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Certified Onions testing, services a benefit to organization members

This year, members of Certified Onions will test approximately 75 percent of onions produced in the Treasure Valley. “We have 25 members,” said President Kay Riley, who is also general manager of Snake River Produce Co. in Nyssa, OR. Roughly 15,000 acres of onion-producing land is held by the organization’s membership.

Certified Onions Inc. is a nonprofit organization. Members voluntarily undergo stringent testing for off-label pesticide use and maximum residue levels. Third-party auditing is performed at both the field and shed levels.

Services provided to COI members continue to grow. “COI originally started out as a pesticide residue testing program,” Riley stated. “Currently, COI has expanded into extensive pathogen testing — mainly looking for Salmonella and E. coli 157.”

Riley said the organization’s newest members are Partner’s Produce Inc. and Eastern Oregon Produce Inc.

“Many of the members are providing their customers with certificates for the absence of pathogens and compliance with pesticide regulations,” Riley said. “With the programs COI has put into place, much of this testing has become somewhat of an industry standard. One of COI’s members is a shallot grower — DeBoer Farms LLC. Dirk DeBoer has reported seeing success marketing his shallots with the COI certification.”

COI has been actively involved in research projects determining whether there is a connection between irrigation water quality and the presence of pathogens. “COI helped to fund water quality research through the Oregon State University Experiment Station. COI is very optimistic about the preliminary results of the testing and research and hopes the results will influence the Food Safety Modernization Act regulations,” Riley stated.

Turning to the current onion season, Riley said that, with the exception of some extremely hot days that hit in July, growing conditions have generally been favorable. “The harvest is currently occurring under ideal weather conditions. The drought on the Oregon side has impacted growers, but the overall effect should be negligible,” he commented.