The first draft of a fresh produce food safety standard, which establishes a single set of good agricultural practices to curtail a patchwork of competing audit standards, is complete.

Draft of harmonized food safety standard ready for comments

Now the document needs more editors, said David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., and a member of the Technical Working Group of the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative, which authored the document.

The group meets next June 17-18 in Houston, at Sysco Corp., and Gombas said getting different perspectives is critical to revamping the draft.

“The next phase will be wordsmithing to ensure the standard is appropriate for the widest range of commodities, size operations, regions and production practices,” Gombas said May 18.

He said the group will edit the standard to make sure it can be applied in an audit format.

“The more people who come to the meeting in Houston, the better,” Gombas said. “We don’t want anyone complaining afterwards that they weren’t not involved.”

The aim of the effort is to replace the myriad of existing audit standards used by private companies, government agencies and commodity groups with one standard. That in turn, is expected to reduce the number of redundant audits performed on grower-shippers and eliminate costs from the supply chain.

The 31-page draft — addressing field and packinghouse operations — represents a blending of 13 existing standards, Gombas said.

The document is available at the United Fresh web site.

The GAP harmonization effort is supported by United Fresh, the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association and numerous grower-shipper organizations.

The process began with a meeting of the initiative’s steering committee in September. The group has met six times, and about 40 members of the technical working group met May 12-13 at U.S. Foodservice in Chicago.

Decisions about who will own the standard and how it will be operated have not been determined yet, Gombas said. An operations committee will be created to help decide those issues, he said.

“At the end of the day, the message is clear from these guys. They want the standard to be freely available for a first-party, second-party or third party-audit,” Gombas said.

The group hopes to complete work on the standard by October.