OVERTON Unless growers become proactive in preventing food-borne pathogens in the field, current food safety guidelines could quickly become law, says a Texas A&M University professor of horticulture.
“In effect, you could say they are law already because the large produce buyers require third-party audits of growers before they will buy their produce,” said Dr. Frank Dainello, professor and horticulture specialist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
As part of an ongoing effort to help produce growers become proactive, Dainello is one of the featured speakers at the upcoming “Fresh Produce Food Safety Training Program” on June 1 at the Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Overton.
Contrary to common perception, food-borne pathogens pose a much greater risk to consumers of fresh produce than do pesticides and herbicides. While there has never been a documented case of any one dying from eating produce contaminated with pesticide residue, Dainello said, people have died or were hospitalized because of the lack of simple precautions against food-borne pathogens in the field or processing plant.
When an outbreak does occur, the results are catastrophic for both the consumers and the producers.
For example, in 1997 contaminated raspberries imported from Guatemala sent 1,400 people to their doctor’s offices. Some had to be hospitalized. The consumers recovered, but the majority of the Guatemalan raspberry producers did not. When it was learned that the raspberries had probably been contaminated by improper irrigation methods, strict controls imposed on the growers drove all but a few out of business.
It’s doubly tragic, for both producers and consumers, because for the most part preventing such outbreaks is a matter of implementing simple procedures, Dainello explained. Some of these procedures are commonsense and some are not.
The program will train producers in economical ways to prevent food-borne illness from becoming a problem for growers or produce processor and retailers.
David Dupree, Tyler-based producer buyer for the Brookshire Brothers grocery chain, will give the supermarket’s perspective on produce food safety.
Dr. Elsa Murano, Texas A&M professor and expert on food safety issues, will give two presentations, one on the basics of food microbiology and another on case studies of outbreaks of illness associated with fresh produce.
Marty Baker, associate professor and extension horticultural specialist, will talk about how to properly handle and compost organic fertilizers such as manure and other biosolids.
Dainello will cover sanitation methods for the field and transportation.
Dr. Al Wagner, Texas A&M professor and extension horticulture specialist, will cover water quality and packing shed issues.
Registration for the meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. on June 1. The formal program should start by 9 a.m. and conclude by 2:30 p.m. Registration for the training is free. Lunch will be provided by a sponsor. Though participants may register at the door, pre-registration is encouraged to ensure sufficient lunch meals. To pre-register, call Marty Baker or Patsy Williams at (903) 834-6191. Participants may also pre-register by firstname.lastname@example.org.
The center is located one mile north of downtown Overton on Hwy. 3053.
Coming from south of Overton, take 135 into town. At Overton’s single red stop light, take a left, go across the railroad tracks and turn right immediately after the Brookshire’s market. Look for the large white sign on the right side of the road identifying the Overton Center. The site is about five miles north on Hwy. 3053. Attendees should look for signs, or they may drop in at the Center headquarters for directions to the North Farm site.
Coming from the north, take the 3053 exit from I-20. Look for signs approximately four miles south of State Hwy. 31.