For the past 21 years, fruit and vegetable growers from all over the Southeast have made their way to the annual Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable conference – a four-day event that’s purpose is to equip producers within the industry with all the tools they need to see success back on their operations.
“We are back in person in Savannah for the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference; our attendance is at record levels, but it’s the one place where you bring together all of the fruit and vegetable production side of the industry all under one roof, so everything a grower needs from seeds and equipment to fertilizer and then most importantly is knowledge,” says Chris Butts, Executive Vice President of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. “We’ve got four full days of education sessions, full of real-world information that our growers can take back and put to use on the farm.”
One of the educational topics discussed at the conference was food safety – an issue that Rob Martin with the UGA Small Business Development Center says is vital to the fruit and vegetable industry and believes it’s something that can be controlled.
“We know from the data that annually, one in six people in the United States gets sick from some kind of food borne illness,” says Martin. “So, of those numbers, the amount that are hospitalized, the amount that die, three thousand people a year die due to food contamination, so when you think about the importance, that’s the importance. I can handle getting ill and sick after eating something, but put me in the hospital, losing a family member because of something like that, that’s pretty serious, and when we know food safety is basically something we control.”
According to Alexis Hamilton, Extension Specialist with Virginia Tech, food safety is a matter that must be practiced by every single person working on the operation.
“There’s so many people that are involved in producing food and making sure that everyone is onboard with every action that they partake in; in the packing house or in your fresh produce operation, making sure that every one of those is aimed at producing safe food is going to go a long way to ensuring that the product that makes it to the market is one that we can safely enjoy,” says Hamilton.
However, making that a reality is a different story, which is why Martin believes the best way to make sure everyone is doing their part, is by making food safety a part of the culture within the operation.
“Just like anything else, with an operation, if the owner, the manager, the line down is not bought into the process, we can’t expect our employees and workers to be bought in. So, it’s important for us to understand as managers and owners that if we don’t show it and exude it, and give that example, then we can’t expect our employees to. So, that’s the importance of kind of building that culture, going about that process and just making sure it’s a, it’s a requirement and a focus on importance for the operation,” says Martin.
By: John Holcomb