Tell it to The Packer | Letter to the Editor
Ed Beckman, president, California Tomato Farmers
Scott Horsfall, president and chief executive officer,California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement
The recent listeria outbreak tied to Jensen Farms cantaloupes from Colorado has been an unfortunate reminder of the importance of food safety systems in the produce industry.
Admittedly, it is a tragic way to learn. But from the perspective of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and the California Tomato Farmers, we have learned a great deal since our programs’ inceptions in 2007.
We must also continue in our commitment to always do better.
Over the past five years of operation, it has become very clear that a truly effective food safety program is about much more than the score you receive from your food safety inspector.
This seems particularly relevant in light of the current situation with Jensen Farms and the issues pointed out by Tom Karst in his opinion piece (Page A22, Oct. 24).
Both CTF and LGMA are very similar in their goals, objectives and program implementation.
- Our programs do not rely on private audit firms, but rather opt for mandatory audits by government inspectors.
These government inspectors are ideally positioned to conduct effective and independent food safety audits, as neither the buyer nor the seller hires them directly.
They report only to their government supervisors. If these auditors identify an imminent health risk during an audit, they are required to inform local, federal or state health authorities of the situation.
- USDA inspectors audit to set of science-based food safety metrics developed specifically for these commodities through a transparent and inclusive process.
Our metrics can be changed and updated based on new science as needed.
- Audits are conducted on an announced and unannounced basis. For our members, the goal of each audit is full compliance with all food safety inspection checkpoints.
- Any member who does not pass every facet of the audit must take corrective actions to not only correct violations but to enact measures to prevent their reoccurrence.
Follow-up audits validate corrective actions. In some cases, we have been criticized for allowing members to “retake the test” until they pass.
That’s not accurate. We require necessary improvements in their food safety practices with all employees and contractors focused on achieving across-the-board compliance.
- Any member who fails to comply is decertified from the programs. Buyers are notified of the action and the company’s name is posted on the Internet.
- Regular, ongoing audits of all members enable the government and the respective program management to track findings and to calibrate the performance of auditors over time.
- Outreach and education efforts are conducted for members to help build awareness of problem areas, and to assist farmers and handlers in improving their implementation of the required food safety practices.
As a result, the industry constantly improves its practices and consumers are better protected against foodborne illnesses.
That said, no food safety system is perfect, and we certainly do not mean to state that our programs are foolproof.
We do believe, however, that the true measure of success does not come from an audit score but is achieved when an entire commodity group or industry adopts a culture of food safety that is designed to identify risks, strives for continual improvement and always seeks to learn more.