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SAN DIEGO, Calif. - In the wake of a high-profile nationwide E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that dealt a body blow to the spinach industry, at the Produce Marketing Association's annual meeting here the trade association's board of directors approved the outline of a new program that it said would restore consumers' confidence in the safety of produce.
Gathering in Southern California for PMA's annual Fresh Summit Convention and Exposition, the trade group's board authorized $1 million to be allocated over the next 14 months, to fund a four-pronged program designed to reinforce existing food safety standards, and determine new standards that extend from field to fork.
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"In the past few weeks, the industry has faced a 'perfect storm' of food safety issues that has extended beyond the salad business to touch the entire industry, no matter what product you grow, package, transport, or sell," said Bryan Silbermann, PMA president. "This storm represents a tipping point for fresh produce, and our industry will be judged by our customers and the government by how much we change to strengthen our supply chain in the weeks, months and years ahead."
PMA said it would coordinate implementation of the produce safety plan with key industry association partners, to avoid duplication of efforts and ensure a timely response to problems. The activities in the plan will also form the basis of proactive communications with state and federal government regulators, the association said.
The multi-faceted program will include a research agenda to enhance growing and processing practices, enhanced education and training for all parts of the supply chain, and a verification component to help industry members evaluate their adherence to benchmark practices. In addition, the plan calls for a consumer communications campaign aimed at rebuilding confidence in produce.
PMA executive committee chairman Janet Erickson, e.v.p., purchasing quality assurance, Del Taco LLC, said the plan "will be an important factor in reinforcing the entire produce value chain and will be instrumental in helping the industry achieve its goal of zero illness. I am looking forward to working with the volunteer leaders of the other key associations to implement the plan."