by Doug Powell
Fresh tomato supply chain leaders are – in 2012? — sharpening food safety programs and auditing protocols with a goal of cutting foodborne illnesses linked to their product.
So says The Packer, but shouldn’t that have been done about 15 years ago as evidence accumulated that tomatoes were a frequent culprit in outbreaks of foodborne illness?
As Florida, California and other tomato types met in early Feb., audit fatigue, or numerous audits grower-shippers’ customers often require, remained central in discussions.
“How many standards can you audit to?” asked Billy Heller, chief executive officer of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., Palmetto. “Audit fatigue within our group at all levels is unbelievable. We have customers coming behind other customers checking the other audits because they each have their own specs.
Ed Beckman, president of the Certified Greenhouse Vegetable Producers Association of North America, Fresno, Calif., said the debate should be about how tomato food safety metrics reflect science. Beckman, until recently president of Fresno, Calif.-based California Tomato Growers, said the industry seeks collaboration with the FDA and the U.S, Department of Agriculture throughout the audit process.
“This is not growers and customers sitting in a room and defining what our future is,” Beckman said. “We don’t simply pull a number out of the air and throw it in that document and say it’s good.
“… This about bringing people together, sharing ideas, sharing our frustrations with existing audits, auditing and trying to come back with a solution that meets everyone’s needs in a single audit that is based on science.”
During the meetings, growers and buyers discussed customer expectations, additions to the standards and issues such as commingling at repacking operations.
A table of older, fresh tomato-related outbreaks is available at http://www.foodsafety.ksu.edu/en/article-details.php?a=3&c=32&sc=419&id=953.