MONTEREY, Calif. — The focus of food safety developments seems to be shifting from the grower-shipper to the distributor and end-user.
Tim York, president of Markon Cooperative, said the last few years have brought a focus on the transportation, distribution center and destination in the produce supply chain.
Markon was one in a panel of seven produce buyers and sellers in the Point/Counterpoint: Food Safety and Your Business workshop at the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference & Exposition July 25.
“We’re working hard to imbed within the distribution centers the food safety mentality,” said Jorge Hernandez, vice president of food safety and quality assurance for U.S. Foodservice, Chicago. “We want to make sure it’s not just something you do for one person, but something that happens for everything.”
"They’re not going to tell us what practices to do to have safe food, just guidance. If it’s guidance like we’ve had in the past, there will continue to be multiple standards and more audits. This’ll just be another one.”
- Tim York, Markon
Suresh Decosta, manager of quality systems for McDonald’s Corp., said the company longstanding focus on consistency helped foster an environment where food safety standards are also consistent.
“There’s a food safety checklist that’s reviewed every day,” Decosta said. “Produce suppliers have field support teams that work with restaurant operators and managers.”
Increased documentation has been the biggest change for many companies.
“We started to document those things that were part of our GAP before, and tried to use the best science and the best guidance out there,” said Bob Gray, executive vice president of A. Duda & Sons Inc., Oviedo, Fla.
Gray’s observation of the direction of food safety is that it’s headed toward a single standard, but it may not happen.
“In the last 18 months, the evolution of food safety standards is more of a global creeping toward GFSI,” Gray said. “I think it would be desirable if we could all agree, but I don’t think it’ll happen. Equivalency is more realistic.”
Mike Burness, vice president of global quality and food safety for Chiquita Brands International, Cincinnati, said he though a single standard wasn’t completely out of the question.
“If these five standards are 92% to 95% the same, we could take that 5% to 8% and see if we can come to one standard,” Burness said.
Hernandez said U.S. Foodservice has taken some of the consolidation of audits into its own hands.
“We have gone from eight audits to two for many customers,” Hernandez said. “The audits we’re doing address their concerns, so there are ways to take that number down.”
Hernandez said the company talked to its customers about what their primary concerns were and why they wanted the audits, and used that information to meet customer needs with the fewest audits.
Gray said changes could be coming with the commodity specific guidances for leafy greens, tomatoes and melons set to come from the FDA the first week of August.
“They’re not going to tell us what practices to do to have safe food, just guidance,” York said. “If it’s guidance like we’ve had in the past, there will continue to be multiple standards and more audits. This’ll just be another one.”
Drew McDonald, vice president of quality assurance systems for Taylor Farms, Salinas, said the industry needs a government mandated standard.
“If you mandate a food safety plan based on HAACP, that takes it up another notch,” McDonald said.
If it’s not mandatory, it may not be helpful, Gray said.
One thing the panel seemed to agree on: it’s not there yet.
“I think we’re going to see outbreaks for a while,” Hernandez said. “It’s not because the industry is not moving. The industry is finally moving in the right direction to help it.”