NEW ORLEANS — The produce industry is closer to seeing a single food safety audit standard.

During a May 4 breakfast general session at United Fresh 2011, David Gombas, United Fresh Produce Association’s senior vice president of food safety and technology, said the good agricultural practices harmonization technical working group has successfully drafted an audit checklist that any commodity of any size can use to certify safe handling.

Gombas said the committee, led by David Corsi, vice president of produce for Wegman’s Food Markets Inc., Rochester, N.Y., has completed developing policy and procedures of how the new uniform standard will be used, managed and kept up to date.

The group, comprised of more than 150 produce industry, government and academic members, is starting to work with the largest U.S. audit organizations to train auditors on how to use the standard. Gombas said the industry expects to unveil the standard later this year.

“But we need your help,” Gombas said. “If you are already involved in the initiative, whether as a supplier, buyer or auditor, talk with your colleagues in the industry and get them involved and informed. Tell them why you are supporting the harmonized standard. Your goal of one audit by any credible third party acceptable to all buyers is within reach.”

New United Fresh chairman Reggie Griffin, vice president of produce and floral for Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., said the country’s anti-immigrant mood could drive away the industry’s workforce and increasing input costs and a tsunami of coming food safety regulations could add other challenges that could “change our industry forever.”

The group’s first retailer to lead the organization in more than 20 years, Griffin said he plans to depend on “many smart industry people” to make sure the industry continues the growth United Fresh’s previous leaders have set.

“These challenges will take every one of us across the entire supply chain to move forward through the channels from growing and shipping to the retail and foodservice side,” Griffin said. “We are having to do recalls across our industry with no evidence of people getting sick.

“We really and truly are in this together for better or worse. We need each other to step up more than ever.”

Democratic political strategist James Carville talked politics and commended the industry for its push to place more fruits and vegetables in the state’s schools.

“I want to thank you guys for coming here and giving these salad bars to our schools,” the cable television commentator and New Orleans native said, referring to the United Fresh Foundation’s May 3 donation of 33 salad bars to local schools. “This is a terrific thing you have done here as a lot of these kids won’t get this kind of food at home.”

Industry nears single food safety audit goal

Doug Ohlemeier

Democratic political strategist James Carville (left) and Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, talk politics and the industry’s school salad bar initiative during a May 4 breakfast general session at United Fresh 2011.