Should good agricultural practices for citrus be the same as those for lettuce or stone fruit?
Growers in Florida and California don’t think so, and several major grower groups have combined efforts to draft good agricultural practices, or GAPs, designed specifically for oranges, grapefruit and tangerines.
Unlike lettuce, which is grown in soil, or stone fruit, where the outer skin is consumed, citrus grows on trees, high off the ground. It also is protected from most animal life and ground contamination, and consumers don’t typically eat the peel. Hence, growers say they believe citrus merits a separate set of GAPs.
“We’ve had a long, exceptional safety record,” says Peter Chaires, director of strategic management and business development for Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Packers.
“But that doesn’t preclude the necessity to have good, strong food safety programs and good agricultural practices.”
Florida trade representatives and practitioners who manage food safety audits have put together a three-part guidance document that they believe offers GAPs that are appropriate for citrus products.
The document includes: • Guidelines on fundamental principles to assist growers in developing individualized programs;
• A collection of resource materials and references that growers can access; and
• A set of examples, checklists and templates patterned on what other knowledgeable growers have done to address safety issues.
The document is a “phenomenal undertaking on all levels,” says Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League in Vero Beach.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in agriculture in my life,” he says.
The materials would amount to “mountains of paperwork” if they were printed out, so they’ve been made available on the Indian River Citrus website, http://bit.ly/oi8wHF, and will be distributed on CDs or flash drives, Chaires says.
The program’s creators are hopeful that their GAPs will be compatible with the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rule for the safe production, harvesting and packing of fresh produce to be released early in 2012.
That rule “will establish mandatory, science-based, minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, sorting, packing and storage of fresh fruits and vegetables,” according to the FDA’s website.