Retailers say no to contaminated fresh produce

Despite increasing concerns that fresh produce grown with contaminated water could find its way onto shop shelves, leading retail chains have said their stringent international standard hygiene controls wouldn’t allow this to happen.

The Spar group’s national fresh foods manager, Peter Gohl, said his company requires fresh produce suppliers to test their irrigation water as part of the suppliers’ GlobalGap certification. This is primarily designed to reassure consumers about how food is produced on a farm by minimising the detrimental environmental impacts of farming operations, reducing the use of chemical inputs, and ensuring a responsible approach to worker health and safety, as well as animal welfare.

“We also perform random pathogen and residue tests on products delivered to us,” said Gohl. “About 18 months ago we picked up one positive result on E coli. This was attributed to poor hygiene practice by a packhouse staff member. Strict adherence to hand washing policy was enforced and there have been no further incidents.” Pick n Pay spokesperson Tamara Veley said her company monitors all suppliers and insists on a monthly micro report.

“Farmers who find E coli in their irrigation water are required to invest in a water treatment plant to purify the water,” she explained.“Should we find E coli on an already packed product, we close the line and give the supplier time to rectify the problem. “We also verify micro results at independent labs,” she added.Woolworths said, contrary to recent media reports, it’s never had to reject fresh produce due to concerns about E coli contamination.

According to the chain’s managing director of foods, Zyda Ryland, all sites producing food for Woolworths, including fresh fruit and vegetables, must follow the company’s strict hygiene and housekeeping code of practice.“Factories, including farms, are independently audited against this code of practice.

Production is stopped if suppliers don’t comply with our strict quality and safety standards.”Gohl said Spar has learnt from the media about the burgeoning water problem and would like to see the issue urgently addressed. “However, we aren’t specialists in this field and so can’t comment about the extent and trends of the problem,” he added.