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Harmonizing audits on tap for United Fresh meeting

by Joan Murphy | March 17, 2009
WASHINGTON -- With produce suppliers being the constant target of costly and sometimes duplicative audits each year, the United Fresh Produce Association is hoping a two-day meeting next month will start the dialogue toward harmonizing audits with buyers.

At a recent meeting, the United Fresh Produce Association's Retail- Foodservice Board endorsed efforts to harmonize produce food-safety audits and urged produce industry members throughout the supply chain to participate in the April 24-25 Global Conference on Produce Food Safety Standards.

The standalone meeting comes at the tail end of the United Fresh 2009 Convention in Las Vegas.

"Both retail and foodservice buyers share the same goals as produce suppliers in assuring that good agricultural and handling practices are followed in production and distribution," Reggie Griffin of the Kroger Co. and Mitch Smith of McDonald's, who serve on the board of United Fresh, said in a joint statement. "It's important that partners throughout the supply chain work toward the benchmarking and harmonization of any audits that we use to ensure the most effective food-safety results with the least cost and duplication of efforts."

The conference, which is co-sponsored by Chiquita/Fresh Express and Dole Food Co., is hosted by the United Fresh Food Safety & Technology Council.

"There's been a tremendous amount of work by the more than 75 members of the Food Safety and Technology Council and companies throughout the industry to get to this point where most industry leaders recognize the burden and cost of duplicative audits," said United Fresh President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Stenzel. "Now there's light at the end of the tunnel, and we have to continue working together across the supply chain to drive progress."

The meeting will kick off with a session exploring the government role in setting standards and assuring verification through third-party auditors. Another session will feature speakers discussing audit issues for "pre-farm gate audits" and "post-farm gate audits," then the group will break out into four groups to develop recommendations for harmonizing audits to reduce costs and duplication.

"This is a critically important issue," Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, told The Produce News March 10. "The issue is getting everyone on the same page on the audit itself so people are not burdened with dozens of annual audits costing tens of thousands of dollars each year."

Every firm conducts its own risk analysis and thinks its audit is the best, Mr. Stuart added.

"Working together all in the same room, we can begin to focus on common approaches to best assure food safety rather than having individual interests drive needless duplication and costs throughout the supply chain," Mr. Stenzel said.