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US (AZ): Conference focus on food safety

There may be competition between the produce associations of Nogales and Texas, but that does not necessarily stand in the way of strong relationships that brings benefits to their members and industries, which imports 90% of the fruit and vegetables from Mexico.

It’s in that spirit that Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Nogales, and John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, joined last year to organize the first, "America Trades Produce: The U.S./Mexico Trade Conference" in McAllen, Texas.

This year the conference is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, March 22-23, in Tubac and will focus on food safety. It comes on the heels of the enactment of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years.

The new legislation aims at moving from the correct response to a food contiminartion situation to avoiding it in the first place. many involved in the industry are still unsure how they will respond to the challenges of the new legislation.

Dan Coogan, of Coogan and Martin P.C. in Nogales, represents several produce companies and will be one of the speakers during a general session called "How much insurance is enough?"

Regarding FSMA, he said, "Food safety is paramount in all areas of the food service industry, including retailers and restaurants. 'From farm to fork' is the term that is used – the idea being that food is protected at every step in that chain."

Coogan said many firms who export produce from Mexico have for several years had food-safety plans in effect and work with third-party auditors of their operations not only because of the gauntlet of inspections their loads are subject to at the border but because there are clear examples of how marketing attention to food safety to the consumer has paid off.

Many already participate in the industry-led Produce Traceability Initiative, which aims to track and contain any outbreak throughout the produce-supply chain as quickly as possible before the market is severely impacted on that specific product. It’s inevitable that an outbreak such as listeria in cantaloupes that’s causing illness and death will negatively impact everyone involved in the cantaloupe trade as demand comes to a screeching halt. The sooner the source is identified and isolated, the sooner the market will return to normal.

One of the main sessions of the conference will involve a mock outbreak. Representatives of the FDA along with counterparts from Mexico and two or three industry representatives will walk the audience through a hypothetical food-safety scenario, responding step-by-step to an investigation as it unfolds.

Other conference sessions will focus on preventive controls in transportation and logistics; updates on the $200 million expansion of the Mariposa Port of Entry; tips on hiring a private lab for inspections; and marketing food-safety efforts.

Source: www.nogalesinternational.com

Publication date: 3/19/2012


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