On various occasions, we have discussed about the importance of food safety and corporate social responsibility within the farming sector, and how people from Sinaloa have led the full compliance with criteria and certificates demanded by both domestic and international markets for decades. But, what does this mean? What are these criteria? Some of you may define food safety as “clean food” and therefore; that tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are being properly washed, just as they are washed at home before consuming them. And, even if you are correct, there are hundreds of criteria which, besides a proper cleaning of the fruit, must be complied. Here are some of them, for your knowledge.
Water quality being used throughout the planting, harvesting and packaging process is essential to obtain clean and healthy fruits. Water can bring contamination to commodities, as it is very easy for pathogen microorganisms to be preserved or even be reproduced in it. Also, water is present in most processes and comes into contact with surfaces such as the hands of workers, packaging tables, carrying vehicles and even vegetables themselves. For this reason, food safety certificates demand criteria to ensure that the water used does not contain traces mostly from E. coli or Salmonella. There are various national standards which regulate them, such as NOM-001-SEMARNAT-1996 or international demands from FSMA itself (requirements demanded by FDA to be able to export into the US).
Other essential criteria being audited by trade certificates is training in good hygiene practices for workers. These trainings are provided when the employee starts working for the company and periodically during the season. Among the fundamental processes for training, you may find: proper hand washing, as well as the frequency in which it should be done, proper personal hygiene (that is, daily shower, going to work with clean clothes and avoiding dirt on nails), avoid touching dirty surfaces before handling vegetables, supervise that both personnel and visitors have no symptoms or open wounds, and prevent personnel from attending the facilities with infectious-contagious diseases. Given the current health contingency, proper implementation of good hygiene practices is a good ally to prevent the infection by SARS-Cov-2.
Similarly, hygiene programs and trainings must be implemented on cleaning activities, dining rooms, storage areas, equipment, lamps and pest control. Also, using supplies supported and certified by the standards needed, in order to be used with food.
On the other hand, some of the most important criteria to get a certification are related to proper organization of the documents supporting the processes, implementations and measurements of the same. This organization of documents is known as “Quality Management”. How to achieve it? First, by standardizing processes. In order to standardize a process, it must be documented. This is how we make sure that people execute the processes according to how these are written, in order to achieve the expected results. By documenting the processes, we are targeting the managers towards achieving certain results. It also allows us to keep track of the activities performed. In this case, we are discussing the records, which is where the information on the activities performed during the processes is documented, and it also provides us the evidence of these being performed. In other words, the records allow us to learn about and evaluate the activities performed. Documents are the backbone of the company, as doing something well and documenting it properly generate value for the company, from the knowledge acquired and; in the future, it may be turned into a profit.
So far, we have only described the tip of the iceberg from the vast amount of criteria that must be complied in order to obtain a recognized trade food safety certificate. Among the most demanded certificates for buyers are Global Gap (with 227 criteria), Primus GFS (with 503 criteria) and SRRS with (151 criteria).
This manner, obtaining a food safety certificate, just as the one most horticultural exporters in Sinaloa have, is not an easy process. It takes an investment of time, money, and most importantly, the will of the farmer to make it a part of the identity of his company.
By: Georgius Gotsis – Veggies From Mexico/Eleven Rivers Growers CEO