A new audit scheme from Primus subsidiary Azzule Systems is officially approved by the Global Food Safety Initiative, and Primus has already started auditing.
The PrimusGFS scheme is one of multiple food safety audit schemes recognized by the Consumer Goods Forum-managed GFSI — including Safe Quality Food (SQF) and GlobalGAP for farm-level — but provides another option, and one that Primus hopes will be less costly for producers and will be accepted by more buyers.
“It’s a very big deal for a lot of our customers,” said Megan Chedwick, director of food safety for Salinas, Calif.-based Church Bros. LLC. “A lot don’t just deal with produce, they deal with seafood and other products, and they deal with a lot of requirements.”
“So this helps eliminate customers saying, ‘We want one this one audit,’ and for us, it gives us the decision to choose what works best for us and our growers,” Chedwick said.
Church Bros. is starting PrimusGFS audits mid-March with its Huron, Calif., harvest, and plans to require either the scheme or GlobalGAP from its growers moving onward.
GFSI, which is managed by the Consumer Goods Forum, is a benchmarking entity, so it approves audits that meet the requirements it measures for on an international level. The PrimusGFS audit scheme was officially recognized Feb. 23.
To avoid what Consumer Goods Forum considers to be a potential conflict of interest, Santa Maria, Calif.-based Primus Labs launched Azzule Systems as a separate company to manage PrimusGFS audits. Through Culiacan, Mexico-based Azzule, other certifying bodies, including Primus’ main competition, can be licensed to perform PrimusGFS audits.
Matt Regusci, former business development manager for Primus, took over with Azzule as chief operations officer and business development manager.
“The goal is to have as many qualified certifying bodies as possible doing this audit,” Regusci said. “When you create a scheme, it’s not the easiest thing to do and it’s not the easiest thing to keep, and some of these auditing companies just want to audit.”
Since other third-party auditors can use PrimusGFS, growers can continue to use their preferred certifying body and have a PrimusGFS audit conducted, as long as that certifying body goes through Azzule to become a PrimusGFS auditor.
Chedwick said Church Bros. used GlobalGAP last year, but many of its growers are leaning toward the PrimusGFS audit this year because they’re more familiar with the format and some of the questions Primus asks.
Courtesy Healds Valley Farms
Edinburg, Texas-based Healds Valley Farms Inc. produces 60% of the citrus out of the Rio Grande Valley, and started using the PrimusGFS mid-February. This young orange grove sits right behind the company's main office.
PrimusGFS is different from other GFSI-approved schemes because it applies along more of the supply chain, form farm level to processing level through harvest crew, ranch and packinghouse audits, said Stacy Stoltenberg, business development manager for Primus Labs.
Edinburg, Texas-based Healds Valley Farms Inc. has been working with Azzule for almost eight months preparing for the PrimusGFS audit, which was conducted at its Rio Grande Valley groves the week of Feb. 15. It is the first company outside of California to have the audits.
“We had already been with Primus on packinghouse audits and wanted to wait and see what they came out with,” said Brandon Mahan, food safety director.
One of the biggest differences with the PrimusGFS audits and other schemes is the importance it puts on having a solid food safety management system with buy-in from company executives.
“One of the biggest things in this audit is manager commitment,” Mahan said. “You have to have the resources you need to get it started and keep it going.”
The audit also includes either or both Good Agricultural Practices and Good Manufacturing Practices, as well as a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system, in its three modules.
“A lot of previous audits mostly just concentrated on the shed,” Mahan said. “A lot of this new one is pre-harvest pesticide application and stuff like that.”
A group of retailers, including Wal-Mart, Kroger and Hannaford, continue to back the GFSI and are members of its board of directors. Those retailers, along with others including Target, H.E.B. and Supervalu, are asking for their suppliers to have GFSI approved audits by the end of the year.
“These companies are really pushing suppliers in certain directions,” Regusci said. “They’re moving their suppliers to a standard more appropriate for their business.”