Produce distributors on the Atlanta State Farmers Market, Forest Park, Ga., take food safety seriously.

They watch what happened to shippers of commodities such as tomatoes, hot peppers and peanuts, and work to make sure their operations are up to date on food safety procedures.

Food safety has long been a priority for Phoenix Wholesale Foodservice Inc., Forest Park.

David Collins III, president, said the distributor has for years taken a proactive approach to the topic.

Phoenix has three Serve Safe-trained trainers, which conduct Serve Safe courses for some of its customers.

Phoenix also has a full-time third-party quality assurance manager that has more than 20 years experience overseeing Phoenix’s program, and has employed a doctor from a major university to review Phoenix’s food safety procedures.

“We have carried food safety an extra step further,” Collins said. “We have had a very rigid and functional as well as proactive foodservice quality assurance program. We want to make sure we’re very consistent in what we do.”

Phoenix also routinely undergoes third party auditing of its procedures, Collins said.

Certification achievements

J.J. Jardina Co. Inc., Atlanta, has achieved food safety certification.

The fruit distributor received U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety certification in January. last spring conducted audits and certified Jardina’s operations.

“We have gone through all of the training and certification processes,” said Mike Jardina, president. “We did this to make sure that we are safe and can take care of customers that have to have that before we can become one of their vendors, as certification is necessary for some of the larger chains.”

Jardina said such certification got a slow start in the produce industry.

Jardina said he believes acceptance of the standards should increase fairly quickly.

Jardina said bad news in the media such as the recent peanut situation has helped awaken many distributors to the need for such safety programs.

Jardina, founded in 1925, distributes produce primarily to retailers and other wholesalers, while about 20% of its sales go to foodservice purveyors.

Updating warehouses

General Produce Inc., Atlanta, was in the process of getting all of its warehouses up to third-party compliance, said Andrew Scott, sales and procurement manager.

Such an updating of food safety standards, he said, would be challenging and require time as the buildings on the market, owned by the state of Georgia, were built in 1989.

Since 1997, General has stickered every box it distributes with lot numbers for traceability. The system allows for traceback to Price Look-Up number, which traces back to the shipper/ vendor, Scott said.

“That can be a great selling tool,” Scott said. “It helps us with any returns or other issues. It also keeps everyone honest so a customer can’t send something back to us with a different number on it.”

Sutherland’s Foodservice Inc., Atlanta, undergoes quarterly audits and has a traceability program in place.

“Our customers bring it up when they’re concerned, but they already know we have this in place,” said Diana Earwood, vice president. “You have to keep on top of it always. We have information coming through the Produce Marketing Association and the Georgia Department of Agriculture. There is a lot more that you’re doing on an almost minute-by-minute update to see what’s going on. It does add some additional work.”

Howard Mundt, president of Harvest Brokerage, Atlanta, said its customers know who they’re buying from.

He said the company buys from shippers with major labels. Those shippers, Mundt said, have all the proper food safety certifications for cleanliness in their packing and distribution.

“The bad part about it (outbreaks) is that they try to blame the produce before they look elsewhere,” he said. “In several of those incidents, it wasn’t the supplier but was the people that got it. Someone hadn’t washed their hands and then touched produce.”