(Feb. 27, 9:00 a.m.) FRESNO, Calif. — Labor, food safety and produce handling at the retail level are key issues facing grower-shippers, said speakers at the Reedley-based California Tree Fruit Agreement’s Second Annual Educational Symposium in Fresno.

The symposium was Feb. 26.

Appearing on a retail panel, Don Harris, director of procurement and wholesale sales for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., said national commodity-specific good agricultural practices must be implemented.

“The biggest problem for retailers is that consumers are unaware of the standards in place and how they are executed,” Harris said.

A food industry problem often overlooked, he said, is that retailers frequently lack the expertise to store and handle produce properly. Retailers break the cold chain, store at improper temperatures and fail to establish good commodity rotation, he said.

Stone fruit grower-shippers face a difficult task dealing with potential food hazards, said Trevor Suslow, a professor at the University of California-Davis who participated in a food safety session. The problem, he said, is that there is no history of illness linked to peaches, plums or nectarines.

“California faces the possibility of a statewide quarantine,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Fresno. Bedwell, the luncheon speaker, said alarmists have forced state and federal officials to take a dangerous path in the fight against the light brown apple moth, discovered for the first time in North America in February 2007. Because the primary weapon being used to eradicate the pest is pheromone spraying, the application falls into the category of a pesticide.

“Four bills aimed at reducing or halting the spraying have already been introduced in the California Legislature,” Bedwell said.

Another key issue facing grower-shippers is that national lawmakers must permit growers to outsource labor or the nation will be forced to outsource fresh produce, Bedwell said.

“We could be in the same position with food as we are with oil,” he said.

Tree fruit meeting stresses food safety, handling
The California Tree Fruit Agreement held its Second Annual Educational Symposium on Feb. 26. Don Harris (above), director of procurement and wholesale sales for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., appeared on the retail panel and spoke about key problems many fresh produce retailers face.