Food Safety

Seven strategies to reduce pesticide usage.

By | Agronomy, Food Safety | No Comments

Pesticides play a sensitive role in food systems: they are applied in order to protect crops, but they can have negative impacts on environment and human health. While global pesticide use has grown to 3.5 billion kg active ingredients per year, a significant portion of the chemicals applied has proved to be excessive, uneconomic or unnecessary both in industrialized and developing countries.

Today there is a consensus among a wide range of stakeholders that pesticide use needs to be gradually reduced to a level that is effectively required to ensure crop production, and that risks of pesticide application need to be reduced as far as possible.

Here are listed 7 strategies available for pesticide reduction.

1. Agronomic practices.

Suitable agronomic practices are essential to achieve healthy crops and to prevent build-up of pest, disease and weed pressure. The following practices are of particular importance:

  • Appropriate plant nutrition and soil fertility management;
  • Crop rotation;
  • Appropriate irrigation management;
  • Appropriate timing of sowing or planting and of intercultural operations in order to reduce pest;
  • Timely shallow tillage reduces weed populations and at the same time improves nutrient supply to the crop;
  • Precision farming like spraying of hot-spots and weeding with optical detectors;
  • Intercropping (when it is possible) and the use of variety mixtures limits the spread of pests and diseases and provides food and shelter for natural enemies of pests;

2. Resistant crops

Crops and crop varieties differ in their susceptibility to pests and diseases and in their ability to compete with weeds. Growing crops suitable for local conditions and selecting appropriate crop varieties is therefore fundamental to a preventive pest management system. The use of resistant varieties together with rotations of non-susceptible crops can substantially limit pest build-up within a field.

3. Bio-control and Natural Pesticides

Bio-control makes use of pathogens (bacteria, fungi, viruses), insect predators or parasitoids, pheromones and insect traps to keep pest populations low.

The total eradication of a pest, which results from the use of synthetic pesticides, would reduce the food supply of the pest’s natural enemies, undermining a key element in system resilience. The aim, therefore, should be to manage insect pest populations to the point where natural predation operates in a balanced way and crop losses to pests are kept to an acceptable minimum.

4. Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

IPM is an ecosystem approach that does not seek to eradicate pests – but rather to manage them. It is founded on the idea that the first and most fundamental line of defense against pests and diseases in agriculture is a healthy agro-ecosystem, in which the biological processes that underpin production are protected, encouraged and enhanced.

A close approach to these principles is the common GlobalG.A.P. protocol even if it is not totally focused on pest prevention. The majority of retailers in today’s markets require certain standards that ensure safe and sustainable agriculture for demonstrating on-farm food safety and sustainability.

In a true IPM strong focus is on pest prevention by applying good agronomic practices and using resistant varieties, pest identification and monitoring and biological pest control. As soon as the economic threshold is achieved – the point at which the cost of pesticide use pays off (cost of expected loss in harvest exceeds the cost of treatment) – chemical pest control becomes profitable. The last step includes learning and adapting from IPM for the next crop season.

5. Agroecology

Agroecology is a discipline that defines, classifies and studies agricultural systems from an ecological and socio-economic perspective, and applies ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems. It is an integrative way of farming that focuses on working with and understanding the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment. In Agroecology pest control seeks to reinforce interactions of pests and natural enemies with the aim to maintain a natural balance in the ecosystem. While there is no consent on what techniques and inputs are compatible with agroecology the common denominator is to make use of biodiversity-based ecological processes to optimize agricultural production systems.

6. Organic Agriculture

Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic standards strictly prohibit any use of synthetic pesticides. Crop protection in organic agriculture builds on good agronomic practices such as crop rotation and intercropping, the use of organic manures, resistant varieties and bio-control to prevent that pest, diseases and weeds cause significant damage.

Organic farming makes use of techniques similar to Integrated Pest Management and agroecology, with the only difference that synthetic chemicals cannot be used as a last resort.

Instead, organic farmers can use specific natural substances permitted by organic standards to control pests and diseases if preventive methods are not sufficient. Some of them, however, also have unwanted side effects on non-target organisms. Particularly the use of copper to control fungal diseases is problematic due to its accumulation in soils.

7. Use of less hazardous pesticides

There are various systems to classify pesticides as per their toxicity for humans and the environment. Phasing out the use of highly hazardous pesticides and replacing them with less hazardous ones is therefore the most obvious way to reduce the negative side-effects of pesticides.

This approach needs to be combined with safe handling of pesticides so that their impact on people and the environment is minimized. The use of protective gear and the observation of waiting periods before harvest are the most important measures in this regard.

However, in many countries the lack of information, unavailability of protective equipment and its impracticality in hot and humid climates result in low adoption rates.

Source: Frank Eyhorn, Tina Roner, Heiko Specking September 2015

This is how the growers should ensure the irrigation water quality.

By | Agrofood, Food Safety | No Comments
This is how the growers should ensure the irrigation water quality, especially in leafy vegetables production

There are a lot of problems in the leafy vegetables production associated with irrigation water, including microbial risk and difficulties in water monitoring, compliance with evolving regulations and quality standards.

