Food Safety

Produce supplier successfully combines food quality, safety and environmental innovation

Mastronardi Produce received the 2010 Food Quality Award at the 2011 Food Safety Summit. The company demonstrated integrity in product quality-and  innovative ways of supporting sustainability.

The Mastronardi Produce/SUNSET traceability program allows the tracing of all products back to the country of origin, state or region within that country and the greenhouse within that state or region. At the greenhouse, produce is identified with a product labeling unit (PLU) indicating the growing farm, date of harvest and commodity name. The information is labeled on each product box or container along with the country of origin. Source: Mastronardi Produce.

Mastronardi Produce received the 2010 Food Quality Award at the 2011 Food Safety Summit. The company demonstrated integrity in product quality-and innovative ways of supporting sustainability

Though he didn’t mention it in his acceptance speech at the 10th Annual Food Quality Award presentation held during the recent Food Safety Summit, Joe Darden, Mastronardi Produce vice president of food safety, could have said something about integrity, which certainly played a role in his company’s winning the 2010 Quality Award. The award presentation was cosponsored by DuPont Qualicon, Food Quality and BNP Media.

Mastronardi Produce began as a greenhouse operation in the 1940s in Kingsville, Ontario. Today, it’s a family-owned business that is employee managed with locations throughout the US, Mexico and Canada. With a supply chain distributed throughout North and Central America, the company distributes and sells to the 25 top retailers in North America. Mastronardi’s distribution centers are certified to the Safe Quality Food (SQF) standard SQF 2000 Level 3, and its greenhouse growing centers are certified to SQF 1000 Level 2.

The processor has its own employee staffed labs. One microbiology lab tests inbound and outbound products and packages, and a second lab specializes in shelf life, product quality and package testing. In addition to quality certifications, the company has products meeting both USDA and Canadian organic standards.

“Mastronardi Produce is committed to food safety and food quality. We have a solid team of dedicated professionals leading our food safety department and maintaining the programs that continue to keep us ahead of the game,” says Paul Mastronardi, president. “Our goal is to provide the highest level of food safety and quality, and to continuously exceed government requirements. Our mandate is to constantly be proactive.”

Innovation, according to Darden, has been responsible for several new products and packaging, traceability and environmentally related projects. In his talk, Darden described the processor’s packaged, small, sweet tomatoes that are being sold to kids as a nutritionally healthy substitute for candy. New packaging concepts produced thermal-wrapped cucumbers, plastic-packaged tomatoes and a clear, laminated, shear-resistant, resealing produce pack.

Darden claims his company is one of the first in the industry to implement traceability in 2002. “We feel it’s very important to trace back to our growers each unit package that we sell-whether it is a PLU sticker or a product label. We want to be able to know who the grower was of that particular product.”

Mastronardi’s track and trace system could be a model for other producers. “Our [track-and-trace] system was featured during the 2008 Salmonella St. Paul crisis on CNN (“Lou Dobb’s Tonight” [script]) as a best industry practice,” he adds.

In addition to quality, sustainability is a core value of Mastronardi. In fact, Darden described a symbiotic relationship between a fertilizer factory and a new greenhouse growing plant in Canada. The project was completed in 2010 and is now producing peppers. The first of its kind, the plant uses the heat generated by the fertilizer plant to keep the greenhouse warm during the winter, and the greenhouse uses the CO2 byproduct the fertilizer plant produces to feed its plants, which is then turned into oxygen through photosynthesis. This growing facility has been certified to be carbon-negative-while most plants generate carbon, this facility actually converts more carbon back into oxygen than it creates itself.

With an eye toward the future, Darden described a growing center scenario in the heart of a city, a facility that puts people to work and requires almost no transportation to move its products to customers, who also live in the city and its environs. Darden asked the audience to imagine a large building with pods stacked on top of each other. Each pod would host the growing of certain vegetables in a controlled artificial environment with correct lighting, atmosphere, water and plant food. No pesticides would be needed because the sealed environment would keep out pests. As fuel prices climb higher, the ideal situation of transporting produce next door to a distribution center makes sense.

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