Bill Marler, arguably the leading legal mind in food safety today, is not pulling any punches when he points out the deficiencies at Jensen Farms.
The shocking truth is that the old ways of doing things in the produce industry must quickly come to an end. We cannot continue to hide from the truth. We should therefore be very worried about the future of the fresh produce industry, and do whatever we can to save it.
The following is my take on what it will require to satisfy any future due diligence defense, in the event that the unthinkable happens, again.
1. Equipment design
All equipment that touches a produce item at any step of production must be stainless steel and NSF or UL approved, or equivalent, and otherwise meet the requirements for food contact surfaces as outlined by the USFDA Food Code. Any part of any piece of equipment that touches produce, whether the produce surface is part of the food, or is inedible, must be certified as safely designed. Existing equipment must meet the same requirements or must be dismantled and removed. This also applies to retail operations where produce is displayed handled and/or sold to the consumer.
Non-food contact surface of equipment shall pass equivalent qualifications based on a risk assessment.
2. Facility design
Every facility that handles produce from the packing shed to the processor or cannery must be designed by a certified designer and pass a plan review process governed by a legal authority before construction. All such facilities must be inspected by a government entity and approved before operation. Existing designs must be brought up to standards immediately or cease operation. This also applies to the retailer.
3. Potable water
Only water that has met the chemical, biological and radiological standards for potability may contact produce at any stage of the growing, harvesting, packing and processing chain. This includes the retail level. All water supplies used anywhere in the produce industry must be approved prior to construction. Existing systems must be immediately resigned or abandoned if they cannot meet such requirements
4. Personal Hygiene
All persons handling produce at any step of the supply chain must be certified to be in good health on a frequent basis, and may not touch produce with bare hands. Adequate plumbed facilities that include approved waste disposal and hand washing must be provided anywhere produce is produced or handled.
5. Food Safety Management Systems
Food safety management system that includes a hazard analysis of each step of production must be in place at any produce operation, with the controls verified and validated for effectiveness by a competent authority having jurisdiction. This applies to the retail level.
All produce must be treated to reduce pathogenic microorganisms to a safe level. Such treatments must be validated as safe and effective and included in an operations food safety management system. Such management systems must include a microbiological testing program for all water used, all surfaces touched by produce and the general environment, in process tests as well as end product tests to verify the effectiveness of controls, irregardless of the type of commodity. Such programs shall show the continuing absence of pathogenic microorganisms. The application of the HACCP risk assessment concept as outlines by CODEX is mandatory to apply to all such testing program. Such risk assessments shall apply starting at the seed supplier level then proceed from the farm level through retail.
The retailer shall provide the same levels of safety controls and testing as his suppliers for products under his immediate control.
6. Industry level food safety controls
No buyer shall purchase produce without first ensuring first-hand that the operation meets all the safety requirements as stated above. The use of third parties are only an option when the retailer pays for such service and the service is itself accredited by a competent legal authority who has enforcement power over both the third party and the buyer.
7. Government level public health controls
No produce operation shall be allowed to operate without first obtaining an approval from a competent authority having jurisdiction. Such authority shall make frequent inspections of such operations as often as necessary to ensure compliance with laws and rules governing food safety and take the necessary action to protect the public when needed.
Every individual unit of produce shall bear an identifying code that at a minimum is traceable through every step of the supply chain. Such coding shall be maintained by the retailer so that in the event of a recall, the public will know exactly which producers and handlers are involved. This information shall be made immediately available to the consumer in the event of knowledge of a hazard or risk to public health.
Any means of conveyance of fresh produce shall be designed and operated according to these same requirements and under the control of a competent legal authority.
10. Education and Training
No entity shall operate any produce type operation until all management level personnel can demonstrate knowledge of food safety, food safety management systems and HACCP through the taking of an accredited course of instruction and pass an accredited examination. No employee shall work with produce in any capacity without having taken and passed an approved food safety training program that includes the principles of HACCP.
11. On farm risk assessment
No farming operation shall be used to grow produce for human consumption without first meeting the approval of a competent authority having jurisdiction. Such approval shall be based on a risk assessment that shows there is no reasonable threat to public health from any feature of the growing operation or surrounding environment
12. Consumer Education
The produce industry shall fund, create and market the best practices methods for safe consumer handling of its products. The effort must be a national campaign and designed so that consumers know the unavoidable risks of eating fresh produce and the safety precautions they can take. Such campaigns will use current media, retailers shall make such educational materials available to consumers at the point of sale, and poll consumers to gauge the effectiveness of the outreach efforts and publish the results.