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Produce Industry on Growers Going Digital in the New Era of Food Safety [Webinar Recap]

August 6, 2020

The FDA’s guidance on the New Era of Smarter Food Safety has brought the unique challenges of digital transformation to the grower community. We’re recapping some insights from United Fresh’s recent webinar, where produce professionals shared their perspectives on the FDA’s new blueprint for the New Era of Smarter Food Safety

Here’s what we concluded about growers’ top focuses going digital:

Access to Digital Tools Favors Large Growers

Currently, small and medium growers have a wide gap between where they are today and where they need to be to leverage digital Food Safety compliance. Because of this technology gap, the majority of participants in the webinar agreed that the immediate focus for protecting the public’s health must be on embracing “tools for prevention and outbreak response”. Beth Oleson, with the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, aptly pointed out a challenge with this focus: that Food Safety professionals at small and medium growers also wear 12 other hats.

On the other hand, early adopters of tech-enabled traceability are typically large growers with on-staff IT support and a team of Food Safety specialists. These growers have digital solutions in place or are in the process of implementation or vetting digital platforms for their operation.

Food Safety managers from small and medium growers need access to basic tools that allow them to easily manage their company’s Food Safety program and report their successes to company management. 

Digital Food Safety Solutions Should Start in the Field

One of the mutual takeaways from the webinar was that remote audits are significant time-saving efforts compared to traditional paper-based manual audits. While there is still the requirement of the in-person third-party audit, remote document reviews and audit preparation time can be significantly reduced by adopting a digital auditing platform. Scott Horsfall of California’s LGMA shared his perspective on virtual audits. 

“The precious time we’ve got on farms can be focused on those things that have to be done in-person. If we can do as much as possible on a remote basis, there is the benefit of real-time data, and it allows the auditors to focus on the important things that are being done on the farm.”

For a digital Food Safety tool to be adopted by a grower operation, it has to be simple enough to be used by the field employees. Many technologies appear viable when presented on paper or in an air-conditioned meeting room in the farm office, but fail to be adopted by the people in the field among the crops. 

Technology adoption and digital transformation encounter their most challenging obstacle in an uncontrolled environment - the field.

According to Garrett Patricio of Westside Produce, digital food safety tools can allow internal food safety audits to be on-going all year long, and with a digital platform, the management of the data gets easier. 

With all this in mind, growers should focus on finding a technology that works for them in the field where the Food Safety risks exist, rather than technologies that are built for an office or highly controlled environment. Doing so will ensure compliance professionals are setting their food safety programs up efficiently and with purpose in this new era.

Topics: Food Safety

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