Among the elements in the first class are a glossary of terms and answers to frequently asked questions.
The contract growers apparently welcomed the opportunity to learn, with up to 80 growers attending each of the three-hour classes.
“I’d say we probably captured 90%-95% of our grower pool,” Hirasuna said.
As part of the course, Sunnyside visits each participating grower and takes global positioning system (GPS) coordinates in the event of a recall, Hirasuna said.
The company also purchased a high-capacity server for the data generated by the contract growers and is installing software that will provide a digital copy of a grower’s individual records, he said. Sunnyside also reviews completed documents, provides feedback to growers and is conducting mock audits.
“We’re trying to get them used to such things as taking water samples and to help them understand that the audit process is not the end of the world,” Hirasuna said.
The main objective of the courses is to get the growers organized in order to minimize the cost of audits, he said. Because fees for third-party audits are based on an hourly charge, organization can cut the cost of an audit by more than half, Hirasuna said.
Sunnyside also has arranged with Fresno-based BSK Analytical Laboratories to charge reduced fees for the growers’ required tests.
“Our goal is to get 100% compliance with the program,” Hirasuna said. “We will at some point require growers to comply with this program or bring us a third-party audit.”
Hirasuna views the course as just the initial step.
“It’s not perfect yet, and it’s going to take some time, but I think we have a pretty good core program on which we can build,” he said. “The next phase will be to notch it up one more step to get to GlobalGAP certification.”
While developing the program has been time consuming and costly, it was simply keeping up with the industry’s changing requirements, Hirasuna said.
“Food safety is no longer a hot-button topic; it is now a mainstream topic,” he said. “Those who choose not to go along are delaying the inevitable.”