Hairnets and Pole Barns:
Voices Audit Concerns
By Chris Koger The Packer |
NEW ORLEANS — This was not your standard produce
conference food safety session.
At the National Watermelon Association’s Convention,
executive director Bob Morrissey brought together three
speakers representing the industry, the government and
third-party auditors with the goal of giving growers the
opportunity to ask point-blank questions about how Food
Safety Modernization Act rules would specifically affect
Those attending the Feb. 27 session voiced concerns about
whether they’d be covered by the produce safety rule or
the preventive controls rule, what they see as nonsensical audit mandates and how to comply with water testing
rules. Growers were most vocal during a presentation by
Two main points of contention concerning PrimusGFS and
its application to watermelon growing/packing: a requirement that all employees handling watermelons must wear
hairnets (and bibs), and all packing should be in fully
enclosed facilities. NWA members said there’s no food
safety risk involved without hairnets, and that a majority of
watermelon shippers pack in pole barns. Several in attendance also pointed out that no retailer demands their own
employees wear hairnets when handling the watermelons.
Growers reported on their experiences of on-site inspections that they said were confrontational instead of collaborative. Some also listed issues that auditors brought
up during the inspection: a single cigarette butt found in
a parking lot on the property, gnats in a packinghouse in
southern Georgia, a question of whether the grower had
tested the strength of store-bought hand sanitizer.
“From the association level we are going to approach (
Az-zule) and other scheme owners to discuss these things,” he
said. “We need to get to some point where these audits are
making common sense and stop with these expectations
that are unrealistic, that are not improving the safety of the
fruit, and costing money unnecessarily.
Primus AuditingOps is now following up audits with
customer surveys, and the company is hiring auditors to
replace ones that have been let go for various reasons, and
encouraged growers who are unhappy with the audit visit
to file a complaint.
A number of NWA members were also concerned about
whether they are covered by the produce safety rule —
basically growers are covered — or the preventive control
rule, which is directed at processors. A fuzzy area, however, concerns handling other growers’ watermelons at a
facility apart from a farm, which is a common practice for
many watermelon shippers.
After hearing about a number of different growing/packing
scenarios from the group, Kevin Gerrity, from the FDA’s
Office of Regulatory Affairs, said education, not enforcement, is key in ensuring the industry complies with FSMA.
Typically, if an FDA inspection turns up a problem, the
inspector will leave a notice with the company, and if the
problem isn’t resolved by the time a follow-up inspection
is scheduled, a warning letter is issued.
“Then we’ll start ratcheting things up, we start talking
about seizures and injunctions,” Gerrity said. “At the end
of the day, we are a regulatory agency, so if it comes to a
point where we can’t come to an agreement and it appears
that there’s product that may harm the public that could
end up in the market, we have to take action. But that’s
absolutely the last step.”
David Gombas, vice president of scientific and technical
affairs for the United Fresh Produce Association, recom-
mended growers take advantage of on-farm readiness
reviews, a free service that will be provided by the
state or federal agency overseeing the produce rule
inspections. One grower said he heard the federal
government has raised the stakes in responding to
food safety problems and foodborne illness outbreaks,
threatening criminal prosecution.
That, Gombas said, hasn’t changed since the Food,
Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 was established. In
recent years, that led to prison sentences for officials
at the Peanut Corporation of American, for knowingly
shipping tainted peanut butter. In the listeria outbreak
that was traced to Jensen Farms cantaloupe, the brothers at the company were charged with a misdemeanor
and received probation.
The difference in the cases, Gombas said, was intentionally doing wrong and knowingly shipping tainted
Regardless of what they’re being asked to do, growers know they must have that certification. Retailers
demand it, and they should have confidence in every
item on their store shelves.
But retailers, who influence what third-party audits
include, also have a responsibility to be fair to their
suppliers. When retailers send representatives to accompany third-party inspectors to growing operations,
they should take note of how audit mandates apply (or
not) to those growers.
Dr. David Gombas, Vice-President of Research and Food Safety
for United Fresh Produce Association
Dividends to the
The National Watermelon Association in 2016 will continue with these distinct incentive programs with select
suppliers of seed, logistics and pallets. Each program,
albeit slightly different, provides a benefit directly to the
Association when one of our members purchases their
products and/or services.
The original partnership program was launched in 2008,
and to date has resulted in over $150,000 in incentives
paid to the Association. Based on last year’s business with
our members, incentives are achieved when your business
with CHEP (blue pallets) exceeds established goals. When
CHEP builds their business to exceed the prior year’s business, then the Association benefits. This is a true partnership program that has positive results for all involved.
In New Orleans, the CHEP incentive set a new high with
over $34,000 received. That is a testament to those members that utilize CHEP’s excellent product and service ….
While they benefit from the great product and service from
CHEP, they also build this program to the benefit of their
Association, which helps us to expand programs.
You have choices for your pallet needs and provider
……… we ask you to consider CHEP as your preferred
pallet provider, knowing that while they are taking care of
your needs, they are supporting your Association. CHEP
is the only pallet provider that supports your Association financially. This program is a Win-Win-Win, for all of us!!!
Trucking watermelons to market is a process that requires
time, patience and diligence each and every year. The
Association begins its third year of partnership with Allen
Lund Company (ALC) to fill that need (and void) for you.
As a national truck broker operation with its original roots
in produce, ALC has the resources that can meet your
You need a reliable trucking partner that can deliver with
positive results, no matter where the watermelons are coming from or going to. With roots in the produce industry,
Allen Lund can and will deliver what you need, where
you need it, when you need it. Give ALC a call, and allow
them to prove that they are the nation’s best.
Since 2013, Sakata has partnered with the NWA to provide
grower support and contribute to the overall goals and
achievements of the NWA organization. This commitment
stems from Sakata’s long-standing role in the watermelon
For the past 60 years, Sakata has been supplying premium
watermelon hybrids to growers around the world, offering
a wide variety of triploids, diploids and pollenizers. Most
recently, a renewed R&D effort has led to a resurgence of
outstanding new hybrids including Affirmed, Bold Ruler,
Citation, Kingman, Secretariat, Unbridled, Charismatic and
Wild Card. We encourage growers to take advantage of these
excellent varieties, developed for you and backed by a history a research, understanding and passion for the industry.
Contact your supplier to try Sakata genetics and enjoy
reaping the rewards of that decision in the coming season.
GMOs: a debate that will continue for some time?
We’ll see what happens, but in reality GMO crops
are a major part of our current day food.
From a farming standpoint, GMO crops offer great
benefits: higher yields and disease resistance that
lowers farm costs, reduces required acreage to produce yield, and carbon footprints.
However, consumer groups have created a great deal
of drama related to GMOs, forcing some retailers to
move away from GMO crops. Even when FDA has
proven that they have no health risk to consumers,
the moves have occurred.
As a result, up to 30 states are considering GMO
food labeling laws, with Vermont being the first to
pass a law that takes effect on July 1st.
As a result of the state actions, our U.S. Congress is
in debate with a measure that would give consumers, businesses and farmers uniform standards based
on federal determination of food label requirements
for all foods including those made with genetically
modified organisms (GMO).
A patchwork of state food labeling laws will increase costs to consumers by increasing processing
and packaging costs. Enacting a national voluntary
food labeling standard would eliminate those consequences in the marketplace.
The Association has contacted all watermelon seed
companies to request a letter confirming that their
seed is NON-GMO. Those letters are located on our
website ( www.watermelon.ag), and are there for your
use in case one of your customers requires them.