Local News

Ag commissioner wants better way of tracking produce

Posted August 19, 2008 3:11 p.m. EDT
Updated August 20, 2008 12:11 a.m. EDT

— North Carolina's commissioner of agriculture says the state needs a better way of tracking back problems related to produce coming into the state.

Speaking Tuesday at the AgFIRST! Symposium on food safety and the global economy, Commissioner Steve Troxler said recent problems with salmonella outbreaks involving jalapeno peppers and tomatoes had nothing to do with produce in North Carolina.

But the national scare still hurt local farmers, who lost revenue.

"We've got to have a plan to ensure that growers and food companies can return to business," Troxler said.

Estimates are that tomato farmers lost $200 million from the salmonella scare. Pepper farmers, like Randy Bailey, were hit hard, too.

He estimates he will probably lose about 5 percent to 10 percent of his estimated revenue this year.

"People are probably thinking twice before they buy jalapeno or serrano," he said.

Troxler said the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is collaborating with the federal Food and Drug Administration on ways to track where produce comes from to help clear North Carolina produce in the event of future outbreaks.

But that could mean higher food prices to offset the costs associated with any tracking measures.

Health officials said last week the nationwide scare is finally winding down, but isn't over. The FDA is focusing its probe on some Mexican farms where they believe the vegetables were tainted.