“Produce is nutritionally good for people, but it’s also good for growing bad bacteria. Cantaloupe has a pH of 6 to 7 and this is where bacteria grow very well.”

Scientists with the UGA CFS will be working closely with Georgia cantaloupe growers this summer to assess which sanitizers work best to reduce pathogens on the melons.

Outbreaks affect farmers, processors, too

Jim Gorny, senior advisor for produce safety for the FDA, said outbreaks of foodborne illness affect all farmers and food processors. “The spinach outbreak in 2006 left three people dead and over 100 people ill. That was the tipping point for the produce industry,” he said.

Taylor said most farmers think a foodborne illness outbreak will never be linked to their farm. He compared that reasoning to a lightning strike. “It’s a very low probability that you’ll be struck, but if you are hit, you are likely to die,” he said. “What would a lightning strike on your farm look like? We don’t want you or your customers to be injured.”

Bob McLeod of 4 P Farms grows cantaloupes in Wilcox County. “No farmer wants to provide an unsafe product. We feed our children and grandchildren the same food,” he said. “Everything this act covers, we already do. If they could combine some of these things, it would be better on us.”

Tricia Wainwright of Taylor Orchards in Reynolds, Ga., agrees. “We do GAP (good agricultural practices) and GMO (genetically modified organisms) and we already have third party audits,” she said.

Phillip Grimes grows cantaloupes, snap beans, broccoli, peanuts and cotton. He agrees with 90 percent of the new act, “as long as it doesn’t get ridiculous.”

“It needs to be done, more food safety testing, more regulations, up to a certain point that we can work with and farm feasibly,” Grimes said. “We don’t need any Salmonella or Listeria out in the market place. We don’t want anybody to get sick. We want to do the best we can and need to know which direction we need to take to do that.”

Act focuses on microbial risks

The proposed rules focus on microbial risks but don’t apply to certain produce like artichokes, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and potatoes that are normally not eaten raw.

The act defines produce as fruits and vegetables, mushrooms, herbs and tree nuts. It doesn’t include grains or foods grown for personal or on farm consumption.

“The rules are aimed at farms or FDA-regulated food facilities and mixed type facilities where there is a farm and some sort of processing plant,” Taylor said. “It covers farms with $25,000 in sales or more per year.”

Greg Weeks of Field Fresh Organics in Peach County wasn’t happy to hear of the exemption for farmers who annually earn less than $25,000. He feels the rules should be the same for all involved.

The new rules focus on commonly identified routes of produce contamination including agricultural water, farm worker hygiene, manure and other soil amendments, animals in growing areas and equipment, tools and buildings.

If passed by Congress, Gorny says the new act would “affect small and large farmers” in 2016 or 2017. “Our role is to develop standards,” he said. “(The farmers) are the ones that make food safer for consumers.”

To comment on the new food safety act, go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=FDA-2011-N-0921 or mail comments to Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, Md. 20852.

 

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