Produce Industry Creating Audit Standard

The produce industry is nearing a single food safety audit standard, announced David Gombas, PhD, senior vice president of food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association United Fresh Produce Association , at the association’s 2011 meeting May 4.

According to Dr. Gombas, the Produce Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Harmonization Initiative Technical Working Group, made up of more than 150 members from the produce industry, government, and academia, has drafted an audit checklist that can be used to certify safe handling of any commodity of any size.

“Your goal of one audit by any credible third party acceptable to all buyers is within reach,” Dr. Gombas told meeting attendees.

But that goal may prove more elusive than it sounds, said other industry experts.

“There’s a difference between the produce administration group having a harmonized system for good agricultural practice and one that’s acceptable throughout the retail food business for food safety,” said Mechel Paggi, PhD, director of the Center for Agricultural Business at California State University at Fresno. He suggested that unifying the many standards that now exist at the industry, government, and international levels into one universally acceptable standard will be challenging. “I think it’s a great step in the right direction to have industry embrace a template for audit standards, but I think that you haven’t crossed home plate yet.”

Another issue, said Marco Palma, PhD, assistant professor in the department of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University in College Station, is that talking about “produce” as one monolithic entity is analogous to suggesting that there will be one single cure for cancer.

“It’s very difficult to come up with a single, unified strategy when you have many crops that are essentially very different in nature,” he said. “A leafy green is essentially different than a cantaloupe or a tomato, and the risk of contamination is also different. Some of the GAPs may be the same for these groups, but the risk of disease varies widely. With so many types of produce, it’s difficult to have a single, unified audit strategy.”

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