The Produce Traceability Initiative is due to be implemented by 2012, and Ontario’s fruit and vegetable growers and shippers say they are ahead of schedule.
“We’re going through major changes to trace our products back to the field label, and with GPS we can now trace it back from the store to the spot it was grown in the field,” said Doug Pearce, partner in Leamington, Ontario-based Pier C Produce.
All of the company’s onion and carrot bags will have lot traceability codes, he said.
“If there’s ever an issue, we can find out where it came from and do a recall,” Pearce said. “I think we’re the only ones doing that right now, in our commodities, anyway.”
At Vittoria, Ontario-based Scotlynn Commodities, technology speeding up compliance, said Scott Biddle, owner.
“We implemented a new software system that’s really going to take us to the next level as far as traceability goes,” he said. “Basically, from field to fork we’ll be able to trace products to the lots and with different chemicals and fertilizers used on it. So we’re ready.”
St. Thomas, Ontario-based Whalls Farms has been working on traceability codes, said office manager Chris Falk.
“All of our products have GS1 UPC codes,” Falk said. “Last year was the first year we did all numbers on our bulk products, so we’re in compliance with that aspect of traceability.”
Has it made things easier?
“In terms of satisfying customers, yes,” Falk said.
Chary Produce, Oakland, Ontario, earned Canadian good agricultural practices certification last year, said co-owner Miriam Worley.
That alone is evidence the company is ahead of the food-safety curve, Worley said.
“They look at every step of your process, from planting to traceability, and they talk to employees to make sure you’re doing what you say you’re doing,” she said.
Organic sweet potato grower Ontario Sweet Potato Waterford Ontario, has its own traceability system in place, said Bob Proracki, owner.
“Because we’re organic, there’s all kinds of requirements, and (traceability) is part of it,” he said. “You have to know where every bin of sweet potatoes came from to keep those people happy, so we’re working to that, for sure.
PTI is a priority across the industry, said Paul Procyk owner of Wilsonville, Ontario-based Procyk Farms.
“Everybody’s pushing forward with that. It’s almost a no-brainer,” he said. “Everybody is setting up to be traced from field to fork.”
What about Procyk’s operation?
“We pretty much have our own system in place right now,” he said. “The biggest key is documentation and staying on top of what you’re doing.”
Tony Moro, president of onion and carrot grower-shipper Bradford & District Produce Ltd., Bradford, Ontario, said all growers in the Holland Marsh area near Toronto are on top of the issue.
“Packinghouses have traceability systems in place, and all the farmers have their name and number,” he said. “In the marsh, we don’t have large corporate farms. It’s still 100% owned by the farmers. We’re so tuned in, we know that truck came from Field 67, and everything is very specific.”
The paperwork is daunting, said Paul Otter, co-owner of Woodville, Ontario-based Woodville Farms Ltd.
“We’re not California, but just on my desk I see 10 binders that are filled out daily, weekly and monthly with everything that can be done,” he said. “It all has to do with when it was cut, who it was shipped to.”
The Canadian Horticultural Council, Ottawa, Ontario, has been working with growers and shippers to keep them apace with all safety requirements, said Jamie Reaume, executive director of the Holland Marsh Growers Association, Newmarket, Ontario.
“We’ve got manuals, and we’ve worked with retailers, getting manuals in the hands of farmers and putting all the facilities through it,” Reaume said.
He said his only concern was with who was going to pay for all of the initiatives.
“The retailers are going to drive food safety, but the cost is borne by the farmers,” Reaume said. “We recognize what’s there but quite frankly most of the guys were already doing the things that were in the manuals. You do the business you have to do. That’s the way it goes. We should have full compliance in 18 months.”