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Certified Onions continues to raise the food-safety bar

Certified Onions Inc., which is now in its fourth year of business as a nonprofit organization, continues to operate on agriculture’s cutting edge by bringing the safest-possible quality product to the marketplace. President Kay Riley, who is also general manager of Snake River Produce Co. in Nyssa, OR, said ongoing trade missions continue to validate the organization’s diligence and dedication to food safety.

CertifiedOnionsThis past March, Certified Onions Inc. attended Foodex Japan, the largest food and beverage show in Asia. Visitors had an opportunity to learn more about the organization’s onions, and export business continues to grow in the Japanese retail marketplace. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Snake River Produce Co.)Members voluntarily undergo stringent testing for off-label pesticide use and random maximum residue levels. Third-party auditing is performed at both the field and shed levels. During its infancy in 2009, the Oregon Department of Agriculture certified 10,000 acres. According to Mr. Riley, Certified Onions now has 25 members that hold approximately 17,000 acres in the Treasure Valley.

In 2010, the company was recognized by the Oregon Department of Agriculture as the Agricultural Marketer of the Year.

“We emphasize consistent size and quality,” Mr. Riley told The Produce News July 12. Looking at the 2012 crop, he went on to say, “Onion quality meets or exceeds expectations.”

From its inception, Certified Onions has worked to move product offshore. To date, Mr. Riley said 50 loads of onions, each totaling 40,000 pounds, have been exported to Japan. “The onion quality has been very well received,” he said of the market.

One of the critical factors that helped Certified Onions grow its offshore deal has been participation in trade missions in Japan. “People in Japan are more sensitive to issues like pesticide residues,” Mr. Riley commented. “They’re very concerned about health.” Some of this sensitivity comes from Japan’s geographic proximity to China.

This past March, Certified Onions participated in Foodex Japan, the largest food and beverage show in Asia. “That was very, very successful and led to a number of inquiries,” Mr. Riley said. “One or two of our members are gaining consistent business in Japan.”

The Oregon Department of Agriculture also had a booth at the venue. Mr. Riley said testing facilities for the Oregon Department of Agriculture are internationally recognized, which helps Certified Onions promote its product in Asia.

Mr. Riley expects sales to the Japanese retail market to continue to grow for Certified Onions. “We have to present them with the notion that it’s worth getting this product to offset the transportation disadvantage,” he stated.

While promotion in Japan is blossoming, Certified Onions continues to sell onions to Canada under normal marketing programs. “Mexico is a fair export market for us at times,” Mr. Riley added.

Interest in voluntary pathogen testing among Certified Onions’ membership continues to grow. “It’s gone very well,” Mr. Riley said of the program. “It’s an area we expect more members to participate in.”