At Produce Express we are dedicated to providing safe fruits and vegetables. We work diligently to meet the stringent food safety standards we have set for ourselves. Our team of food safety experts is available to answer your produce-related food safety questions.
We, along with our partner Markon, have created measurable metrics to ensure the produce we sell is both delicious and as safe as possible. As a farm-direct distributor, we know exactly where your food comes from; we take 100% responsibility for food safety and proper handling of our produce. Through our computerized tracking system, we know what trees your apples are picked from, what field your potatoes are pulled from, and what vines your tomatoes are plucked from. This tracking system also allows us to instantly notify you of produce recalls.
Featured Question from Markon
Q: There seems to be an increase in the number of recalls recently. Is there a reason for that?
A: The spike in recalls may give customers the impression that our country’s produce food safety practices are not working effectively, but the U.S. is actually one of the safest produce suppliers in the world. There are many reasons why there has been an increase in recalls. Listed below are three areas Markon has identified as major contributors:
1. Technological Improvements
- New technology has allowed microbiological laboratories to detect the smallest amount of contamination in a single sample of produce. A network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories upload very specific information to a database (PulseNet), allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to quickly link hospital/medical reports of illnesses with products being tested. This has given the CDC the ability to pinpoint small-scale outbreaks that previously may not have been identified.
2. Seasonal Elements
The data from major outbreaks linked to produce over the past six years clearly indicates a high percentage of occurrences in late summer and early fall.
- Spinach – September 2006
- Tomatoes – September 2006
- Jalapeño/Serrano – April 2008
- Alfalfa Sprouts – February 2009
- Shredded Romaine – April 2010
- Romaine – September 2011
- Cantaloupes – September 2011
- Cantaloupes – August 2012
- Canada is experiencing a Salmonella outbreak that has been linked to mangoes imported from Mexico. There is also a multi-state outbreak occurring in the U.S., but it has not been confirmed that mangoes imported from Mexico are the source.
- The science community has not been able to isolate the exact reason for the increase in outbreaks during the late summer and fall months, but the data supports this is a time frame when foodborne pathogens are typically detected in higher percentages.
3. Increased Testing for Listeria
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Microbiological Data Program (USDA MDP) have increased testing for Listeria monocytogenes.
- Following the Jensen Farm’s cantaloupe outbreak of September 2011, Listeria testing was focused mainly on pre-cut products, not on whole head/commodity products. Tests are now performed on whole head/commodity products as well as ready-to-eat items. The FDA has a zero-tolerance policy for Listeria in ready-to-eat products (if one cell of Listeria is detected, a hold is placed on the product). On the other hand, Canada has a non-zero risk policy which may allow up to 100 Listeria cells per gram of produce tested.
- The number of tests conducted by the USDA MDP has increased dramatically, from 11,669 samples in 2008 to 16,896 samples in 2009. The number of items being tested also increased, from five (alfalfa sprouts, cantaloupe, lettuce, spinach, and tomatoes) to eight (cantaloupe, cilantro, green onions, hot peppers, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and tomatoes).
President Obama’s projected budget for fiscal year 2013 would eliminate the USDA MDP. The program conducts test on retail shelves, as well as at the distributor and wholesale warehouse level. If a sample produces a single positive result for E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, or Listeria, all products from that lot are required to be recalled. Though countless recalls have ensued, not one death or even sickness has been attributed to products that tested positive during the 10 years of the USDA MDP. The program has not ensured safer products for consumers.
Stemming from recent Listeria events, Markon is making improvements to our 5-Star Food Safety® Program. We are working with food safety consultants to create guidelines, and require our suppliers to establish a program of environmental microbiological testing for generic Listeria. This will ensure that our suppliers consider Listeria as an important pathogen that can easily establish in their facility and possibly cause a food borne illness outbreak.