Sourcing of Raw Materials for the Pickle Industry

Pickling Cucumber Improvement Committee Meeting Abstract

Larry Graham and Mike Wuller

Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University

Larry Graham &endash; A U.S. Processor’s Perspective: While it’s true that U.S. processors have been importing cucumbers from Mexico and Honduras for some time, and off-shore suppliers in Sri Lanka and India have shipped many bushels of brine stock and acidified stock into this country, we believe this segment of the pickle business is still in its infancy. As the labor situation in the U.S. continues to evolve from low tech to high tech to higher tech, and the percent of the total harvest which is tiny cucumbers decreases, we see an ever-growing need for product from countries which have adequate supplies of the natural resources and labor available to produce the quality and quantities of the size stock U.S. consumers will purchase.

As the number of bushels produced increases, the natural disease and pests pressures increase. Do these localities have the infrastructure to deal with these pressures? Can these foreign cultures adapt their processes to meet the demands of the North American culture as they relate to quality, consistency and availability?

Mike Wuller &endash; Technical Details: As products come from about the world, much is trusted about the products we receive. In order to be imported we trust that the FDA will restrict import of products not of sufficient safety to be introduced into the USA food supply. Testing is done at import by statistical sampling plans that miss most of the actual imports. Acidified and canned foods are supposed to come from approved, registered production plants operating under the same USFDA rules. If there is a variation found, then a source can be remanded into a category where every load supplied from that source or importer may be individually sampled. Think Alar on apples or contaminated grapes or raspberries. On the whole, most are never touched. All supplies can have foreign matter (animal, vegetable, mineral), pesticide residues at or below approved USA food levels, or other contaminants that may or may not give visual, taste or odor notice. Sulfite, while allowed labeled in wine, is not usually expected in pickles, but is almost without fail in pepperoni. Product packed for sale in the USA would need to be labeled to prevent allergy problems. When suitably reversed with a little measured and tested hydrogen peroxide, the sulfite vanishes. Just as sea salt has additional components to the sodium chloride, the water supplies at producers have different components that should be tested the same as in the USA to prevent unanticipated flavor, texture, odor, and contamination. (EPA and water tests for chemical and biological contaminants are pretty much standard for most companies doing domestic or international business.) A good requirement is that the producer also be registered with FDA in the USA just as if they were based here.

We could test the whole world for each chemical present, but this would make product (including domestic USA product unaffordable). The FDA has established testing plans and import requirements to prevent widespread damage caused by any product deficiency. Country of Origin labeling is required on all products crossing the border and on all products subsequently packed if sufficiently close to the imported product to be the same item.

As our country becomes more high technology, we continue to grow in imports of all categories. It is important to remember that enhancing the education of the rest of the world and allowing others to learn about safe products such as pickles will both help people here and there, while supporting the many pocket books. They will then be better able to supply the needs of the world for food, applying technologies such as cropping and production techniques to better the lot of their own peoples as well. Whether the current India, Mexico and Honduras, or the future who knows where, international cooperation is good for the world and for our companies. Thus, our association Pickle Packers International still has a reason for existence.

List of items to watch for:

  • Water testing
    • Off flavors (sulfur, bromine…)
    • Organisms (E. coli, pathogens, aerobic and anaerobic plate counts…)
    • Chemistries (hardness, heavy metals…),
    • Contaminants (DDT, herbicides, pesticides, organics, inorganics…)
    • Additives (sulfite, benzoate, sorbate…)
    • Unapproved (or unlabeled substitute) chemicals (acetic acid, sugar versus corn syrup, Limonene, EDTA…)
  • Production Testing
  • Ingredients Testing
    • USA-based ingredients certification
  • Sanitation standards within the production plants
  • Final Products
    • Acceptable final products meeting company taste, texture and other quality profiles.

For further information, contact:

  • Mr. Larry Graham
    • Mount Olive Pickle Company, Inc.
    • P. O. Box 609, Mount Olive, NC 28365
    • Telephone: 919-658-2535; Fax: 919-658-6296
  • Mr. Mike Wuller
    • Dalton’s Best Maid Products
    • P. O. Box 1809, Forth Worth, TX 76101
    • Telephone: 817-335-5494; Fax: 817-534-7117

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