Food safety is an issue that won’t go away — and that’s a good thing for retailers and consumers of California table grapes.

All major grape grower-shippers have implemented comprehensive food safety programs, and they show no signs of letting their guard down.

“Food safety to us is very important,” said Gordon Robertson, vice president of sales and marketing for Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif.

The company has certifications in place in its facilities and in the field through and other third-party auditors, he said.

Sun World has focused on developing a strategy to meet the Produce Traceability Initiative milestones and to meet customer and consumer food safety demands, Robertson said.

“We know from consumer insights that we’ve done that this is a very important thing for shoppers,” he added.

The company already has implemented traceback capabilities on clamshell containers of table grapes.

“We partner with HarvestMark in our consumer unit-level traceability on all of our clamshells,” Robertson said.

Sun World is conducting testing on grape bags this year to see how the traceback process works and if it will function well within its work flow, he said.

Now is a good time to board the traceability bandwagon, Robertson said, since many retailers plan to use traceability as a point of differentiation.

Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc. has named fourth-generation family member Andrew Pandol as food safety manager, said Tristan Kieva, director of business development and marketing.

Pandol, a graduate of Cornell University who recently completed the United Fresh Produce Association’s Produce Industry Leadership Program, will focus on the company’s food safety programs, which go above and beyond government standards, Kieva said.

Company president David Dever has testified before Congress on food safety and serves on various industry food safety committees, Kieva said.

“We try to be a pioneer,” she added.

Food safety is among the company’s “four pillars of differentiation,” which also include heritage, harvest and operations experience, and marketing and sales innovation.

Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC has hired Loren Buller, formerly with the Montvale, N.J.-Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., as food safety director, said Atomic Torosian, partner.

Buller, a 30-year veteran of the produce industry, has experience in food safety, traceability and third-party audits, and visits the company’s growers to help set up food safety programs, Torosian said.

Customers of Fresno, Calif.-based Fazio Marketing Inc. assume that the company meets their food safety criteria, said president Tony Fazio, but still they ask for verification showing that the firm has implemented adequate food safety programs and audits.

Fazio Marketing has its own food safety programs in effect at its facilities and in the field along with third-party audits, he said.

Similarly, Stevco Inc., based in Beverly Hills, Calif., has third-party audits in fields and packinghouses and automatically sends out reports to companies it does business with, said president Dave Clyde.

From a buying standpoint, food safety remains an important concern of retailers, Kieva said.

Most major chains have designated personnel whose job it is to ensure that the supply community is compliant with their safety criteria, she said.

“They’ve really put a focus on it and taken it to the next level beyond the buyer,” she said.