Liberty Fruit Co. Inc. has earned the highest-possible food-safety rating, according to Scott Danner, the firm's chief operating officer.
"We have passed the SQF 2000 Level 3 certification," Danner told The Produce News April 21. "This is the highest food-safety certification one can achieve."
Beyond offering Liberty Fruit customers the highest-possible confidence level in its food-safety management, Danner noted that another benefit is internal efficiency.
In prior years, various customers requested specific audits, which could number 15 or 20 a year. Liberty's quality assurance managers needed to dedicate roughly a month's worth of work each year to accommodate those specific audits. The new Level 3 certification in recent weeks has already cut out two customers' needs for special audits, and Danner hopes that number continues to decline.
The Level 3 certification meets the requirements of the Global Food Safety Initiative, which is demanded by the nation's largest retailers.
Danner said meeting the highest standards involves intensive training for all employees. He said all employees must pass individual tests for the correct food-safety protocols. Such questions may be as basic as, "What do you do if milk spills in the lunch room." If someone in the organization doesn't have the right answer, "We fail the audit," said Danner.
Danner noted, "The hardest part of the process is to communicate with the rank-and-file. Without our loyal employees, we could not have done this. But they wanted to get involved."
Danner particularly saluted the work of Ana Deshpande, who became quality-assurance manager at the Kansas City, KS-based produce distributor in November, following a national search. Danner described her as "beyond smart. And, she is very passionate for food safety."
SCOTTSDALE, AZ — This spring, Martori Farms, headquartered here, is fully activating a new type of food-safety program for packing cantaloupes.
The process, which employs a hot water shower to clean pathogens from the melons' rough skin, looks to address critical food-safety issues that were ultimately related to the crevices in cantaloupe rinds.
Stephen Martori Sr., president of the company, said his firm is one of two companies using this technology.
Martori built this hot water facility in its Aguila, AZ, packinghouse. Martori grows cantaloupes not only in Aguila but also in two other large farms, including one near Yuma, AZ. The firm is in the market seven months a year, shipping melons from May 1 through November.
The hot water shower was developed, beginning several years ago, through close cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Eastern Regional Agricultural Research Center in the Philadelphia suburb of Wyndmoor, PA. The research led to Martori's system, which was commercially implemented in late April for the firm's 2013 season launch.
The water shower lasts for approximately 20 seconds on each cantaloupe, which is rotated during the process. Targeting a water temperature of 162 degrees F, this brief hot water bath pasteurizes the skin, but is brief enough to avoid heating or injuring the cantaloupe's flesh.
Martori Farms generally plans 1,000 in-house lab samples a season in its packinghouse. It has customers that want lab samples on the packingline of their specific orders.
Martori Farms is Primus audited on its food-safety program and is GSFI certified.
"I believe all of the industry should use a global system that is internationally recognized," he said. "It's a very stringent system."
Martori noted, "We are not trying to make food safety proprietary." This means he is openly sharing his data and techniques on cantaloupe food safety. "We don't think [keeping progressive secrets] would be the right thing to do."
About the cantaloupe business, he said, "If we have additional outbreaks, we aren't going to have an industry. We would be done."
During its seven-month shipping season, Martori completely sanitizes its packingline after each shift even though all packingline belts utilize a continuous belt-sanitizing system.
In the peak of the coming Arizona cantaloupe season, Martori will pack more than 35,000 cantaloupes an hour, or approximately 400,000 melons a day.
"We are one of the largest melon grower-shippers in the country," Martori said.
Cantaloupe accounts for 75 percent of the melon production at the firm, which produces more than 7,000 acres of melons, including 700 acres of watermelons.
Mini-watermelons and honeydew are also grown, packed and shipped by Martori. Among the honeydew offerings is its exclusive variety in North America, the Lemondrop.
Coming from Syngenta seed, the Lemondrop is a Galia-type melon that has a greenish-white flesh and a rind similar to that of a cantaloupe, but smoother.
Dewlicious is a golden honeydew-type variety offered by Martori. It has a very small seed cavity and is desirable because of its coloring. If the skin has any green, the fruit is not mature, so selection of a very high-Brix, yellow-gold fruit in the field is very predictable, according to Martori.
Martori noted that smooth-skinned melons — notably watermelon and honeydew — "have not had the issues with foodborne illness that cantaloupes have had."
