Improving fresh tomato safety
A group of more than 200 stakeholders involved in the fresh tomato supply chain worked under the direction of the United Fresh Produce Association to develop a harmonized food safety audit protocol.
The 'Food Safety Programs and Auditing Protocol for the Fresh Tomato Supply Chain, 2009' identifies policies and practices that the fresh tomato industry expects its facilities to have in place to minimize the microbiological hazards associated with fresh and fresh-cut tomato production and handling.
'This effort was a true collaboration between the tomato industry, our customers and government,' said Ed Beckman, president of the California Tomato Farmers, in a statement.
'Not only is there agreement on standardized risk reduction protocol for the entire supply chain, there's agreement that a single commodity-specific audit has greater merit than multiple generic audits,' he said. 'The growers of California Tomato Farmers were pleased to successfully pilot the program and look forward to working with our customers on full implementation in 2010.'
The document includes four sets of tomato food safety protocols:
*Open field production, harvest and field packing.
*Repacking and distribution.
Each set contains auditable requirements, or 'items,' that the protocol developers concluded should be attainable and in place for any North American fresh tomato operation, regardless of region, size, growing practice or sub-commodity handled. Additionally, each protocol is accompanied by a checklist which provides an audit format that auditors can use to assess and record compliance, United Fresh said.
'This document will be a valuable asset for the fresh and fresh-cut tomato industry in terms of reducing confusion and conflicting expectations,' said Dr. David Gombas, United Fresh senior vice president of food safety and technology, and corresponding editor of the document.
'We found that multiple stakeholders in the tomato industry were unsure of what constituted 'compliance,'' he said. 'By bringing together a critical mass from the U.S. and Mexico fresh tomato supply chain, including suppliers, customers and representatives of FDA and USDA, the industry was able to come to consensus on what was reasonable and attainable by growers and handlers, and also satisfied customers' expectations.'
The Florida Tomato Exchange also praised the document. 'The standardization will allow greater attention on the implementation of good safety practices rather than redundant audits,' said Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the exchange.
United Fresh said the next step, which has already started, is a training course for government and private sector auditors on how to perform the audits according to the harmonized tomato food safety protocol.
Review or download the document, here.