Contact: Jeff Beach
(TRENTON) – The New Jersey Departments of Agriculture and Health and Senior Services announced the formation of a Produce Safety Task Force to protect New Jersey consumers and help local producers adapt to anticipated new produce-safety standards in the wake of several recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.
The Task Force includes representation from the Departments of Agriculture and Health & Senior Services, produce and food industry leaders, and Rutgers University’s Food Policy Institute and Extension Service.
“New Jersey has been active on the food-safety front for many years, including third-party auditing and our Jersey Fresh quality standards,” said Secretary Kuperus. “Building on a history of safe produce, we cannot become complacent. Ensuring food safety for our consumers and helping our Garden State’s farmers to meet new food safety standards are not mutually exclusive. In fact, doing everything we can to make the standards attainable will ensure that our fresh, local produce remains the best option for consumers.”
Secretary Kuperus announced the creation of the task force Thursday at a “Peach Marketing Summit” in Clayton, Gloucester County. The summit is an outgrowth of an earlier task force created by the Department to address peach marketing issues. The peach growers and dealers have been proactive on food safety issues, Secretary Kuperus said, with many of them already voluntarily undergoing third-party audits.
“The Department of Health and Senior Services looks forward to working with our partners on this important task force,” said New Jersey Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D. “We are always interested in exploring ways to improve food safety standards and continue to protect the health of New Jersey residents.”
Renewed concerns about E. coli bacteria in produce arose in late-September, when the Food and Drug Administration issued a nationwide advisory not to eat fresh spinach due to dozens of people being sickened by E. coli-tainted spinach, including several fatalities. The Department of Agriculture teamed with New Jersey spinach growers to assure consumers that the state’s spinach crop was safe. That effort helped to distinguish the state’s spinach from spinach coming from the three-county area in California.
The task force was formally approved by the New Jersey State Board of Agriculture at its meeting on Wednesday, December 13.
“Preparation and prevention are the two keys to reducing incidences of food-borne illness,” Secretary Kuperus said. “By helping us to stay ahead of the curve, this Produce Safety Task Force will enable us to continue offering consumers fruits and vegetables that are not only delicious and nutritious, but also safe to eat.”