FLORIDA avocado packers committed to food safety
Posted: May 29th, 2009 - 4:43pm
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Last summer’s salmonella scare sent tremors through the U.S. produce industry.
South Florida avocado grower-shippers, like their fruit and vegetable counterparts, kept a close watch on the developing crisis and worked to make sure such a traumatic experience that devastated the U.S. tomato industry wouldn’t happen to them.
Though avocados weren’t fingered by the Food and Drug Administration, that didn’t mean it escaped sales harm from the scare, said Peter Leifermann, salesman for Fresh King Inc.
He said the scare that scarred tomatoes was the most severe recent food safety crisis.
“What we found was that the salmonella scare affected the entire produce department,” Leifermann said. “Unfortunately, that came during our peak of production, in the summer. Add to that as tomatoes and avocados go so well together, I think it put a pinch on avocado sales.”
Visitors walking around the packinghouse and packing facility of Brooks Tropicals Inc. will immediately hear the screeching sounds of a fake hawk. The audio recording, played continuously over loudspeakers overlooking the plant, helps scare away birds.
Metal fencing also protects animals from flying into the grading operation from the receiving area.
Brooks’ packinghouse and shipping facility have been Primus Labs-certified since 2008, said Bill Brindle, Brooks’ vice president of sales management.
“We are very proud of our food safety certification,” he said. “Once you get there, you have to maintain it and it is a process where you do it continuously.”
Brooks’ packing line uses stainless steel, as recommended by food safety authorities.
Brooks keeps its carton assembling area as well as cleaning utensils and other products separated from the packing area to prevent cross-contamination. Brooks’ unmade boxes are stored shrinkwrapped to prevent dust contamination.
Brindle said some of its retail buyers send field inspectors to inspect Brooks’ packinghouse to see how the operation handles its fruit. That’s the exception rather than the norm, he said, as most of its customers check on Brooks’ certification scores by signing onto the Primus Web site.
Brooks says it was the first in Florida to have a refrigerated packinghouse loading dock.
New Limeco LLC, Princeton, had its south Florida packing and distribution operation Primus Labs-certified in late December.