Interview: Clarissa Molina – Serka Soluciones

Clarisa is a recognized advisor with extensive expertise in collaborating with farming organizations in Mexico and overseas, such as Confederación de Asociaciones Agrícolas del Estado de Sinaloa (CAADES), Comisión para la Investigación y Defensa de las Hortalizas (CIDH), California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, (LGMA), The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). She has been a representative in the US of the Mexico Supreme Quality Program, among others.

Her expertise also includes collaborating as an Auditor and Director of Quality Assurance at PrimusLabs for over 9 years, being Technical Director of Azzule Systems, head of the PrimusGFS Certification Scheme for 3 years.

1. Due to your expertise, would you mind sharing with us how food safety practices have evolved in farming companies from Sinaloa in the last 20 years?

I started working at the CIDH from CAADES in 1998, when food safety practices in farming were minimum, you could see many deficiencies; but I was lucky enough to belong to a work team led by Mr. Mario Haroldo Robles, who had the vision, along with some of the largest growers of that time, to take the voluntary guidelines of Good Agricultural Practices that the FDA published that year, to spread their knowledge and development with growers from the State of Sinaloa. I visited many farming companies in the state, noticed the deficiencies there and promoted such guidelines. Since then, I definitely believe that Sinaloa is a pioneer in implementing good practices, since the reality is totally different now: there is a food safety culture which has been rooted and many experts in the subject have been developed; those are the ones who lead their farming companies up to speed on the subject.

2.What has been your involvement in the development of both Government and Private Food Safety Certification Schemes?

I was part of a private certification company for 11 years, where I was able to put my knowledge into practice; but not only of food safety, but also of quality management systems. We created the PrimusGFS scheme, one of the schemes recognized by GFSI for certification in the minimally processed fresh produce industry.

3. How important are certifications for farming companies?

They are very important, because while implementing the requirements of a certification scheme, the farming company reduces the risks of product pollution, being less likely to be involved in any outbreak, product recall and other events related to food safety problems. In addition, the fact that the implementation is supported by a certification; provides confidence to buyers from the practices being held at the production area. Certifications strengthen the bonds from each link of the supply chain.

4. How important is it for farming companies to generate a “culture of food safety” in their companies?

Very important, since that culture allows them to preserve practices permanently, not only when there is an audit or a visit, but it displays the commitment of each level in the company, from senior management, to employees.

5. How would you consider the new international regulations such as FSMA and the new requirements of buyers and consumers make an impact on companies?

In fact, these regulations provide companies with guidelines on which are the minimum mandatory practices to be implemented, whereas the customers’ requirements delineate adjust their interests based on consumer preferences, industry practices, corporate image, and other aspects. Farming companies must learn how to set these requirements apart; from those which are regulatory, from those which are business-related because, even if they probably must comply with both, the consequences of not fulfilling one or the other are drastically different.

6. Do you consider that the industry will be facing the use of new technologies such as blockchain, analytics, full genome sequencing in the short term? And what effects will these have in the medium term?

Definitely, technology represents an important item for all industries, farming is no exception. In the short term it is being used to give more transparency and accuracy to different aspects of the production process; and in the medium term, this technology will be refined, improving and becoming more efficient, so its use will be increasingly intense.

7. How important do you think continuous training is for farming companies, and what are its main benefits?

Training is definitely, the grounds creating a food safety culture in the company, coupled with leadership and commitment of senior management. Therefore, it is an essential part of any certification and improvement process. There are multiple benefits, mostly, seeing a positive change in the way how activities are being carried out in a company, as well as increases in performance measurement indicators that have been established.

8. Would you mind telling us a bit about the services being provided by SerKa soluciones?

We are a company focused on training and providing auditing and advisory services, all in the industry of minimally processed fresh farming products. As for training, we offer private or public courses on subjects such as Good Agricultural and Manufacturing Practices, HACCP, NOP Organic Production from the USDA, FSMA regulations from the FDA (FSPCA Preventive Controls for Human Food, Produce Safety Rule, Foreign Supplier Verification Programs and very soon, Intentional Adulteration), other than being a training center in PrimusGFS, approved by Azzule. Recently, I received the approval from the Produce Safety Alliance as “Train of Trainers” for the Produce Safety rule.

9. What is the “Global Markets” initiative driven by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)?

It is an effort to develop activities for the development of small farmers, with the purpose of helping them achieve the certification of a certification scheme through a gradual process, where they come hand in hand in implementing good practices in a priority manner, beginning with basic aspects, going to an intermediate level and finally, obtaining the certification, having farmers see the progress they have made, and making their buyers notice the efforts they make during the road to certification. I had the opportunity to belong to the GFSI Technical Working Group from 2009 to 2013, being a part of the team which developed the global markets program for primary production. Definitely, it was good experience; I was able to interact with large farming companies and buyers worldwide, as well as expert colleagues in food safety all around the world, achieving a global vision in prioritizing food safety requirements.

10. What are, in your opinion, the main challenges the farming industry is facing today?

The farming industry in Mexico must face a large number of challenges; from changes in tariff policies from destination countries, market saturation due to the increase in production of certain areas or seasons, gaining the trust of buyers who are increasingly growing the amount of requirements to their suppliers, as well as many other business aspects.

With regards to food safety, the change of mind in which not only customers are asking for a certification, but that it will be verified by law that growers are implementing practices to reduce pollution risks is a huge change, that perhaps many growers still do not assimilate; also, the fact that there is misleading or insufficient with regards to various subjects, makes some people take advantage of growers for profit, and this affects both growers and consumers.

11. Anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for the opportunity of sharing comments with you, allowing me to communicate with growers in my hometown, where I began this journey; which I hope to continue walking for much longer.