This relates to harmful pathogens having a place to hide on traditional cantaloupe rinds. He added that for cantaloupes "the outbreak concerns about recalls can happen at any point in the distribution chain.
"We lose control after it leaves our plant," he said. "The biggest challenge is at retail, where consumers touch the fruit."
He noted that in certain European retail markets customers wear disposable plastic gloves to select produce. At Martori "we do all we reasonably can to eliminate pathogens. Our customers recognize that."
Martori said 80 percent of his melon sales are to major retailers in North America. Most of the remainder of his business goes to wholesale market customers and cut fruit processors.
The "Kandy" brand is used on all of Martori's products.
Grower Direct Marketing, a Stockton, CA-based grower-shipper, is off to an early start with its MonsterCot crop.
The Monstercot, a large-sized clingstone fruit, is generally sweeter than traditional apricots and produces fruit earlier than most other varieties.This timing allows for retailers to promote Monstercots to their customers at the earliest point of the season.
"Grower-shippers across the state have seen an earlier season on most crops," Jim Hanson, managing director of Grower Direct, said in a press release. "This year we are glad to see that we have a nice crop of MonsterCots that are here just a few days early for retailers to enjoy. Last year, these apricots moved at a record pace. This season, MonsterCots are becoming a centerpiece of promotion to kick off the fresh California fruit season."
OG Packing, also in Stockton, has been developing these apricots for years to ensure that they meet rigid testing standards. These standards are self-imposed to ensure that only high-quality fruit is delivered to its customers.
Legend Produce, a leading U.S. melon supplier, has begun harvesting the popular Origami cantaloupes, which will be available through October.
The characteristics and advantages of the Origami, including high Brix, thin rind, small cavity and great flavor, have made it one of the more popular melon varieties.
As part of its domestic program, Legend Produce, headquartered in Dos Palos, CA, has been growing the Origami for the past four years, increasing acreage with each successful harvest. Due to its overwhelming success, the company has dedicated a majority of its production to the Origami cantaloupe this year.
"We chose to purchase the exclusive rights to the Origami cantaloupe from Harris Moran Seed Company because of our extremely successful results over the past few years with retailers, food service and processor outlets," Barry Zwillinger of Legend Produce said in a press release. "We are excited to be able to share this amazing new variety on a larger scale."
The Origami cantaloupe will be available from April through October. Domestic harvesting of the melons will continue through the spring, with production coming from desert locations. Summer will move production to the San Joaquin Valley, and production will return to the desert in the fall.
The Military Produce Group is showing its commitment to the environment by using reusable plastic containers from IFCO Systems for the shipment of fresh produce to dozens of commissaries.
The Military Produce Group, which supplies fruits and vegetables to commissaries in the southern United States, is moving to RPCs from corrugated boxes for several commodities. This move furthers the Defense Commissary Agency's sustainability program.
The initial rollout of RPCs covers about 32 DeCA locations, increasing to 71, which will be served from Military Produce Group distribution centers in Norfolk, VA, Birmingham, AL, and Savannah, GA.
"The Defense Commissary Agency is committed to an environmentally sustainable operation and applauds MPG's use of reusable containers to limit the amount of waste heading to landfills and reduce product damage," Bridget Bennett, supervisory category manager-produce at DeCA, said in a press release.
Military Produce Group works with grower-shippers to ensure military families get the freshest produce delivered to their local commissary at the peak of ripeness.
"The Military Produce Group works diligently to provide healthy food to the commissaries we serve and to do it in a way that keeps our carbon footprint to a minimum," Al Oliver, director of sales and marketing at Military Produce Group, added in the press release. "RPCs from IFCO are helping us be more sustainable while improving the efficiency of our operations."
With more than 180 million RPCs in circulation, IFCO is the leading provider of reusable containers to the fresh food sector worldwide. IFCO handles all RPC logistics, from distributions to cleaning to re-entry into the supply chain. After retail use, IFCO RPCs are folded, collected and shipped back to one of IFCO's service facilities, where they are sanitized and prepared for re-use.
"IFCO is honored to play a role in assisting the Military Produce Group in becoming even more environment-friendly by eliminating waste from the supply chain," Mike Ellis, director of supply chain development at IFCO, added in the press release.
Ellis worked with account representative and fellow veteran Pam Cavallero to ensure a smooth rollout of MPG's program to commissaries.