Peach Packing

New funding program brings food safety innovations to Ontario fruit growing co-operative

Ontario fruit growers are strengthening their food safety management system to ensure Canadian-grown fruit meets or exceeds the global food safety standards expected by major Canadian retailers and international customers.

Industry-leading food safety systems will help boost the shelf-life of fruit crops like peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, grapes, and apricots, enabling local growers to ship their produce greater distances and access new markets.

To help achieve this goal, the Vineland Growers’ Co-operative will receive funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and is collaborating with 17 Niagara fruit growers who will be implementing changes to cleaning and sanitation procedures in their pack houses.

“Canadian fruit growers know the value of innovation and continuous improvement. The Government of Canada is pleased to support fruit growers in developing the tools they need to produce safe, high-quality products. This investment will help grow their industry and build a strong and prosperous agriculture and agri-food sector,” said Lawrence MacAulay, Federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.   

Vineland Growers’ was founded in 1913 and is Ontario’s oldest continually run co-operative, marketing stone fruit, grapes and pears on behalf of its members to customers across Canada. Approximately 70 per cent of Canada’s stone fruit crop is marketed through the co-op.

Through the project, the co-op will implement an innovative sanitation program that includes cleanliness initiatives, environmental monitoring, professional training, and achieving group food safety certification. An internal auditor will be trained to ensure growers are continually maintaining proper records, traceability and cleanliness practices.

“The objective of cleaning and sanitizing is to remove the nutrients that bacteria use to grow and to eliminate the bacteria that are present,” explained Vineland Growers’ President Mike Ecker, adding that a state-of-the-art adenosine triphosphate (ATP) bioluminescence monitoring system will be used to ensure sanitation efforts are thorough enough to avoid product contamination.

At Tregunno Fruit Farms Ltd., the first co-operative member to start implementing the new system, cleaning equipment and microbiology testers were installed in their pack house for the 2018 harvest season.

“We cleaned and sanitized every harvest container after every use,” said Ryan Tregunno. “This is unique and we have been looking forward to getting this in place.”

“Our government is pleased to support this improvement in food safety and competitiveness in the Ontario tender fruit sector. The Canadian Agricultural Partnership investment will help enhance public trust in the great products of this farming segment and the appeal they’ll hold for consumers of such fruit in Canada and   internationally,” said Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman.

“The AAC Board recognizes when one sector of Ontario growers does a strong job ensuring the safest food, the rest of the Ontario and the Canadian industry can benefit. The Canadian Agricultural Partnership funding for Vineland Grower’ Co-operative and their members will manage food safety risks and provide market opportunities such as expansion into global markets and enhanced domestic sales through increased consumer trust in the Ontario produce industry,” said Agricultural Adaptation Council Chair Kelly Duffy.

According to Ecker, cleaning is the most costly part of on-farm food safety, so for the co-operative to be able to access funding for the project helps make these improvements more accessible to its members.

“By implementing these initiatives as a collaboration through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and achieving group food safety certification, we can make food safety resources affordable to all growers large and small and ensure that the fruit we produce is of the highest quality when it reaches the customer,” he added.

The Canadian Agricultural Partnership is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists with program delivery to organizations and collaborations in Ontario.