In an industry where every penny counts, Reggie Brown views multiple food-safety audits as a waste of money and manpower.
The manager of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Committee and executive vice-president of the Florida Tomato Exchange is part of a campaign to get buyers to adopt one harmonized food safety audit that’s based on sound science.
“Our goal is to have one single tomato [food safety] audit to avoid duplication and triplication, because the audit itself doesn’t make you a safe operator from a food safety standpoint,” he says. “It just checks to make sure you’re following the rules.”
Together with Martha Roberts, a consultant to the University of Florida and former deputy agriculture commissioner, Brown discussed the harmonized audit as well as the new tomato food safety protocol with attendees of the recent Joint Tomato Conference in Naples.
Multiple audits=more paperwork
Having only one food safety audit would come as welcome relief to Lei Lani Davis, who handles integrated pest management and food safety for Beli Farms, a greenhouse vegetable operation near Wellborn.
Beli already passed the state-required audit as part of the Florida Tomato Good Agricultural Program, or T-GAPs.
But Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets requires its suppliers pass an audit conducted by Primus Labs. So Davis says she is spending countless hours preparing the paperwork for the November audit.
“As much as the subjects are the same and the questions are the same, it’s still set up differently,” she says.
Section 1.1 in one audit, for example, may deal with an entirely different subject than section 1.1 in the other audit. “Maybe I could cross-reference it, but it’s so different, I’d be afraid it wouldn’t go smoothly,” Davis says.
Industry on a mission
The campaign for a harmonized food safety audit is actually an offshoot of the Tomato Food Safety Protocol. In the works for about two years, the protocol—known officially as the “The Food Safety Programs and Auditing Protocol for the Fresh Tomato Supply Chain”—is based on science and was developed by consensus of the North American tomato industry, Brown says.
The protocol is organized in a very “practical, pragmatic fashion,” he says, adding it is set up as you would produce the crop.
There are four modules—open-field production, greenhouse production, packinghouses, and repacking and distribution.
All of the modules are consistently written, so they are similarly worded on the same issues to avoid confusion.