An innovative partnership between the Produce Marketing Association, Sysco
Corp. and PrimusLabs.com is providing much-needed produce food safety
training to small growers across America to help them increase their produce
Local growers, including PMA members and those interested in doing
business with Sysco, can receive training via a series of workshops held
around the country. The workshops are designed to help growers understand
current food safety demands, how to meet them and how to navigate food
safety requirements. The sessions are led by PMA food safety experts with
the assistance of representatives from Sysco and PrimusLabs.com.
More than 40 people attended the first workshop Aug. 11 in Portland, OR,
and future workshops are scheduled for Oct. 13 in Orlando, FL, Nov. 10 in
Southern California and early December in the Midwest.
Each workshop addresses the modern reality of food safety mandates, what a
food safety program should look like and how to build a solid food safety
program. Attendees also get tips from a number of third-party auditing
organizations on how to prepare for Good Agricultural Practices audits and
follow-up steps after an audit.
At the first workshop, the audience heard from auditing professionals from
PrimusLabs, NSF and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The workshops close
with guidance on how to proceed, and where to go for help when additional
resources are needed.
The Portland workshop featured Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology
officer for PMA; Johnna Hepner, director of food safety and foodservice
specialist for PMA; Stacy Stoltenberg director of food safety for
PrimusLabs.com; and Rich Dachman, Sysco's vice president of produce. A
local grower, distributor and chef also participated.
"Even though everyone is stressing local produce, it’s still a world market -
we have to give the public a safe product and we have to be accountable,"
said Rod Liepold of Liepold Farms in Boring, OR. “I attended because we are
trying to be proactive and get into this business quickly, but eventually
everyone will need to do it. This session was informative and gave us
The workshop series was collaboratively designed by PMA, Sysco and
“It’s about offering our customers choices – they want local food -- and
Sysco’s responsibility is to source local food that has also been grown under
safe, strict growing and harvesting conditions,” said Sysco Vice President of
Agricultural Sustainability Craig Watson.
“We chose PMA as our partner because they share our passion for helping
local growers grow safe food,” said Mr. Dachman. “It was remarkable to see
the transition of attendees from being skeptical of our food safety
requirements to actually being excited to get back to the farm and get
“PMA is committed to bringing real-world solutions to our industry’s food
safety needs to all produce operators, no matter the size, but we know small
growers in particular can face a hard time accessing the information and
resources they need,” said Dr. Whitaker. “Meanwhile, demand for locally
grown produce has significantly increased, creating a big need for this kind
of educational programming that we are proud to help meet.”
Dr. Whitaker noted that this small grower outreach is part of PMA’s overall
food safety program, which includes industry education, advocacy, knowledge
and outreach. For example, PMA founded the Center for Produce Safety at the
University of California-Davis and its international research program to help
answer industry’s most pressing food safety questions.