Local produce leaders on new state task force

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 November 2020 at 7:48 am

Group looks to improve tracking and tracing system for produce grown in the state

File photo by Tom Rivers – Dirk Biemans co-owner and CEO of Intergrow Greenhouses, built its first 15-acre greenhouse in the Town of Gaines in 2003. The company has done multiple expansions since then. Biemans is serving on the new Produce Traceability Blue Ribbon Task Force. The company recently started construction on a new site in Ontario, Wayne County.

A new state task force includes agricultural leaders from throughout the state, including three with Orleans County connections.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball announced on Friday the members of the Produce Traceability Blue Ribbon Task Force, which met for the first time Thursday.

The task force, which is made up of New York farmers and representatives from produce distributors and retailers. The task force will build on New York’s leadership in food safety practices, Ball said.

The task force will review and make recommendations to further advance New York’s tracking and tracing system for produce grown in the state. An improved system will help consumers to more easily identify where products were grown and processed and allow the state to more quickly trace the origin of a product during foodborne illness investigations.

“We look forward to the work of this taskforce as a next step in the evolution of our food safety mission,” Ball said. “Food safety is everyone’s business, and this task force consists of all parts of the produce supply chain— from the farmer that grows our fruits and vegetables to the distribution center that sorts and/or bags it to the retailer who sells it. Understanding the sophisticated tracking systems that are already in place and how those systems communicate throughout the supply chain is key to supporting our farms, strengthening our food system, and reducing foodborne illness.”

Dirk Biemans, co-owner and president of Intergrow Greenhouses on Route 98 in Gaines, is a member of the task force. The company grows tomatoes hydroponically, offering consistent size and taste throughout the year.

Photo by Tom Rivers: Steven Karr, CEO of Pride Pak, gives a tour of the 68,000-square-foot vegetable processing site in Medina on Nov. 30, 2016. The company trims lettuce and packages it for salads for Wegmans.

Steven Karr, CEO of Pride Pak, and his son Angelo, Pride Pak vice president, opened a new vegetable processing facility on Maple Ridge Road in Medina in November 2016. They are both on the new state task force.

Pride Pak’s new 68,000-square-foot facility in Medina trims  lettuce and packaging it for salads for Wegmans. Medina gives the company a U.S. site. Pride Pak also has facilities in Mississaugua and Newfoundland. It is the largest vegetable processor in Canada, and 35 percent of its produce comes to the U.S.

Pride Pak currently gets most of its lettuce, baby spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, carrots and other vegetables from Yuma in Arizona, California and Oregon.

Kaari Stannard, owner of New York Apple Sales, Inc., also is on the task force. She has served as chairwoman of the U.S. Apple Association. She is a partner in both Pomona Packing and Lake Ontario Fruit, which are apple packing facilities located in western New York. Stannard is also a partner in Fish Creek Orchards, located in Orleans County. Lake Ontario Fruit also is in Orleans County on Ridge Road in Gaines.

The complete list of members of the Task Force are:

  • Dr. Elizabeth Bihn, Cornell University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Mike Durant, Food Industry Alliance
  • Steve Ball, Wegmans
  • Jim Calvin, New York Association of Convenience Stores
  • Michael King, Krasdale Foods
  • Renee St. Jacques, New York Farm Bureau
  • Dale Ila Riggs, New York State Berry Growers Association
  • Bethany Wallis, Northeast Organic Farming Association
  • Joy Crist, Crist Bros. Orchards
  • Jim Bittner, Bittner-Singer Farm
  • Paulette Satur, Satur Farm
  • Steve and Angelo Karr, Pride Pak
  • Erica Battisti, Stewarts Shops
  • Michael Muzyk, Baldor Specialty Food
  • Jim Hans, Driscoll’s
  • Kaari Stannard, NYS Apple Sales
  • Luke George, Upstate Growers & Packers
  • Dirk Biemans, Intergrow
  • Alisha Albinder, Hudson River Fruit Packers
  • Darby Greco, NYS Department of Health

Currently the Food and Drug Administration does not require a tracing system for produce. Unlike manufactured products, which are traceable through serial numbers, consumers generally cannot identify where fresh produce was grown.

In addition to the health and safety risks, this is costly to the entire supply chain, from the producers to retailers.

Kaari Stannard is a New York apple marketer, packer and grower.

The task force will analyze today’s existing tracking and tracing system, identify potential gaps and areas in need of improvement, and recommend uniform operating standards and practices for each point of the supply chain. This will provide consumers with more information about the source of the food they eat and expedite investigations of foodborne illness.

“New York State’s focus on traceability through the Produce Traceability Blue Ribbon Task Force is truly forward thinking,” said Betsy Bihn, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University Director of the Produce Safety Alliance. “With the FDA proposing to establish additional traceability recordkeeping requirements, it is imperative to understand current practices as well as any challenges that are preventing effective produce traceability from farm to fork. As the Cornell CALS representative, I am grateful to have the opportunity to facilitate this discussion as this work is important for food safety, but also important for NY growers and consumers.”

Mike Durant, President/CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of NYS, Inc., said, “New York’s retail food industry is committed to ensuring quality products to our customers and promoting food safety is paramount to that effort. As the industry evolves, so too does the entire food supply chain. This task force will be a collaborative effort to both further advance best practices in food safety and help preserve public trust. We are pleased to be part of this important effort.”

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