Good Fruit Grower

January 15

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28 JANUARY 15, 2015 Good Fruit Grower T here's never been an outbreak of food-borne illness associated with fresh whole apples, but that doesn't give Warren Morgan any peace of mind. "I live with that fear every day," says Morgan, owner of Double Diamond Fruit, a growing and packing operation in Quincy, Washington. "I think we do a pretty good job, but it concerns me all the time. We've had a long history of not having any problems, and I would like to know why, from a research standpoint." An apple is a low-risk food, partly because it's not grown in contact with the ground, but what worries Morgan is that the risk increases along with the number of apples produced. This year, the Washington apple industry harvested 150 million boxes, or 15 billion apples. "That's why I continue to be concerned about food safety," he said. "It has to do with large numbers. When you start selling billions of apples every year, you can do the math and, theoretically, it could happen." Double Diamond packs about two million boxes annually of apples, cherries, and apricots from company orchards and about a dozen outside growers. A decade ago, when his customers began demanding food safety audits, Morgan's goal was simply to pass. He was not well prepared for the audits, he acknowledges in retrospect. The company's record keeping was inad- equate and he didn't have the necessary policies and procedures in place. "There was not a culture of record keeping," he recalled. But he passed the first audit with a 94 percent score. "The audits we did initially weren't that demanding, because we weren't ready for demanding audits," he said. "If I was still running on that plan, I wouldn't be passing today." Now, everything is carefully documented. The company collects massive volumes of paperwork, including logs on chlorine levels and temperatures, for example, and records to check that the hygiene policy is being followed. Each time they enter the packing room, employees must wash their hands in a washbasin that's in full view of everyone and has a camera pointed at it. During the cherry season, when he's in and out of the building, Morgan estimates he washes his hands up to 12 times a day. "Even if I don't think I present any risk, it's a matter of setting an example," he said. "If I walk past the washing facility, what message does that send?" Audits may be getting tougher, but Morgan now regards them in a much more positive light. "I've learned a tremendous amount by attending audits and having them tell me what's wrong with my plant," he said. "You may think it's bad that you have to have an audit and there's all this stuff you have to fix afterwards, but the reality is they can be tremendous resources for helping you improve your plan if you are willing to listen." Morgan decided several years ago that, to effectively address food safety issues, he needed to tap into some research. "If we're going to have these interventions on the pack- ing line to impact our risk, we need to know these inter- ventions are effective," he said. "Where I think research is important is to help us understand which practices we're engaged in are useful and helpful in pushing food safety to the forefront, and which are not." Mike Robinson, general manager at Double Diamond, who served on the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, became aware of food safety research being done by Dr. Karen Killinger, food safety specialist at Washington State University. Morgan offered to cooper- ate with her so she could take her trials out of the lab and into a real packing house. Killinger looked at the flume system and the materials Double Diamond was using to control pathogens. She Beating the ODDS Packing lines should be designed with more concern about food safety, says fruit grower and packer Warren Morgan. by Geraldine Warner Postharvest

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