Karst chat with Dave Gombas: on harmonized standards and the puzzling case of listeria on cantaloupe

09/22/2011 03:33:00 PM
Tom Karst

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?

11:11 a.m. Gombas: We are creating a calibration committee. We had an operations committee about how the standards will be used and updated. That was led by Dave Corsi of Wegman’s. That group decided that what we need a committee that will train the auditors and will also be responsible for real time interpretations of the standards as disputes occur. This group would become the go-to group for any interpretation issues. What does the standard mean? What is expected here? We have those questions already from auditors, suppliers and customers. So that’s what this group will be responsible for.  


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