The section on worker hygiene for greenhouse workers, for example, is found in a similar location and contains similar wording as the worker hygiene section for open-field production.
There also are versions in Spanish.
Florida growers and packers will see little difference as the protocol was based on the state’s tomato food safety program.
The California fresh-market tomato industry has adopted very similar GAPs and BMPs.
The protocol is a living document and will change as new research results show a need for updates, Brown says. The next step will be gaining acceptance of a single food safety audit among buyers.
A surprising success
The harmonized audit was tested this summer during the California fresh-market tomato season with surprising acceptance, says Ed Beckman, president of the Fresno-based California Tomato Farmers cooperative.
“We have become a single audit [state] in California,” Beckman says. “Only one customer isn’t taking this audit.”
More than 40 foodservice companies have accepted the single audit and do not require an additional third-party audit before they will buy California tomatoes, Beckman says.
Among those are YUM Brands, which represents Pizza Hut and Burger King; Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden; Subway and Jack in the Box, he says.
Beckman attributes part of their success to a food safety database that buyers can access.
The database contains the results of 116 audits comprising 16,900 questions, as of mid-September. California tomato growers had a 99.72 percent compliance rate, Beckman says.
“It’s transparent, so buyers can actually look at the food safety records of a grower before they even make a decision to purchase the product,” he says.
In the past, many buyers didn’t accept an audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or state—in Florida’s case—and required another one conducted by a third-party auditing firm.
A few growers reported having to have two or three additional audits to meet multiple customers’ requirements.
In Florida, a state-conducted audit costs an average of $262.50, according to a report by University of Florida graduate assistant Gabrielle Ferro and professor John VanSickle, both of the agricultural economics department.
A private third-party audit is estimated to cost up to $1,500, not counting the additional manpower needed to prepare for such an inspection.
Brown says based on personal discussions with buyers, there’s an 80 percent to 90 percent chance that acceptance of a single harmonized audit will occur nationally.