The fact is that the transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 to salad plants through spray and surface irrigation was demonstrated. [ETHAN B. SOLOMON, CATHERINE J. POTENSKI, and KARL R. MATTHEWS – Department of Food Science, Cook College, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 65 Dudley Road, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901-8520, USA]

More generally, there is increasing evidence of the contribution of irrigation water in the contamination of produce leading to subsequent outbreaks of food borne illness. The risk is higher for leafy vegetables that will be eaten raw without cooking.

Supermarkets and Food Companies are targeting zero-risk production systems and the associated requirements for irrigation water quality have become more stringent in regulations and quality assurance schemes (QAS) followed by growers. For example, the scheme Field to Fork by Marks&Spencer, the McDonalds Standard and others, they pay a lot of attention about the acceptable limit of E.coli, requiring a monthly testing.

Usually the food safety standards require a safe water source and a sampling protocol to make sure the consistency of the E.coli results.

Why we test E.coli ?

In the baby leaf production, growers should identify water sources that are contaminated with potential pathogens through a monitoring regime and only use water free of pathogens, but the low prevalence of pathogens makes the use of faecal indicators, particularly E. coli, a more practical approach. Initially E.coli was just an indicator of Salmonella ssp.

The irrigation method could be crucial for the leafy vegetables food safety

Where growers have to use water sources of moderate quality, they can reduce the risk of contamination of the edible portion of the crop (i.e., the leaves) by treating irrigation water before use through physical or chemical disinfection systems, or avoid contact between the leaves and irrigation water through the use of drip or furrow irrigation, or the use of hydroponic growing systems.

The current alternatives available for growers to reduce microbial risks is certainly not to continue in the same way. Agronomic techniques can help the growers to eliminate the microbial risk of pathogens.

Anyway the growers use a variety of water sources for field operations and irrigation and much knowledge is needed to relate risk factors associated with the transfer coefficients for pathogens by source, concentration and use.

Probably the combination of these different factors: Agronomic techniques and Quantitative water risk assessment, can increase a lot the food safety of baby leaf production.

R ick Twice is the photographer behind many CASAQA’s photos.

A Special thanks to the photographer for making photos like these.

Words are powerless to express my gratitude!

Rick Twice

What is the resilience in the agri-food sector?

By | Food Safety | One Comment
What is the resilience in the agri-food sector?

his article is about the Resilience concept and the fresh vegetable business.

Resilience is in vogue at the moment as a conceptual frame for the development community. There are lots of new initiatives and new projects designed to improve resilience—mostly in the context of the recent and ongoing food crises in the Horn of Africa and the Sahelian region.

Resilience has many sense:

“the power or ability of a System to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched”; this is a generic definition.

What this the relation between the Resilience and the Food Safety System in the fresh food business?

Industrialized agriculture increasingly emulates the production, processing, and distribution characteristics of large-scale manufacturing. Agriculture has become more uniform and mechanized, while post-harvest processing offers more ‘‘value added’’ and packaged goods. We are packing everything: Lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, etc.

In this way the Food Industry wants to increase the illusion of control over the agrifood system propagandizing their”we have everything under control”. Food companies need consumers to believe that their products are safe. When outbreaks occur, the companies often deny responsibility place blame on others, and resist changes in their production or processing procedures. This seems to be the agrifood resilience: do not understand the need to change to avoid the same problem.

Outbreaks of food-borne illness from fresh produce are significantly more prevalent in recent decades. This could be related to four factors, as reported by University of Arizona

  • 1) changes in farming or processing practices
  • 2) the overall increase in consumption of raw fruits and vegetables or minimally processed
  • 3) the increase in trade and international distribution
  • 4) the increase in immunosuppressed consumers.

In addition, the general lack of efficacy of disinfectants in the elimination of pathogens in raw fruits and vegetables has been attributed, in part, to their difficulty in penetrating the leaf surface and the foliar tissue that may harbour pathogens.

When firms are found at fault, in the Food Safety System, or in the disinfectant inefficiency as well they often advertise new technological fixes, increasing the complexity of the production system as well as its reliance on synthetic substances and controversial measures (e.g. irradiation).

It is unclear if those technologies increase actually the food safety but industry may succeed in temporarily perpetuating the image that food is now safer.

A clear example of resilience has been the outbreak of E. coli O157: H7 from raw ‘ready to eat’ bagged spinach during autumn 2006.

This incident resulted in over 200 illnesses and at least three deaths in 26 US states and Canada.

In this case, the leafy greens industry was unable to control a strain of bacteria that spread though the pre-packaged salad production system

In an attempt to regain control, or the appearance of control the industry is actively fighting back against nature in an attempt to sterilize production sites, segregating the open field with net and fencing, controlling the wildlife activity exploring possible vaccines for humans and for cattle to treat E. coli O157:H7. Many of these control- measures do not seem to make sense.

One day I will make a video on this topic:”The craziest control measures” (as title).

Well, what have been the results of these measures?

In the 2011 a food borne infection of E. coli caused about 50 deaths in Germany and France, 3000 infected people and millionaire losses in the agricultural sector.

And without having a clear explanation of the cause.

