Established in 2009, Eleven Rivers seeks to change the perception of the consumer and ensure accountability and security of Mexican horticultural products, Dr. Chaidez says.
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“Eleven Rivers is open to all producers affiliated with the Confederación de Asociaciones Agrícolas de Sinaloa, so that they participate and obtain the benefits of the program,” he relates. “The program is designed to implement, verify, and apply a certification scheme in food safety through a periodic review by independent bodies, oriented towards ensuring consumer health; but also promoting the systematization of safe food production processes in the food chain, with social and environmental responsibility.”
Eleven Rivers strives to achieve a differentiated produce supply in the market, based on the highest standards demanded by consumers, buyers, and authorities. To that end, Dr. Chaidez says Eleven Rivers is focused on becoming an important label and a food safety reference in Mexico and worldwide, as reflected in a market and consumer preference for the certified product.
“In the Eleven Rivers regulatory scheme, companies certify their modules of agriculture production, packing, and shelter facilities,” he explains. “This scheme is not only focused on food safety, but it also seeks to comply with the best industry practices, including process quality, traceability and corporate responsibility. Participating growers agree to be subject to a seasonal certification, and weekly compliance verification, conducted by independent certification, and verification organizations.”
FSMA will have an impact on the fresh produce industry, Dr. Chaidez adds. “One of the biggest destinations for Mexican fresh produce is the U.S. market, and if growers do not meet the FSMA requirements, they’ll just lose that opportunity,” he emphasizes.
As FSMA functions as a mandatory food safety risk reduction system, Mexican produce growers need to include in their operations the following items, Dr. Chaidez says.
- Designing public policies to correct or minimize risks.
- Tracing the origin and causes of microbial contamination.
- Determining the genetic fingerprint, to know whether is endemic or external.
- Characterizing pathogens and times of the year in which they occur.
- Regulations for mandatory food safety practices.
Science-Based Support, Por Favor
Dr. Chaidez is quick to point out that some aspects of the Mexican produce industry definitely need improvement.
“Comparison of foodborne pathogens isolated from fresh produce and the environment, and from produce-associated human infections, infers that pathogens may differ markedly in their potential to infect humans,” he begins. “The acquisition of further data on this aspect would inform potential future quantitative risk assessments and also inform hygiene controls and pathogens standards for fresh produce.”
The current dose response curves are determined using a variety of other foods, Dr. Chaidez continues. “Studies on dose response using fresh produce as the matrix using environmental isolates from foods and dose response information from outbreak data would be useful for quantitative risk assessments,” he believes. “Also, the application of more precise tools such as whole genome sequencing will help to identify the source of an outbreak far more quickly and prevent additional cases,” he says.
These advanced technologies will help growers to more quickly match bacteria from environmental samples with their database, he believes.
“The Mexican government and produce growers need to undertake more science-based studies to better understand microbial pathogens,” Dr. Chaidez advises. “The benefits of science-based support can definitely help our growers, ultimately by more productivity reaching better market niches.”
Stars and Stripes Status
As is the case with Mexico, produce safety issues are no small concern in the U.S.
The three main food safety issues impacting the U.S. today are produce, imported foods and bacterial contamination of high fat foods, according to Michael Doyle, PhD, the regents professor of food microbiology and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University Georgia, Griffin, GA.