HoferFresh produce was a part of Toni Hofer’s life long before food safety became a common phrase in the fresh produce industry — and long before she was named senior food safety manager for Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley’s Supermarkets.
Growing up in Turlock, Calif., about an hour’s drive south of Sacramento, nonschool days found Hofer working on the family’s farm. Those family chores built the foundation for what was to become her career.
“I have a love for produce and an understanding of what goes on on the farm, because I ended up working every summer and lots of weekends,” Hofer said.
Food safety, however, was not integral to her job description when Hofer joined family-owned Raley’s more than 26 years ago. That soon changed.
“I ended up having a love affair with perishables in marketing and advertising,” Hofer said.
The emphasis on food safety surfaced when her then-supervisor at Raley’s launched a program for cleaning and sanitizing fresh produce and initiated the company’s pesticide residue testing.
“He delegated a lot, and so I built a department out of it,” Hofer said.
It is one of the few accomplishments for which the modest Hofer will take some credit. The market chain’s aggressive food safety programs started with the late Tom Raley, the chain’s founder, and continue with his family, she said.
“The food safety program and our pesticide testing and all the things we do in the area of food safety and quality assurance started and are supported at the very top,” Hofer said.
Michael Teel, grandson of the founder and current Raley’s president and chief executive officer has a slightly different opinion of Hofer’s contributions.
“Toni has been instrumental in executing strict food safety and quality assurance practices that exceed regulatory standards,” he said. “She’s responsible for establishing our exclusive Agri Check program standards for produce, making Raley’s a pioneer in food safety initiatives and a recognized leader in the industry.”
Hofer did not have to look far for mentors. The Raley-Teel family has a gift for innovation, she said.
“When you work in that kind of atmosphere, you’re constantly challenged to think outside the box, and you’re appreciated for innovation,” Hofer said.
It was in the early 1990s as third-party auditing of produce in the field began ramping up that Hofer helped to develop the chain’s manual for good agricultural practices expected of grower-shippers. The task found her traveling to providers throughout the U.S. and Central America, she said.