(Sept 16) A new centralized inspection station for U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity graders in Philadelphia may be the model for improving efficiency at other terminal markets, a top manager at the USDA said in mid-September.

The ribbon-cutting for the inspection station was Sept. 15, though the facility has been in use for several weeks, said Leanne Skelton, Washington, D.C.-based chief of the Agricultural Marketing Service’s Fresh Products Branch.

Wholesalers in Philadelphia were open to the new method.

“I like the idea, but I haven’t had that many inspections to know how it will work out yet,” said Louis Penza Jr., vice president of Pinto Bros. Inc., Philadelphia.

He noted wholesalers had approved the USDA’s plan to construct the facility on the market.

The modular facility on a vacant part of the dock at the Philadelphia Food Distribution Center is operated by the AMS and already is the site for about 90% of conventional inspections at the market, Skelton said.

AMS agricultural commodity graders perform as many as 100 destination inspections every day.

The USDA’s Philadelphia office is one of five training centers for new commodity graders, Skelton said.

The others are Chicago, New York Hunts Point Market, Boston and Los Angeles.

The traditional method of performing inspections in most markets requires AMS inspectors to travel throughout the market to perform on-site commodity grade inspections.

That sometimes means the inspection is conducted in the midst of a busy wholesale environment, with operators and buyers often on premise.

The new method employed in Philadelphia involves one set of inspectors who travel to wholesale operations that have requested a commodity grade inspection.

The on-site commodity grader collects a sample of the product for inspection, makes note of the commodity and brand, takes the temperature of the product and loads the produce onto a pallet.

After that, the wholesaler who requested the inspection transports the product by pallet jack to the central inspection station, where another USDA commodity grader will examine the produce and issue an electronic certificate.

Once that certificate is issued, the wholesaler is notified and is instructed to pick up the sample from the inspection station.

Skelton said she anticipates the central inspection facility will improve efficiency of inspections, reduce costs and overtime and please suppliers and buyers.

Inspectors are part of a rotation that includes stints of pulling samples and working in the inspection station — in addition to off-market inspection duty, Skelton said.

Most inspections at the Philadelphia terminal market will be done in the new inspection station, but in some instances frozen loads or shifted loads will be done at the applicant’s warehouse.