Food safety is something that buyers don’t take for granted — even when they’re dealing with some of Southern California’s most respected shippers.
“It’s certainly in the forefront of customers’ minds,” said Bill Vogel, president of Tavilla Sales Co. of Los Angeles. “It’s something you have to pay attention to.”
Not only are buyers asking for audits of distribution facilities, but they’re asking more frequently for proof that safe practices also are in force in growing areas, he said.
That request isn’t difficult to comply with when you’re dealing with large domestic or even foreign growers who are up to speed on the latest food safety requirements and have the manpower to implement them.
But it can be a challenge for companies like Tavilla Sales that sometimes deal with many small growers in Mexico, he said.
“You have to be careful with your field people in Mexico,” he said, and be sure that they pay attention to the way growers raise and harvest their product.
Pura Vida Farms in Brea, Calif., provides food safety documentation for its fields, packinghouses and equipment annually, said partner Wes Liefer.
“It continues to be an important issue,” he said.
Los Angeles-based Progressive Produce Corp. has four different operations, and all have received superior ratings from Primus Labs, said Jack Gyben, vice president.
“We’re a privately owned company, so it’s critical for us to have our ducks in a row on food safety and traceability,” he said. “We think it’s good business.”
Coast Produce Co., Los Angeles, is installing temperature-monitoring software in all of its refrigerated trailers in an effort to ensure the safety of the product the company ships, said Emily Fragoso, marketing manager.
Coast also continues to monitor other technology that is becoming available.
Food safety is one of the core values at FreshPoint Southern California in Industry, said president Verne Lusby.
If a supplier can’t provide the company with food safety certification, he won’t be a supplier, Lusby said.
More buyers want to source from small, local companies these days, Lusby said, and FreshPoint is happy to comply with those requests.
“We’ve always supported local growers, and we’ve expanded that,” he said.
FreshPoint requires its growers to meet strict food safety standards and then includes them under its insurance umbrella, Lusby said.
Companies also are implementing traceback programs.
Los Angeles-based AMS Exotic LLC expects to have a traceback program from HarvestMark in effect by fall, said Scott Lehmann, director of sales and marketing.
“It’s good business to make sure we can trace our own product all the way back to the field,” he said.
Many Los Angeles-area firms also are on track with the Produce Traceability Initiative.
“(Pura Vida) is PTI compliant at this point,” Liefer said in early June. “I believe, as a company, we are probably ahead of the game.”
The firm has a full-time employee, James Murray, director of food safety and operations, who is responsible for implementing its PTI and food safety programs.
“It adds a significant cost,” Liefer said, “but you have to do it.”
Progressive Produce was on schedule to be compliant with case-level Global Trade Item Numbers even before the original September deadline was postponed recently, Gyben said.
“We think (the PTI) is important to our customers,” he said. “We’re trying to maintain a leadership position on that even as the national PTI timetables have been delayed.”