What You May Have Missed at the Food Quality & Safety Symposium

Convening in the heart of Lodi Wine Country, Almond Board of California (ABC) hosted its Nineteenth Annual Food Quality and Safety Symposium at the Wine & Roses Hotel on June 22, 2017. The one-day symposium featured seven sessions, highlighting everything from the latest technological advancements in the orchard to a comprehensive overview of Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules and implications for both growers and processors.

Key Session Takeaways

Grow What You Know About Almonds

Kicking off the day, Richard Waycott, ABC president and CEO, opened with a discussion of the industry’s shared story and common goal, encouraging everyone to proactively participate in a dialogue about how we grow almonds. Reminding us that ‘Big’ can also mean good, he noted that our ‘Big’ industry is primarily made up of small, family-run farms, and this sum of all parts is what makes continued research, sustainable innovation and industry leadership possible.

With new phases of evolution for both the California Almond Sustainability Program[1] and Accelerated Innovation Management initiatives, emerging biomass usage opportunities and expansion across all global markets, accounting for a 25% increase in almond consumption, the industry maintains its leadership position and is poised for even greater accomplishments in the coming years.

FSMA is Upon Us and Applies to All!

While FSMA guidelines are complicated and vary based on type of almond operation, Elizabeth Fawell, Almond Board’s FMSA consultant from Hogan Lovells, has done an incredible job of sorting through the hard stuff for us, going over each rule and implication and determining what this means for any stakeholder within the almond industry. During the symposium, Elizabeth outlined a four-step approach to help understand what rules apply to different operations, and when you need to comply:

  • Step 1: Understand which entities are covered by which rules. In short, figure out if you are considered a ‘Farm.’
  • Step 2: Determine how the activities you conduct are classified by the FDA. Do you harvest, hull/shell, etc.?
  • Step 3: Look at each rule and determine whether any exemptions apply. Do you conduct certain low-risk activities, have smaller average annual sales, etc.?
  • Step 4: If you are covered by the rule, determine your compliance date. This will largely vary based on the size of your operation.

Steve Patton, from the California Department of Food and Ag (CDFA), contributed another layer of perspective from a FSMA enforcement point of view. With CDFA contracted by Food and Drug Administration for Produce Safety compliance in California, his team has been prioritizing compliance activities to be phased in over a period of time. Most work has been focused around planning and setting up the infrastructure to effectively monitor and audit farms for Produce Safety compliance. He noted that there is a mutual trust between the FDA and the almond industry; as long as growers and handlers are making the effort to move toward FSMA compliance, the FDA will be understanding of the transition process/learning curve.

You can find a helpful breakdown of all FSMA rules and compliance dates at: almonds.com/growers/fsma or almonds.com/processors/fsma.

No Industry is Immune to Risk or External Threats

Be it foodborne illness, intentional adulteration or external terrorism, we learned of the various risks that consistently pose a threat to the almond industry. While the industry as a whole follows strict protocols and standards, both Dr. Linda Harris’s and David Goldenberg’s sessions reiterated the importance of establishing and preserving strong food safety plans, with the goal to establish strong preventive strategies before any potential response or reaction is needed.

Advanced Harvesting and Other Lessons from Down Under

Down where the almond harvest follows a different cycle, the Agricultural Machine Research and Design Centre team of the University of South Australia is experimenting with novel methods of almond harvesting and processing, aimed at addressing environmental and quality concerns of a growing industry. Michael Coates, one of the lead members of the team, presented the Centre’s latest research – examining the impact of an early ‘green’ harvest and shake and catch systems, as well as on-farm hulling and mechanical drying.

While the shake-and-catch systems are not refined for the almond industry, yet (the technology has mostly been utilized for pistachios), the team has identified several positive key takeaways after preliminary research: early harvesting offers a harvesting method independent of the weather; reduces mold, bacteria and pest infestation; significantly reduces dust and is easier for hulling.

Find the full presentations here.

[1]Sustainable almond farming utilizes production practices that are economically viable and are based upon scientific research, common sense and a respect for the environment, neighbors and employees. The result is a plentiful, nutritious, safe food product.


The Handle