there was something that Primus and these others (auditors) could administer instead of the USDA…we’re wondering if there are going to be enough auditors,” Dave Miedema said.

Dave Miedema said a national marketing order would likely put many small leafy greens growers out of business.

Michigan is no stranger to required government audits. The state’s Department of Agriculture has been under extreme pressure to cut the budget in recent years, and as a result growers and packers haven’t always been able to find auditors to take care of required audits.

Talbert Nething, general manager of Byron Center, Mich.-based Hearty Fresh, said it can be challenging to secure government inspections to qualify the company for things like government bids and export sales.

“That does seem to be an issue because of the lack of employees at the state level, and I think that will continue to be an issue,” Nething said.

Byron Center, Mich.-based Hearty Fresh recently went through an ASI audit and scored above 98%, said Talbert Nething, general manager.

Hudsonville-based Crispheart Produce, a celery grower and distributor of a full line of Michigan vegetables, is doing what it can to keep up with new food safety and traceability requirements.

“We do what we have to do on the farm and on the trucks for traceback,” said Gene Talsma, president. “We get audited every year, and do what’s required or what we need to do for safety.”

Jerry Van Solkema, owner of Van Solkema Produce, Byron Center, said audit requirements are changing, which will cost the company more money.

“I believe that if we have to comply with certifications that all producers that provide products to farmers markets and roadside stands should comply also,” Van Solkema said.

To get the company’s blueberry growers across the nation on the same page about food safety requirements, Grand Junction-based MBG Marketing has hosted several industrywide training and educational programs, said Larry Ensfield, vice president of operations.

“The recent food safety act will put additional responsibilities on growers, packers and processors,” Ensfield said.