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Food safety always a focus in Idaho-E. Oregon

Food safety is center-of-plate in produce today, and as the Idaho-Eastern Oregon onion season ramps up, the issue is getting even more attention.
In the Treasure Valley, Certified Onions Inc. provides important pesticide residue testing and also testing for pathogens, and a recent meeting in Bend, OR, that brought FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb together with Idaho-Eastern Oregon onion reps ended on a hopeful note.

COI, since its founding in 2009, has provided pesticide residue detection for Northwest onions, expanding the program in the interim to include testing for pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella and adding to companies’ food safety programs.

And as food safety continues to ratchet up with recalls and advisories, the sit-down with the FDA commissioner on Aug. 7 gave some assurance the feds are aware of issues and concerns for multiple Northwest commodities, including onions from COI’s home territory of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Treasure Valley.

Kay Riley, president of COI, general manager of Snake River Produce in Nyssa, OR, and chairman of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, along with four other Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion industry members attended a meeting with Commissioner Gottlieb at the Rastovich Family Farm.

Kay gave credit to Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, who he said was instrumental in setting up the gathering. In reporting on the meeting the next day, Kay said it had been very cordial, and Commissioner Gottlieb was receptive to the concerns expressed by IEO representatives as well as reps from other areas in Oregon.

“We talked about irrigation,” Kay said, adding that the FDA has in the past been responsive to IEO and COI research. The government agency in fact modified its initial water testing rule that called for samples to be taken weekly, lengthening time between samples. Currently, Kay said, there is no water testing rule in place and the industry awaits a decision by the FDA.

“We also expressed concerns that the United States is an importer of onions rather than an exporter,” he said, noting the need for “the playing field to be leveled” when it comes to onions imported from Mexico, Canada and Peru.

Kay had delivered a letter to Commissioner Gottlieb from the Idaho-Oregon Fruit & Vegetable Association, and in it were specific concerns. It was signed by Association President Joe Farmer of Fort Boise Produce in Parma, ID.

Click here for the full article on Onionbusiness

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