The Produce Marketing Association has partnered with Purdue University to create a tool to allow easier sharing of food safety audit data.

Trellis, developed Purdue’s Open Ag Technologies and Systems Group (OATS) with support from PMA and others, is free. The tool creates a produce-specific framework for exchanging audit and other customer-required information among trading partners, according to a news release.

PMA vice president of supply chain efficiencies Ed Treacy said that PMA launched the project to solve a problem frequently cited by association members. 

“Food safety and other audits are supposed to help identify and address risk, but in reality, mounds of PDF reports don’t lend themselves to easy analysis,” Treacy said in the release. “Companies are having to manually enter data into their computer systems, or to convert information from various sources and formats.” That’s time-consuming and inefficient, he said. The project’s website,, provides information about the approach and access to the free computer code. A toolkit is being developed to help companies to adopt Trellis, according to the release.

Trellis will not change audit contents or questions, according to the release, and will bring consistency to how the data is recorded, stored and transmitted. 

Treacy encouraged growers, packers and shippers to notify their certification bodies to request Trellis capability.
The Trellis framework will support the most widely-used audit schemes, and more can easily be added as needed, according to the release. 

Typically, Treacy said Nov. 20, certification bodies will send an audit report either by mail for a paper copy or by sending a pdf copy by email.

Just handling paper and PDF copies is inefficient, he said, and the Trellis framework can support analyzing the audits for answers to key questions and, if applicable, corrective actions to deficiencies.

With limited food safety resources, companies spend too much time on making sure they have the right audits on file and that they are current rather than taking a closer look at the content of the audit, he said, something Trellis can help address that.
Launched in mid-November, the Trellis system will likely by in place at least for a few users by the end of the year and should see momentum build, he said.

“In my estimation, all certification bodies will have to implement this,” Treacy said Nov. 20. “It will be an option of how they sent data to the people they are auditing either paper, pdf or using the Trellis framework,” he said.

Trellis solves an industry problem with a produce-specific solution that relies on an adaptable, customizable framework, OATS senior research engineer Aaron Ault said in the release.

“Bonus, it is open source so there is no cost to industry to use it or to contribute to it,” he said.

Ault said Nov. 20 that the system has a level of privacy. with users able to share as much or as little as they would like to share with their partners.

Industry leaders involved with the project said Trellis will help the industry.

“Making all of our food safety audit information operational is a complicated and resource intensive process,” Mark Mignogna, vice president of food safety with Sysco, said in the release. “Trellis will simplify the process freeing up our food safety resources to focus on extracting more value from the information.”

Mignogna co-chairs PMA’s Trellis Task Force with Giumarra’s Walter Ramm, according to the release.

Development funding

Treacy said in the release that Trellis’ initial development was funded by PMA with substantial in-kind donations of time and effort from Purdue’s OATS staff. Companies that have donated funds so far for OATS to develop software applications to help implement Trellis are Azzule Systems, Centricity and Wilson Produce.

“We couldn’t have gotten here without the active involvement of this task force, under Mark and Walter’s leadership,” Treacy said in the release. “Centricity Global’s Drew Zabrocki is a key advisor and contributor to the project. Also playing central roles are Elliott Grant of Google, who just concluded his term as chair of the Science & Technology Committee, and new committee chair and PMA board director Andy Kennedy of FoodLogiQ.”

Now that Trellis’ development phase is completed, PMA will hand off governance of it to OATS. The group will establish an industry governing body of stakeholders, which will initially consist of PMA Trellis Task Force members, according to the release.