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Food safety is hot topic in mango industry

As one would expect on the heels of last year's mango recall at the end of the Mexican mango deal, food safety is the hot topic this year.

Recognizing this, the National Mango Board was scheduled to hold a free seminar for the industry March 6 in McAllen, TX, during the third annual America Trades Produce Conference to make sure that everyone had the latest information and the industry could take every precaution necessary to provide consumers with the safest product possible.

"Everyone in the industry has a heightened sense of awareness with regard to the food-safety issue," said Bill Vogel, president of Vision Produce Co. in Los Angeles, who is the 2013 NMB chairman of the board. The food-safety conference in Texas "is a very important event for us so we can talk about what we know and make sure we bring the safest product possible to the consumer."

Mr. Vogel said that while no one likes to be involved in a recall, "it was handled in the right way and we are turning it into a positive for the industry. Because it was handled correctly by the industry and the companies involved, a certain trust has been developed with the retail and foodservice trade, so we haven't seen any resistance in sales of mangos moving forward this year."

That same sentiment was echoed by many others.

"As an industry, we've stepped up our food-safety program," said Chris Ciruli, chief operating officer of Ciruli Brothers LLC, based in Nogales, AZ. "It has made us a better industry."

He said most packers already had a strong program in place, but those that didn't have had to catch up if they expect to sell to U.S. receivers.

Gary Clevenger, managing member of Freska Produce International in Oxnard, CA, said that the biggest change he sees from the buyer community is that "everyone is asking for validation. We've always had a food-safety program, but now the buyers want proof."

He said that the hot-water treatment that mangos have to go through to be certified for importation to the United States offers a high level of safety as long as the packingshed follows the proper procedures and keeps the water and belts in the packing facility clean.

JoJo Shiba of GM Produce agreed that the requests for certification documentation have increased the workload for the Mexican packingshed, but it has also caused some to improve their practices.

"We are making sure all the packingsheds we work with are GAP-certified as well as GFSI-certified," she said.

Ms. Shiba said that for some packers in Mexico, it is not an easy thing to accomplish but they are working toward it. "I'm not sure how it will affect supplies this year, but there might be an impact. We'll have to see how that plays out."

Larry Nienkerk, president of Splendid Products in Burlingame, CA, which was involved in the recall last year, said that while it was a "painful lesson," the industry has learned from it.

"The mango industry, and in fact, the entire produce industry, has gained knowledge from this situation, which is a good thing," said Mr. Nienkerk. "Facilities that needed upgrading are being upgraded. For our part, we did help our packers upgrade their systems. Everyone in our industry is making sure that there are guidelines and that they are being followed."

At the end of the day, Mr. Vogel said that the goal is to deliver top-quality, safe produce to the consumer, and he is confident the mango industry is doing that.