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WASHINGTON -- The board of directors of the United Fresh Produce Association, based here, has adopted four guiding principles advocating science-based produce safety standards. The trade group is also voicing support for federal oversight of clear and consistent standards that are applicable to all produce grown anywhere in the United States, or imported into the country.
While calling for mandatory produce safety standards with sufficient federal oversight to be credible to consumers, United Fresh further said the standards can't depend on marketing programs or voluntary certification that, while helpful, are no substitute for commodity-specific food safety practices based on the best available science.
"We are committed first and foremost to providing consumers with safe and healthy fresh fruits and vegetables," said Torrey Farms' Maureen Marshall, co-chair of United Fresh. "While our industry is working tirelessly to constantly enhance our safety practices from field to table, each time any fruit or vegetable is implicated in a foodborne illness outbreak, we all suffer from lost consumer confidence in our industry as a whole. In the long run, this is simply not sustainable, and certainly not acceptable."
"We are convinced these steps are necessary to protect the future of our fresh produce industry," said Mark Miller, Fresh From Texas/Energy Sprouts and co-chair of United Fresh. "We know scientifically that we cannot promise there will never be another outbreak of foodborne disease. But we also know that in the future, we must be able to stand side by side with government to reassure the public that together, we have done everything we know to implement and comply with strong mandatory government standards to protect public health."
United Fresh said it will work with its members, allied produce industry associations, customer associations in retail and foodservice, the Food and Drug Administration, USDA, members of Congress and all other stakeholders to implement federal food safety policies that are consistent with these principles.
United Fresh will also continue its scientific and technical work to establish rigorous metrics for commodity-specific food safety practices for the production, processing, and handling of fresh produce, support industry measures to adopt these best practices and educate members on their application, and advocate for increased food safety research to reduce and eliminate potential pathogens on foods.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association hailed United Fresh "for taking an important step in the right direction in coming up with basic, guiding principles to improve fresh produce safety. The goal to incorporate these principles into the regulatory framework is a good base on which restaurant operators can work on an industry standard for confidently buying, receiving, storing and serving safe produce to the 132 million Americans who are foodservice patrons on a typical day."
NRA continued: "There is nothing more important to our nation's 935,000 restaurant and foodservice outlets and their 12.8 million employees than the health and safety of our guests. Food safety is the No. 1 priority, and non-negotiable."