CITRUS growers have been given a "heads-up" to review their food safety protocols following changes under the new Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme (HARPS).
Under HARPS, growers must now meet one of three base schemes for food safety: Global GAP, SQF or Freshcare.
The changes come about as retailers work with Horticulture Innovation Australia to simplify the red tape that multiple food safety audits have created.
Industry body Citrus Australia has urged growers to get on board now.
Citrus Australia chief executive officer, Nathan Hancock, said many growers have relied on HACCP up until now.
"However the HARPS system does not recognise HACCP as a food safety system,” Mr Hancock said.
“I share the opinion that HACCP provides a good set of food safety principles but on their own they are not a system that can be audited.
"However, many of the HACCP principles are evident in the three recommended systems.”
He said the changes apply to anyone growing commercial table citrus including mandarins, navels, grapefruit, lemons or limes, to be sold in the major supermarkets.
QUEENSLAND grower representative group, Growcom, recently welcomed clarity over food safety certification following the release of details of HARPS requirements, plus a one-year extension for growers to become compliant.
Growers have until the end of this year to complete training and have an audit done during harvest.
Citrus Australia has given its support of the continuous improvement of industry to meet food safety obligations.
It is also a member of Freshcare, the fresh produce industry’s own on-farm assurance program, a system developed by growers, for growers, using R&D levies.
“To assist growers to become compliant we have put resources into becoming Freshcare trainers and are offering training direct to growers,” Mr Hancock said.
“We want to help growers achieve a successful audit and offer post-training services as part of our initial training cost to help ensure growers are audit-ready.”
Audits can be costly
CITRUS Australia advised that the coming audits could be very expensive with auditors often remaining on site until all non-compliant issues were rectified or return at a later date to conduct a second audit to close out issues.
Citrus Australia ran six Freshcare training sessions last week and have more sessions planned over the next three months in the Sunraysia, Murray Valley, Riverina and Riverland citrus-growing regions.
“Increasingly we are seeing importing country governments implement food safety standards as they look to protect their populations,” Mr Hancock said.
“Likewise, imported produce to Australia is held to very high standards – often Global GAP with additional microbial tests and maximum residue limit testing, as well as a new push to meet ethical standards.”