Interview with Bill Carriere, Grades & Standards Committee Chairman

The Carriere family has been farming in California since 1890 and we have been growing walnuts since the early 1960s. We are proud to now be growers, processors, handlers and marketers of California walnuts. 

Describe your involvement with the walnut industry and a brief history of Carriere Family Farms.

The Carriere family has been farming in California since 1890 and we have been growing walnuts since the early 1960s. We are proud to now be growers, processors, handlers and marketers of California walnuts. Many growers and handlers are long time industry families and my goal at Carriere Family Farms is to continue to be a responsible contributing member of the walnut industry family for the long term. I have been lucky enough to serve with the California Walnut Board since 2001. I have served on several committees over the years and currently serve as chairman of the Grades and Standards Committee.

What is the responsibility of the Grades and Standards Committee and what role do you have within the committee?

As chairman of the Grades and Standards Committee it is my job to make sure that the California Walnut Industry reputation is protected. We are known worldwide as quality leaders and one of the main purposes of the Walnut Marketing Order is to put policies and rules in place to maintain that reputation. I feel that we have a marketing advantage over our competitors because California Grades and Standards are well known and recognized for their consistency with customers around the world. When we ship US#1 product the customer knows exactly what to expect. The last thing a customer wants is a surprise in quality with a delivery. It is the Grades and Standards that we have set and enforce that eliminate these surprises.

How have the responsibilities of the Grades and Standards Committee changed in the past few years?

With the recent public focus on food safety, the Grades and Standards Committee has taken on the additional responsibility of upholding not just our quality reputation but our food safety reputation. The Walnut industry has been very proactive over the past few years with regard to food safety. We want to continue to stay ahead of the curve in regards to the Food Safety Modernization Act and any potential new regulations or requirements that will certainly come out of this legislation. By being proactive we can be ready to leverage our already well respected reputation and have the data available to make the changes necessary to improve our food safety record. In addition we will have this data to show that extreme measures hopefully will not be needed to keep walnuts safe.

What have been some of the most important achievements of the committee?

Over the past few years I feel that three of the more important achievements have been; 1) Defending current quality standards in the European Union (EU), 2) Recognizing and responding to the increase in in-shell sales, 3) Building our database of research to defend our food safety reputation and to research ways to improve food safety in the future.

1) We successfully delayed and then negotiated a satisfactory revision to the EU standards for walnuts. The EU and especially Germany was trying to tighten the standards which would have severely restricted our ability to economically ship walnuts to Europe.

2) We responded to the call from industry to recognize the shift to selling traditionally shelled varieties as in-shell. We debated, reviewed and revised the size standards to match shipper and customer requirements while still keeping controls on quality at high levels.

3) With the help of growers, handlers, DFA, and Dr. Linda Harris we have substantially built our database of knowledge of the potential threats to food safety. From the field, through the huller, and through the shelling and packaging process we have baseline data for the potential of contaminants such as salmonella and E-coli. We also have tested and have data on what processes might reduce our contamination potential, and just as importantly, what efforts do not help and are just a waste of time and money.

What are the challenges that lie ahead for the committee and as well, the walnut industry?

Our industry will continue to change. New plantings are everywhere; there are many new growers, new handlers, and hopefully many new customers and uses for California walnuts. One challenge will be to keep our own industry informed on the latest developments in quality and safety requirements which will help to keep our industry competitive and profitable.

Another challenge is the speed at which information, and mis-information, travels. With traditional media going digital, as well as social media spreading information rapidly, we need to constantly monitor what is happening in the market place and again be proactive to correct or inform stakeholders on the inevitable issues that we will encounter. An example of how we are already confronting this challenge is our Crisis CommunicationsPlan that we recently put in place. If we do have an incident involving food safety we will know what is going on as much as possible in real time.

We are experiencing very good times at the moment, as volume grows and more and more customers enjoy our product we need to be prepared for the bumps in the road. I feel that being proactive, including the hiring of our full time, knowledgeable and dedicated staff in Carl Eidsath and AbhiKulkarni will ensure that any challenges that we face will be handled as efficiently and with as little disruption to the industry as possible.