NAPLES, Fla. — Florida tomato grower, packers and shippers may finally get some relief from audit fatigue caused by having to undergo several different food safety inspections required by multiple buyers.
Vicky BoydWes Roan (from left), vice president of crop protection and food safety for Lipman, catches up with Kevin Ratchford, owner of Agri-Logic Consulting Inc., and Rachel Giles, a consultant with South Florida Crop Services.Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Exchange, said he hoped that with the beginning of this year’s tomato season in late fall that buyers will opt for a single harmonized audit.
“It would be just one audit and it would include the fields and the packing facilities,” Brown said.
His comments came during the 2013 Tomato Food Safety Workshop, Sept. 3, in Naples, Fla.
The state’s tomato growers and packers already have to undergo mandated annual audits as part of the Florida Tomato Good Agricultural Practices and Tomato Best Management Practices programs.
The legislation, passed in 2007, applies to every tomato grown, packed, distributed or sold in the state and exceeds most of the requirements contained in the Food and Drug Administration’s draft Food Safety Modernization Act.
Despite the strictness of the state regulations, some buyers still require additional third-party audits, he said.
Large tomato grower-shippers sometimes have to endure more than a half dozen different audits during a season.
At the same food safety meeting last year, Brown told the audience he expected a harmonized program in time for the start of the 2012 season.
But delays in having state and federal inspectors undergo training to conduct far-reaching Global Food Safety Initiative audits pushed it back a season.
“It takes more time than you think it’s going to take,” Brown said.
Barry Gaffney, regional administrator for the Florida Department of Food and Agriculture Division of Fruit and Vegetables, Winter Haven, said one department inspector recently completed GFSI audit training in California and another is scheduled to finish before the start of this season.
The department also is in the process of hiring a third inspector.
In addition to the state-mandated tomato audits, state and U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors already have been able to conduct several other types, including USDA food safety audits, Subway harmonized audits and the USDA audit with the Global Markets addendum, he said,
The GFSI audit is what just about every buyer will accept, Gaffney said.
“That’s what we’re hoping for, at least,” he said.
But undergoing just one audit won’t necessarily mean a corresponding reduction in expenses.
Growers, packers and shippers will still pay a separate fee for each different audit report, depending on what a buyer requests, Gaffney said.