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Mind Your Peas and ... Cucumbers

Government has no safety standards for produce

Because the U.S. government has no laws to govern fruit and vegetable growers and packers, supermarkets have started insisting on their own safety audits, reports this news service story in Bergen County's The Record.

Albertson's and Safeway grocery stores were the first large chains to insist on inspections of their suppliers' farm and packing operations. Publix recently followed suit, and Wal-Mart, A&P and Kroger are all considering implementing similar inspections. The supermarket chains are concerned about the rise in food-borne illnesses from fruits and vegetables. About 10 percent of food-borne illnesses come from produce. Eighty-two outbreaks of food-borne illnesses have been traced back to produce in the last 10 years.

"What the audits are doing is increasing the awareness and basically providing a more systematic way of going through the farm and asking: Are you controlling your workers? Are you controlling your water? Are you controlling your application of fertilizer, especially organic fertilizer?" says Linda Harris, a food safety expert from the University of California-Davis.

Auditing is a good first step, says Caroline Smith DeWaal, the food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. But, she cautions that because the programs are voluntary, there are no guarantees that the produce is safe.

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