Public Invited To Town Meeting On Safety Of Domestic And Imported Produce

By:
Chuck Woods (352) 392-1773 x 281

Source(s):
Douglas Archer (352) 392-1991 ext. 202
Tom Gardine/FDA (202) 260-8920
Ricardo Gomez/USDA (202) 401-5290
Lynn Isaacs/FDA Orlando (407) 648-6922 ext. 202

WEST PALM BEACH—Amid growing concerns over food safety, federal and state officials will hold a town meeting on the microbial risks for fresh fruits and vegetables at the University of Florida Palm Beach County Extension Service (Clayton Hutcheson Agricultural Center) on Dec. 5 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The town meeting is part of President Clinton’s new initiative to ensure the safety of imported and domestic fruits and vegetables. The initiative calls for advice and guidance, not new food safety regulations.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration in cooperation with the UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the town meeting is one of six being held across the nation in December.

Douglas Archer, chairman of the UF/IFAS Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, who is helping coordinate the meeting, said it’s designed for primarily fresh produce growers, processors and distributors. Consumers and other groups interested in the safety of fresh produce — especially imported produce — are also invited to attend the free meeting.

“It will be a grass-roots’ effort to help FDA and USDA develop good agricultural practices for growing, processing and distributing fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said. “The guidelines being proposed reflect the current thinking of food safety experts. Growers, producers and distributors as well as consumers will be encouraged to provide feedback to federal officials.”

When Clinton announced the food safety initiative in October, he said 38 percent of the fruit and 12 percent of the vegetables consumed by Americans come from overseas. “We must ensure that fruits and vegetables from abroad are as safe as those produced in the United States, especially as we upgrade our own domestic standards.”

In response to his initiative, the USDA and FDA have developed proposals for improving microbial food safety standards and good management practices associated with the production of imported and domestic fruits and vegetables. These practices include water quality, sanitation, hygiene, transportation, manure and municipal sludge.

Tom Gardine, an FDA food safety official, said the president asked the FDA to take the lead in developing a guidance document to assist farmers in minimizing microbial hazards like E. coli and Salmonella.

“We must emphasize that we are developing guidance, not regulations. The president’s initiative does not require new regulations on microbial safety of foods,” he said. “This guidance will be useful both to domestic farmers and foreign farmers who export produce to the U.S.”

Ricardo Gomez, horticulturist with the USDA, said experience has shown that meetings held in cooperation with the agricultural community are the most successful in solving problems.

“With the assistance of the agricultural community and others, we want to help growers and handlers identify potential microbial hazards in their operations,” Gomez said.

“In short, we need everyone’s participation and advice to develop the best possible recommendations and guidelines. The sessions will be an open process that will include a full discussion of a wide range of issues,” he said. “We want people to listen critically to the presentations, and then add their own perspective and expertise to the discussions.”

The views and concerns expressed at the Florida meeting will be combined with information obtained at similar town meetings in Grand Rapids, MI; Geneva, NY; Holotes, TX; Salinas, CA and Clackamas, OR. The information will then be used to draft proposed safety guidelines for fresh produce that will be published in the Federal Register to solicit further comment.

Copies of the draft guidelines will be distributed at the meeting. Beginning Dec. 1, the guidelines will also be available on FDA’s World Wide Web home page (http://www.fda.gov).

-30-UF/IFAS Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension
Service / Clayton Hutcheson Ag Center (561) 233-1712