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Produce food safety program integration underway

The two bodies responsible for administering complementary–but slightly overlapping–food safety programs for Canada’s fresh produce industry say they are making “good progress” on implementing a harmonized certification program.

Heather Gale, program manager for the Canadian Horticultural Council’s (CHC) CanadaGAP program in Ottawa, said that her program’s integration with the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s (CPMA) Repackaging and Wholesale Food Safety program should be complete by 2013.

Currently, the CanadaGAP program oversees food safety at the on-farm level, with an emphasis on best agricultural practices such as assessing the source of irrigation water, controlling water quality and ensuring that employees are properly trained and following appropriate food handling guidelines.

The CPMA program is similar in scope, said Gale, with an emphasis on the buildings where produce is stored with regards to pest control, employ hygiene etc.

An interim board of directors for an as-yet unnamed entity that will administer the integrated program will be named this month. It will be tasked with recruiting and hiring an executive director.

The entity’s first annual general meeting is tentatively scheduled for November, with the election of a board of directors drawn from CHC and CPMA-approved representatives–four and two directors respectively–as well as two directors from program participants scheduled to take place at that time.

Gale said that the integration of the programs will lead to both increased efficacy and cost reductions for industry members engaged in the growing/packing and repacking segments of the industry.

While both the CHC and CPMA will continue to exist, they will relinquish their respective roles in the management and delivery of the two food safety programs.

The harmonized program, which will be rolled out sometime in 2013, will be built on ISO standards and give a “wider scope” to the whole program, said Gale.

The CanadaGAP program has been in existence for nearly four years and has attracted participation from more than 2,000 farms and packaging operations, said Gale.

“There’s a strong demand for the program in Canada and we anticipate with the merging of the two programs as they are now, demand will continue to grow,” she said.

While participation it the certification programs is voluntary, Gale said the growth is being fueled by the fact that grocery retailers and food processors are increasingly requiring their suppliers to have some kind of certification.

“We’re hoping that our timing will be good and the integrated program will be well positioned to take advantage of that continuing customer mandate for food safety assurance,” said Gale.

The CHC and CPMA began discussing harmonizing the food safety programs in 2009, with a formal feasibility study conducted in 2010.

Work on the harmonization process began in earnest last year, said Gale.

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