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Chile rebuilding raspberry business with food safety strategy

SANTIAGO, CHILE — Chile’s raspberry producers came in for some special attention during a conference for this country’s food exporters. All who were in attendance were provided with a glossy 20-page brochure just produced for raspberry farm workers.

It’s one piece in a strategy to rebuild Chile’s place among raspberry exporters. Today, among the top raspberry producers are Poland, Serbia and Mexico, which supply much of the fresh market in the U.S. that Chile once dominated.

manual raspberry harvest in Chile

Many of the family-owned raspberry growing operations in Chile are on plots of land that are too small for mechanical harvesting equipment.

According to Antonio Dominguez, the Chilean who chairs the International Raspberry Organization, raspberry production in Chile reached about 60,000 tons before falling off a few years ago.

Currently, raspberry production in Chile is running between 36,000 tons and 40,000 tons, with only 1 percent of that going to fresh sales. All the rest goes to frozen and other processed juices.

Chile actually imports a small amount of raspberries these days because only 1 percent of its production is available for fresh sale.

Chile wants to regain the top spot in raspberries, but that is going to be a complicated process. It means 8,000 raspberry growers must step it up. The role of existing growers is important because most are family farmers with plots of land too small to support automatic harvesting equipment.

That’s why Chilealimentos, the organization that promotes Chili’s food exports, has focused on food safety training for raspberry farm workers. It unveiled its new Manual of Best Practices for Producers of Raspberries this week at its annual conference.

The document contains plenty of pointed illustrations with safety tips such as not using the fruit truck to also haul soil or other material that might be contaminated and keeping toilets away from the fruit. The instructional document urges farm workers to follow good production practices in working with raspberries.

Rebuilding Chile’s raspberry exports may actually be helped by the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act, which some Chilealimentos leaders believe will help the country up its food safety game, which they say is being required anyway by the market.

Chile and the U.S. run their two-way business under a free trade agreement reached in 2004 when George W. Bush was president. It phased out all tariffs, and Chile’s food exports to the U.S. tripled in about 10 years.

Chile favors the Trans Pacific Partnership because the country supports free trade in general and would like to eliminate tariff requirements in instances such as when a non-agreement pineapple is included in a fruit box.

While training the workers who produce raspberries in fields less than one hectare (about 2.47 acres) is part of the strategy, Chile really needs larger operations that can use mechanical pickers that make several passes, collecting raspberries as they are ripe and ready to harvest. Such fields will also have to be free of viruses that have troubled Chile’s production in past years.

Dominguez says food safety needs to be the focus in rebuilding Chile’s raspberry production.

“We are focused on food safety,” he says. “Nobody should die as a result of eating a raspberry.”

At this point, Chile ranks fifth in the world in raspberry production.

“We are less important than we used to be, but hopefully we can recover the lost ground,” Dominguez says.

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