The Center for Produce Safety - an Industry's Journey to Reduce Foodborne Illness
An Industry’s Journey to Reduce Foodborne Illness –
If there’s one lesson the U.S. produce industry has learned from food safety events over the last decade, it’s this: when a problem arises, we’re all involved — and we’re all at risk. Every produce outbreak, every illness, every recall sends ripples across the marketplace. The entire supply chain, from growers to shippers to retailers, feels the economic, operational and social impact of food safety events. The 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach, the 2011 outbreak of listeriosis from cantaloupes, and the recent recalls of apples and stone fruit, are stark reminders of the supply chain disruption and human tragedy that can result from foodborne illness outbreaks. While the industry has made great strides in recent years, there’s still a lot we don’t know about what causes many produce outbreaks and how we can prevent them. But that knowledge gap is becoming narrower thanks to the work and mission of the Center for Produce Safety.
Impressive record of success
CPS — a public-private partnership between industry, government and academia — was formed in 2007 to advance research needed to continually improve produce food safety worldwide. In just a few years, we have awarded $16.4 million and funded 100 research projects. Produce safety has become an industry-wide priority in recent years — and the push to learn more and apply science-based best practices to prevent foodborne illness is intensifying. Government and consumers expect ever-safer food, including fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. State and federal agencies continue to propose new measures requiring stricter food production, processing and handling. Many within our industry have already taken voluntary measures to improve food safety as companies invest millions to create and implement new initiatives. The Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law in January 2011, presents the most sweeping reform of the nation’s food safety laws in more than seven decades. The legislation raises the stakes across the global food chain: all of us will need to be more vigilant and more accountable for controlling hazards that can cause produce outbreaks.
Our industry, of course, embraces any and all precautions against contamination, not just because of the legal ramifications but because it’s the right thing to do. Collectively, we have a tremendous responsibility as leaders of an industry that contributes $554 billion annually to the U.S. economy (source: Produce Marketing Association).
Keeping consumers safe and healthy
At the same time, all of us have finite resources. We want to be assured that the actions we take, and the dollars our companies invest, are wise and prudent, are based on the best science — and really do keep consumers safe and healthy. Some steps may be as simple as making sure workers wash their hands, irrigation water is clean and animals stay out of the fields. Others may be far more complex and costly. Now more than ever, the produce industry must work to ensure that effective regulation and implementation of food safety programs are founded in targeted, practical, science-based research.