First were the Spanish cucumbers, then the German soya, then the Egyptian seeds. In 2016, last year, the same toxiinfection caused 2 deaths and 151 people in UK affected by E. coli. Resilience? Yep! I return to the definition..

The power or ability of a System to return to the original form, position, after being bent, compressed, or stretched.

Dictionary by Googling

3 consequences about the Maximum Residue Levels after Brexit.

By | Agronomy, Food for thought, Food Safety | No Comments

T he departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, will impact the agriculture of all European horticultural companies and in particular the export of the Mediterranean Countries.You can hear several rumours about what will happen, some of these with a catastrophic perspective.

On the other hand, we need to don’t think that everything will remain the same. There will be changes and I will tell you the two scenarios that could occur and the three consequences from the point of view of the relationship between the  Food Safety and the fruit and vegetable market, especially with regard to maximum residue levels of the pesticides.

Hypothesis #1. Probably the trade relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union will follow the same course of the countries as Iceland and Norway: outside the Union, but with a foot within the European economic area.

Therefore, majorities of European laws and regulations will remain unchanged and the UK will continue to respect the same European standards like today.

The second hypothesis is that the United Kingdom will completely withdraw from the European market so that it can be supplied by other world markets, such as the United States, North Africa and developing countries.

Both scenarios are a bit extremes. It is true that the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU does not imply that the exports are terminated, but that they will be carried out under different conditions.

The most evident consequence is the fall in the price of the pound against the euro.

From a technical point of view we can speculate that one of the most important changes will be the relationship between EFSA, European Food Safety Authority, and the UK. EFSA’s main objective is to provide scientific methods for alerting and detecting all problems affecting food safety. EFSA, for example, establishes the residue limits of plant protection products. Currently in force is the Regulation 396/2005 on maximum residue levels of pesticides in or on food and feed of plant and animal origin.

Accordingly, in the interest of free movement of goods, equal competition conditions among the Member States, as well as a high level of consumer protection, it has been considered appropriate that maximum residue levels (MRLs) for products of plant and animal origin be set at Community level, taking into account good agricultural practice.

These maximum residue limits (MRLs), which are set by the European Commission, include:

Specific MRLs for certain foodstuffs intended for humans or animals and an overall limit applicable where no MRLs have been established (a ‘default limit’ of 0,01 mg / kg).


What will happen after Brexit?

Hypothesis # 1: Britain will continue to collaborate with the EU and EFSA on common food safety issues. This also involves collaboration from a financial point of view. In this case, nothing change. .

Hypothesis #2: The United Kingdom does not collaborate with Europe on this issue, using the proper Food Safety Agency (FSA). This is quite likely. Of course, there are things the British want to change: not surprisingly, there was a clear desire to move from Hazard-based regulation to a Risk-based approach, strongly science-based and proportionate, whilst maintaining or improving current human and environmental safety standards and taking account of socio-economic benefits.

Hypothesis #3. United Kingdom is homologated to the United States. The British wants to stop unnecessary expiry of authorisations and routine reviews and introduce a US EPA-style data ‘call in’ system. They  should simplify or remove efficacy requirements, and onerous assessments for minor uses and low risk products including bio-pesticides – and have an emergency approvals/essential uses system for unforeseen problems, that we do not have in Europe now.

What will happen on the subject of MRLs could also change the viewpoint of Europeans and bring the European Union closer to the American market

Follow me in Facebook Casaqa

Fresh salad. Leaf chopping increases the Salmonella risk

By | Food for thought, Food Safety | No Comments

University of Leicester team show leached juices from leafy vegetables enhance growth and virulence of food poisoning bug.

Here is another article highlighting the risk of fresh cut salad. The aim here is to underline those aspects of the food industry which must be improved rather than making consumers diffident or afraid when buying a salad bag.

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 18 November 2016

  • Lab study shows juices from damaged leaves in bagged salad increase Salmonella pathogen growth 2400-fold over a control group
  • Leached juices also increased the pathogen’s capacity to form a strong and wash-resistant attachment to salad leaves
  • Research highlights need for growers to maintain high food safety standards

The research is led by Dr Primrose Freestone of the University’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation and PhD student Giannis Koukkidis, who has been funded by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) i-case Studentship.

Here below the link showing the results of the University investigation.

According to my experience the risk of pathogens bacterial growth is high when the hygiene conditions during the cultivation process are not met by the producer. If salad will be produced according to the standard and hygiene parameters there will not be risk of Salmonella or E.coli O157 for example.

For this reason Casaqa is deeply involved in the study of the ideal environment for the cultivation of salad with the aim to prevent any kind of contamination. An excellent result has been already achieved thanks to the cultivation in specific designed green houses which are different from the green houses used until today.  Clearly the cultivation in an open field cannot be easily under control since it is subject to external contaminations such as wild and domestic animals, pollution etc., on the other side the method and green houses are giving great results.

Even if the fact is well known in the industry it is difficult to convince them of the use of these specific green houses especially in Spain which is one of the biggest salad producer in Europe.

Casaqa is working in this direction to innovate the fresh salad sector. Even if these changes are not often accepted, Casaqa continues to promote the methods and techniques to improve the food safety in the baby leaf production.