The most important technological change FSMA has brought to Nogales, AZ shipper Ruiz Sales is in the way shipments are tracked, shares company president Richard Ruiz. Global trade item number (GTIN) and Databar systems can track every lime Ruiz Sales ships—from the field to the consumer’s table.
Ruiz Sales has also invested in new machinery and tools to help stay in compliance with FSMA requirements.
The company’s eight-lane Orb-Tek machine stickers all product to customer specifications in a way that meets FSMA mandates while also being cost effective. “Without the machine, the ability to provide traceability at the level of individual fruit would be expensive and difficult, as we would have to hand-sticker all of our products,” Ruiz explains.
Another change in the industry due to FSMA, Ruiz notes, has been a sizable increase in online ordering, tracking, and database management. Ruiz has invested in all three to stay on top of the vast amount of data necessary to meet FSMA requirements. “Such platforms allow us to digitally track our produce from the farm to our retail and wholesale customers,” Ruiz says. “We’re also able to better keep track of accounts payables, receivables, and all of our other expenses with ease, which helps us make good decisions.”
The new emphasis on preventive controls has been a boon for Wood’s Produce. As Turner sees it, the best way to fight food safety-related problems is with prevention—to do everything possible to keep such incidents from happening in the first place.
Wood’s drivers have traditionally relied on a mounted light to determine whether a truck’s refrigerated unit was operating. But such a simple red light/green light system is no longer acceptable in the FSMA era. Even if the green light is on, the product inside may not be at the temperature needed to ensure cold chain viability, so the company is in the process of upgrading all of its trucks.
The importance of FSMA and other food safety protocols hit home recently for Wood’s Produce, after the company sent a load of distressed watermelons to the county landfill. Before the melons could be properly disposed of, they were stolen and ended up at one of Wood’s customers. Yet because of its advanced traceability capabilities, the company was able to clearly show the movement of the melons and prove its innocence to officials investigating the crime.
Investments Pose Challenges
For Borton’s Leavitt, becoming an FDA-certified lead trainer in FSMA regulations wasn’t easy, and the demands it has made on his time have been significant. Training growers can take a few days out of his work week, but the potential costs of no training far outweigh the headaches that come with it.
Another challenge for Borton has been to understand exactly how FSMA regulations apply to the company and its growers. For instance, Leavitt initially assumed Borton fell under FSMA’s Produce rule. Now, because of the company’s processing capabilities, he thinks it’s more likely to be under the law’s Preventive Controls rule. “If and when the FDA shows up, people need to understand the rule,” he says.