11:39 a.m. Tom: How did you get your start in quality assurance?
11:40 a.m. Howard: Prior to coming to Topco Associations, I never dreamed that at one time I would have responsibilities for quality of general merchandise like plastic plates, spoons and forks to health and beauty care products, I never thought of those. But my responsibility extends over all those at Topco Associates
11:41 a.m. Tom: Where did you work before you came to Topco?
Howard: One step back was U.S. Foodservice for me. At U.S. Foodservice, I was responsible for food safety and quality for all of our exclusive branded suppliers. I always had a special place for produce. Fruits and vegetables, fresh and processed. I worked a lot with the AMS of USDA staff, for inspections and Good Agricultural Practices. It’s like homecoming for me; I’ve worked with those guys before.
11:42 a.m. Tom: What’s the answer to regulating food safety on smaller farms? Is it exempting smaller farmers, or a variation in regulation?
11: 42 a.m. Howard: Unfortunately, when it comes to food safety, you can’t put a size to it. That’s my take. There is an old saying that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch, because you don’t where the product might going or if it might be co-mingled. One small sized farm could cause a lot of bad press and damage to an entire industry. To me, food safety should not be a competitive edge. The same standard should be applied across the board.
Now, when it comes to auditing, I’m willing to look at a situation a bunch of farmers can get together and have an auditor look at their fields together. The cost could be contained compared to small 10 acre farms that would have the same expense as a 150-acre farm.
11:45: a.m. Tom: What about the harmonization of food safety audits? Is that something that could happen?
11:46 a.m. Howard: I tell you what, I believe in miracles. I would like to see that happen someday, but there are certain things still up in the air when it comes to that. God bless my good friend Dave Gombas, who has done such a marvelous job in trying to bring everyone together. What we talked about in the meeting room a moment ago was just the leafy greens agreement and the FDA guidance document. How do you think it will look like when Dave comes up and says well, here is the harmonization standard we have come up that is different from the leafy greens and different from the FDA guidance document; then do we have to take all those three and harmonize them again? And so, I think harmonization is a good thing to do, but the question becomes who owns the standard.