Last week, the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) and the California Tomato Farmers (CTF) cooperative held field and packinghouse food safety tours in Santa Maria and Ventura for 14 representatives from major foodservice, distributor and retail chains.

“Both the LGMA and CTF were founded on the belief that mandatory government inspections are an essential component to improve food safety, build consumer confidence and protect public health so it was natural for us to partner on this tour,” says Scott Horsfall, CEO of the LGMA.

Tour participants met with United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials and California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) auditors and were able to actively participate in the auditing process in both tomato and leafy greens fields as well as a tomato packinghouse. Roundtable discussions with industry leaders, USDA officials and CDFA auditors were conducted at the end of each day to review what was seen and to talk about the unique benefits of the government auditing system.

“Because they are government agencies, USDA and CDFA can be limited in promoting all the benefits of their system, including being the only truly independent third party auditors, having multiple eyes reviewing every audit, reporting requirements to public health agencies, extensive auditor training and continuing education requirements, and comprehensive auditor evaluations to ensure performance uniformity,” says Ed Beckman, president of CTF. “Tours like this allow our customers to see and learn firsthand about the numerous food safety benefits a government auditing system provides.”

“I found it very helpful to learn more about the USDA audit program,” says Scott Brooks of Yum Brands. “I was not aware of all that goes into the program, such as the extensive training and calibration of the USDA auditors. This was really eye opening to me and something I will take back and share.”

Tour participants included representatives from Burger King, Costco, Dine Equity, ProAct, Yum Brands, Jack in the Box, Del Taco, Markon, Carl’s Jr., and In-N-Out Burger.

“While there are differences in the programs, last week’s tour showed that both LGMA and CTF are much more than just an audit score. When you buy from a certified member of LGMA or CTF, you know that supplier is 100 percent in compliance with established food safety standards and is part of a comprehensive model program,” Horsfall says.

“As we move forward with continued refinements and improvements to our systems, we both strongly believe that the USDA is uniquely positioned to provide independent food safety audits for our industries,” Beckman adds.