Monday, May 27, 2013
COSTCO PUSHES FOR SAFER FRESH PRODUCE
COSTCO has had its fare share of food recalls, and I have blogged many of them on this site. But, it has also occasionally taken the lead in food safety. What it is currently doing to make produce like strawberries safer is a good example.
COSTCO, founded in 1083, is the second largest retailer and the largest membership warehouse club in the in the United States. Nor is it just limited to the U.S.: it is the seventh largest retailer in the world. Such size also carries a great deal of clout with suppliers. If you are a supplier to COSTCO, you certainly want to keep their business.
Recently, COSTCO has used that clout to try to provide its customers with safer strawberries. It is doing this through encouraging suppliers to reduce contamination of fresh produce at the farm level. This has been a major problem for years. The Safe Food Handbook places a great deal of emphasis on this in its chapter on Produce.
Farm workers are part of the problem, but not through their own fault. They do piece work. There are no incentives in place which would encourage them to report problems in the field like animal droppings or dead animals which could contaminate the nearby produce with bacteria like E.coli or Salmonella. The chances are, they would pick the berries or whatever anyway. Nor are they encouraged to make sure that packing areas are safe. Very often, farm workers do not even have water nearby to wash their hands after using the sanitation facilities.
COSTCO is now working with one of its major suppliers - Andrew and Williamson - to train farm workers in food safety, and provide them with certain small but important things (like gloves and water) which will help to reduce bacteria in the produce. The restaurant chain that has so far at least partially joined up is Bon Appetit, which is buying ("Limited Edition") strawberries which have been picked under these improved conditions.
Congratulations COSTCO, Andrew and Williamson, and Bon Appetit! It is one small but important step in the right direction. This kind of initiative makes up for some of those other recalls you often have (see next post on the frozen organic berry mix recall).
To your good health,