Atlanta distributors remain prepared and are taking steps to ensure the produce they distribute is free of contamination.

In December, General Produce Inc., Atlanta, hired its first full-time food safety director.

Brenden St. John worked with Primus Labs on the wholesaler’s first Primus audit, which was scheduled for early April.

Andrew Scott, General Produce’s sales and procurement manager, said the company has needed someone to head its food safety efforts for a long time.

“He is an expert and guides us down the road,” Scott said.

“There were four or five of us working on it before, and we were a little bit dangerous with it as we didn’t know everything about it. We take food safety seriously and we have really changed the way we do things during this past year.”

Though few workers like change, Scott said the company’s workers have adapted to new food safety practices and are embracing the effort.

Progressive practices

Jeannie Springfield, vice president, said the company follows the philosophy that her father, Hiram Folds, had when he bought General Produce in 1976.

“My dad said you have to move with the times or get left behind,” she said.

“As food safety is a big push now, you either do it or people won’t do business with you. We are really striving to maintain that food safety so people don’t have to be afraid of what they’re getting through us.”

Phoenix Wholesale Foodservice Inc., Forest Park, Ga., has for several years had an independent full-time third party food safety auditor on the company’s premises overseeing the distributor’s practices. That inspector isn’t a Phoenix employee.

“We became seriously interested in food safety about eight to 10 years ago before everyone else really jumped on the bandwagon,” said David Collins III, president.

Collins said Phoenix and its sister retail distribution company, Collins Bros. Corp., has three employees that are qualified to be ServeSafe instructors.

Smaller threat

David Rose, president of broker Merrin-Cravens Co., Atlanta, said buyer concerns about safe product remain, but the threat has lessened.

“Food safety concerns are still very prevalent but a lot of things have been put in place to protect us,” he said. “Things have changed for the better.”

While food safety remains a big industry issue, Brian Young, general manager of Coosemans Atlanta Inc., said many consumers don’t know much of the produce industry outside of their local grocery store.

“They really have no comprehension on how lettuce is harvested in the field,” he said. “Their local grocery store is their produce world.”

Mike Jardina, president of J.J. Jardina Co. Inc., Atlanta, said the distributor of fruits remains current with all the food safety practices and procedures.

“We take food safety very seriously and very aggressively,” he said.

“We are Primus and USDA certified. We are taking it a step further just to be sure we qualify for all the chain stores that buy from us.”