Food safety has become top of mind for most retailers and foodservice operators, so they’re quick to quiz their suppliers about their growing, packing and shipping practices. When they do, Michigan apple growers are ready for them.

Deerfield, Mich.-based Applewood Orchards Inc. now has the results of its food safety audits on customers’ desks before they even ask for them, said Scott Swindeman, vice president and sales manager.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Applewood Orchards always followed good food safety practices, he said, but company officials knew things would have to change after their first food safety audit.

After checking out the company’s operating procedures, auditors said, “Great, now let us see all of your records,” Swindeman said.

“We knew the paper trail was lacking,” he said, but the company was determined to make things right.

“We said, ‘We know we’re not doing this right. We want you to show us how you want it done,’” Swindeman told the auditors.

“Then we started to do it.”

Creating a paper trail involved extra expense and more work, but it had to be done, he said.

“Nobody likes change, but once you get used to, it’s business as usual,” Swindeman said.

The same was true at Michigan Fresh Marketing LLC in Belding, said president Tom Curtis.

“Once you get through the initial auditing, then it’s just keeping track of the records, filling out the paperwork and having everything in order,” he said.

Glei’s Inc., Hillsdale, Mich., has gone through food safety audits and had its packinghouse audited by Primus Labs for the first time last year, said Damon Glei, secretary-treasurer and part owner.

“We’re doing more things to ensure food safety all the time,” he said.

For example, the company added a parasitic acid rinse to its packing line as a secondary precaution and sprays down the line after every shift.

Food safety also plays a vital role at Jack Brown Produce Inc., Sparta, Mich.

“Over the last three years, we have definitely ramped up our food safety activities,” said Pat Chase, sales and field representative.

The company has gone through third-party audits at the packinghouse level for several years, he said. But now it’s focusing on grower level, requiring growers to have third-party good agricultural practices audits.

“It’s a little bit of a learning curve,” Chase said, but most growers already were following the correct procedures.

“Now, they are just formalizing them,” he said.

One thing that irritates many Michigan grower-shippers, just as it does grower-shippers throughout the U.S., is the inconsistent standards required by various suppliers and auditors.

Some of Applewood Orchards’ customers accept third-party certification from one auditing firm but not from another, Swindeman said.

“If we could get everybody on the same page so that one glove fits all, it would be sweet,” he said, acknowledging that the industry is working to accomplish that.

At Jack Brown Produce, Chase said food safety requirements should vary by commodity.

Standards should be different for items grown on trees than for those that are grown in the ground, undergo extensive handling or are iced during transit, he said.

“Some of those areas don’t pertain to what we’re doing with a tree crop,” he said.