The myriad of regulation governing plant protection products (pesticides) and their maximum residue levels, plus the continuous testing and monitoring that goes along with it can be confusing and time-consuming to follow and analyse. But a recently introduced database from the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) promises to support suppliers, buyers and the trade association itself in a number of ways to aid the exchange of information and ultimately strengthen confidence in the supply chain
Developed jointly by FPC and Food Experts, the Produce Integrity Database allows participating FPC members (grower-suppliers, wholesalers, importers, foodservice operators and retailers) to manage in a secure and private environment their own data and analysis from pesticide sampling and monitoring programmes, as well as those from their suppliers, customers and sister companies, among others.
For example, companies can use the platform to request the plant protection product lists (PPLs) from their growers or suppliers in terms of what they’re intending to use on crops. They can also upload any analysis of residue data from those pesticides. In addition, the database has the tools to allow users to check which PPPs are legal for use in a crop’s country of origin and what their corresponding MRL is for whichever country they intend to supply or import into.
Uploaded data can be analysed to check if any crops show an exceedance of a MRL and whether there are any issues for food safety in terms of acute reference doses (ARfD). That data and analysis can then be confidentially shared within a company and also externally among its customers to monitor business performance and benchmark against regulatory and customer standards.
By using the platform, FPC says individual companies will be able to interact with and manage their fresh produce suppliers in an efficient and sustainable way and meet their due diligence, legal and retailers’ requirements. “It’s about having confidence in the supply chain,” explains Sian Thomas, FPC’s communications manager. “The database is very powerful in terms of how it can process and evaluate information.”
The FPC regards the database as a ‘one-stop shop’ tool since it is also able to collate anonymised data from individual members and their suppliers who have agreed to the feature. That data is made available for all users and the FPC to view. For the FPC, this means the organisation can effectively present industry data to influence regulatory decision-making or in the event of a food safety issue that may emerge in relation to pesticides.
Protecting the industry
“Robust industry data gathered over time can help FPC put any potential risk into context in the event of regulatory scrutiny on pesticide residues levels or during investigations into alleged links of foodborne illness with fresh produce,” points out Nigel Jenney, the association’s chief executive. “We are encouraging FPC members to step on board and use this valuable tool.”
Thomas agrees that the Produce Integrity Database is extremely useful and powerful from the industry’s perspective, adding: “We often look at proposals to assess and review MRLs. The industry has far more data available than the regulatory authorities because our sampling is on a much larger scale. If we can take industry data and provide that to the regulatory authorities it gives them a practical perspective on what MRLs are being found.
“We’ve done this already on occasion where an MRL is under review – we’ve taken industry data and shown it’s not an issue of food safety or consumer safety. Data is a practical way of showing how the products are being used. It’s been very helpful but we’ve not had a tool in place to collate the data until now – we’ve had to go out and ask companies one-to-one for data.”
That the industry aggregated data protects the confidentiality of the importer and producer is critical to encouraging industry players to share their data. “This is why we have built several layers of security filters to guarantee that industry anonymised data cannot be traced back to an individual or a small group of individual companies, suppliers or producers,” Jenney says. “Safeguards are in place to maintain anonymity where there are limited identifiable suppliers for specific product/country combinations.”
In time, the database will be further developed to offer the same industry-wide information for microbial and other environmental contaminant data. If there’s a potential food safety link to fresh produce in that respect, FPC will again be armed with the vital data for the regulatory authorities to put it into perspective by showing the regular, routine sampling and monitoring.
What can users do?
- Access robust, confidential industry data.
- Collect and validate supplier information.
- Interact with and manage suppliers.
- Share information within the FPC and externally with suppliers and/or customers.
- Monitor business performance and benchmark against regulatory and customer standards.
- Manage information more efficiently, avoid duplication and reduce administration costs.
- Raise supplier awareness, keep suppliers informed and provide automatic feedback.
- Raise supplier awareness, keep suppliers informed and provide automatic feedback.
How does it work?
Users ask the laboratories they work with to upload analysis results (either automatically or through the web portal) or they can do it themselves.
The system will then check compliance against:
- European Union maximum pesticide residue levels (MRLs) and calculate the Acute Reference Doses (ARfD).
- Customers’ specifications.
- In-house requirements.
- Producer pesticide records.
- Producer plant protection product lists (PPPLs).
Plant Protection Product Lists (PPPLs)
Producers can also create lists with the plant protection products they intend to use on their crop/s and share those lists within the company and externally with others. Customers can request, manage and review suppliers’ PPPLs too.
This allows for:
- Independent technical revision against country of origin and country of destination legislation.
- Identification of potential problems before the start of the season.
- Ensure compliance with local legislation and customer requirements.
- Analysis of results used to validate PPPLs.
- Automatic notifications when something is detected that has not been declared in the PPPL.
Monitoring business performance
Users can utilise the data interrogation systems and graphics to monitor their product or their suppliers’ performance. Alarms can be set and notifications can be sent by phone or email. Each authorised colleague receives the information relevant to their crop or areas of responsibility.
One or several analyses can be selected and sent to one or multiple companies. Rules can also be set to share data automatically (e.g. send the analysis to the relevant supplier if analysis results comply with x, y, z conditions). Users can ask suppliers, customers and partners to share their data too.
Building the platform
The Produce Integrity Database has been developed jointly by FPC and Food Experts, which was chosen for its 10 years of expertise in this field; having developed sophisticated IT infrastructures to manage pesticide, microbiological and contaminant residue information for fresh produce.
The database is integrated within the Food Experts platform, which helps more than 500 fresh produce companies from 25 different countries manage their analysis, information and supply chain data. Indeed, FPC says a lot of companies worldwide are already using the platform, which has elicited a positive response from those to which it has been presented.
While there are other databases currently available on the market, FPC claims the association spent a lot of time investigating those tools in order to offer added value with its Produce Integrity Database.
“It does a lot of analysis for you and it covers and provides a lot more features,” Thomas notes. “Plus, there is a lot of expertise, advice and support available through Food Expert, which you don’t find with many other products on the market.”
It’s also an extremely cost-effective platform, according to FPC. There is no cost to register on the database or use any information already available. The cost structure is calculated on uploading analysis results, customising alerts put out by the system and checking against in-house and retailer specifications.
For more information and to see a demonstration of the database, contact:
Sian Thomas at FPC: [email protected]
Nazario Muñoz at Food Experts: [email protected]
Visit the database here.