Dave Gombas I had the chance to chat on Sept. 21 with Dave Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology at the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
11:00 a.m. Tom Karst: What are you working on this week?
11:00 a.m. David Gombas: I was pilot testing the harmonized standard to see if it works in a greenhouse as well as in the field, and it does.
11:01 a.m. Karst: So the Produce GAPS Harmonized Standard is in place?
11:02 a.m. Gombas: Some companies are already using it. It just recently got finalized, and now we have to have auditors trained to calibrate so they all do it the same way. That’s the next step. The field standard was finalized at the of July.
11:02 a.m. Karst: So the next step would be to train the auditors?
11:02 .am. Gombas: We want to bring all the audit organizations together so they are using the tool the same way, whether that is USDA, GFSI, or anybody. Any audit organization that wants to come to the table and use this standard. Information can be found here.
11:03 a.m. Karst: What has been the highlight of the process of GAP harmonization since you first began working on it in 2007?
11:04 a.m. Gombas: “The real highlight of the process has been the openness of the whole process. Harmonization has been tried many, many times by really good people, but yet it has never succeeded. Why not? We sat down on the technology council to figure out what has gone wrong in the past, what to not repeat. It was about the openness of the process. You have a group of six or seven really smart people sitting in a room figuring out what standards their suppliers are required to follow, and the suppliers aren’t part of the meeting. Or you have suppliers getting together figuring what the standards should be and trying to push it up to the buyers. That doesn’t work, either. This one, we just said everyone come to the table, and we didn’t care what commodity it was, whether you were a buyer, supplier, distributor, academic or government interest. We had 150 people sign on, large and small, members and non-members. And they all had a say in how it was developed When they had a say in it, we found an answer that everybody could live with. And we said, okay, they are buying in to it. I think that is what the big improvement is.
11:06 a.m. Karst: How many years ago did this effort start?
11:06 a.m. Gombas: It started in 2007 when we asked the technology council what were the big issues facing the industry and overwhelmingly the response came back: audit fatigue. Multiple standards, mutually exclusive standards, having to track auditors through the same operation time and time again through the year. It was getting to be expensive and just painful. They said, ‘Stop the madness.” That was 2007. It took us two more years to figure out how to do it and not fail. That’s when we brought together the buyers and said, ‘If we build this, will you come?’ That was 2009. We got all the major produce buyers in the U.S. together at the same table and said, ‘This is our vision; what do you think?’ They said, yes, if you can do this, we will accept it. With that promise, that’s when we got started, started calling the entire supply chain together and said we are going to do this. The other big learning we had was that everyone wanted to create the standards from scratch. But we said, let’s not do that; there are plenty of standards out there that people are already following. Let’s go use those and bring all those standards together and pick and choose words that everyone thinks best represents a harmonized standard instead of creating all new words. That was the second learning from the past; we didn’t create anything from scratch, we started with what already was developed.
11:08 a.m. Karst: So now the process is complete, then?
11:09 a.m. Gombas: The development of the standard is complete. It is out there, ready to be used, we pilot tested it, We didn’t just toss it out there and walk away. We went out and over a course of a year and pilot tested this standard at over a dozen different types of operations, large, small, all different commodities, East, West, all different customers, all different audit organizations to see if this meets everybody’s needs. And the overwhelming response was yes, it works. The next step is getting these actual audit organizations trained as to how use the standard so we don’t have the problem of the same words but everyone interpreting differently.
11:10 a.m. Karst: How will that process occur?