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A growing need to certify

Blueberry council has staffers ready to provide food safety assistance. By Judie Steeves


t was bound to come. Grower groups have been aware for some time that food safety certification would be a requirement for growers in future.

And that future is now, as at least one large buyer, Loblaw Companies Ltd., is only purchasing berries this year from growers who are certified. Already, the industry’s more progressive growers have become certified, but there are still many who must take the plunge.

Members of the B.C. Blueberry Council have the assistance of staff people such as food safety coordinator Amandeep Bal, Balreet Mandair and Rick Dulat to visit their farms and help them get started. Assistance is available in both English and Punjabi. Of the 883 members of the council, Bal estimates only about 12.5 per cent are certified now, so many still have to take that step.

To get started, contact the BCBC for a consultation, which includes a copy of a food safety binder, on which a staff member will spend a few hours with the grower, so they understand what is required.

Bal says the binder contains all the information farmers need to pass the audit, including information about the water supply and an assessment of it; cleaning of equipment; handling of harvest containers; employees; signage; u-pick policies; pesticide use; and most important of all: record-keeping. “Keeping good records is most critical to passing an audit,” he emphasizes. Such records provide a paper trail that shows growers have been following the right process and they’re vital if there’s an emergency that requires a recall, he explains.

While certification is necessary to ensure food is produced that is safe and healthy and to minimize the potential of contamination of foods—it also opens up markets for growers and can even save money spent on farm operations.

For instance, Bal pointed to the 14 British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2012

requirements for calibration of spray equipment and use of chemicals, and noted that being exact and following strict guidelines for application timing and rates of application can result in a more efficient operation and cost savings for the farmer.

“We walk around the farm operation with the farmer and assess it for food safety risks. This is a service we can help farmers with thanks to funding we have been receiving through the Food Safety Systems Implementation (FSSI) program,” explained Bal. FSSI is a part of Growing Forward, a federal- provincial and territorial initiative. In addition to Canada GAP, they can also help growers with food safety programs, primarily Canada GAP (Good Agricultural Practices, but also Global GAP and PrimusLabs). Following that walk-through, staff will provide an analysis report on their farm operation so they know where to begin in complying with certification requirements.

There’s also FSSI funding to help with some costs of bringing farm systems up to standard, he said. An Investment Agriculture


Foundation program also provides food safety information for growers who sell not only to processors, but also direct, through fruit stands or farmers’ markets. It includes information on how to store, handle and display products properly.

There are one-day courses available, resulting in a certificate that can be displayed at the point of sale. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure all growers are food safety certified. The process can be completed within the year, he noted.

However, Bal admits there are lots of challenges, including the ever- increasing acreage of blueberries and the number of new growers. “There’s a real need for education due to the high turnover,” he commented. In 2011, the annual production of blueberries in B.C. was 95 million pounds, making B.C. the largest producing blueberry region in the world.

(At the time of this interview Amandeep Bal was Food Safety Coordinator for the B.C. Blueberry Council, but he has since moved on, and Rick Dulat has taken on that post.)

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