In Santa Maria, Calif., Rancho Harvesting’s Oscar Bucio speaks with food safety tour participants in a lettuce field Aug. 16.
In Santa Maria, Calif., Rancho Harvesting’s Oscar Bucio speaks with food safety tour participants in a lettuce field Aug. 16.

Burger King, Costco, Markon Cooperative and Pro*Act joined other foodservice and retail buyers and distributors on recent food safety tours of lettuce and tomato operations in California.

California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and the California Tomato Farmers cooperative gave the tours Aug. 15-17. Both organizations offer one annually, but this marked the first time the events were combined, said Ed Beckman, president of the cooperative.

The 14 participants also included representatives of Jack in the Box, Del Taco, Carl’s Jr., In-N-Out Burger, DineEquity and Yum! Brands.

They spent a day at Santa Maria, Calif., leafy greens grower Rancho Guadalupe LLC before heading to a Gargiulo Inc. packinghouse in Somis and tomato fields in Camarillo.

Tour members participated in mock audits and met with U.S. Department of Agriculture and California Department of Food and Agriculture auditors at the end of each day.

“We heard loud and clear that our customers have confidence in this,” Beckman said. “It’s the only audit required of tomato growers. A lot of growers are hoping to get off the audit treadmill. That was a goal when CTF was created in the winter of 2006-07. We’ve been running the audit since it went national in 2010.”

“We always find that people are familiar with our program but don’t truly understand all the workings of it,” said April Ward, communications director for the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. “Farmers and harvest crews are inputting food safety every day, so it goes beyond just auditing.”

It was LGMA’s third annual tour. Buyers can schedule smaller tours separately.

“Both (organizations) were founded on the belief that mandatory government inspections are an essential component to improve food safety, build consumer confidence and protect public health, so it was natural for us to partner on this tour,” Scott Horsfall, LGMA chief executive officer, said in a news release.

“For many who were involved in the development of the tomato metrics over several years, this (tour) was their opportunity to see that in practice,” Beckman said.

“I was not aware of all that goes into the program, such as the extensive training … of the USDA auditors,” Scott Brooks, director of quality assurance at Yum! Brands, said in the release.

Beckman said auditors’ commodity-specific training provides consistency.

“They are in tune with a standard so that as you move from one auditor to the next there is the same interpretation,” he said. “Along with the tomato metrics there was a program designed to provide additional training beyond what you’d get for a GAP or GMP audit.”

California Tomato Farmers members represent almost 80% of the fresh tomatoes produced in the state. LGMA members handle about 99% of the state’s leafy greens.