NAPLES, Fla. — Florida tomato growers heard how their industry is helping shape national produce food safety practices, and Reggie Brown, manager of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Committee and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, plans to take his industry’s desire for harmonized audit standards to Washington, D.C.
During a Sept. 7 tomato safety workshop at the Florida Joint Tomato Conference, Brown and Martha Roberts, University of Florida consultant and former deputy commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, discussed tomato food safety protocols that the industry designed for field and greenhouse tomato harvesting, packinghouse and repacking, fresh-cut processing, and foodservice and retail distribution.
Brown said he plans to challenge retailers and food distributors involved in a United Fresh Produce Association and Produce Marketing Association produce gaps harmonization initiative steering committee and technical group scheduled to meet in Washington, D.C., Sept. 13 to move on harmonizing audits.
“They need to put their money where their mouth is, and let’s move this thing forward or admit it’s all been a ruse,” Brown said. “Because in the tomato industry, we’re there. Hopefully, we will get them to put their money where their mouths are and move forward.”
Brown said Florida tomato leaders spent the past two years developing a standardized food safety audit protocol.
“We engaged distributing companies and brand owners,” he said. “We are striving as an industry across the country to push the issue that once it’s done, the audit doesn’t need to be duplicated by someone’s variation of an audit. This is not a finished process but we have an 80-90% chance of succeeding.
“The message we got five years ago is the amount of money and manpower we are spending is duplicative and wasteful. There is broad consensus across the produce industry. If we can’t bring the tomato industry to a common single audit it will never happen in this country. We are the model for that. It’s a national effort across the broad spectrum of the produce industry to follow us on that path.”
Roberts said the industry is hoping to have international benchmarks on the safety process.
“We are now in the process of developing a consensus for all tomato food safety protocols,” she said. “The purpose is to prevent someone changing the process for the benefit of their company.”
This is the sixth year the tomato exchange has sponsored a food safety session during its yearly joint tomato conference.
The conference continues through Sept. 10 with grower sessions, Brown’s yearly state of the tomato industry address, and yearly meetings of the tomato committee, tomato exchange and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.