Representatives of the fresh tomato supply chain will convene at the headquarters of the Florida Tomato Exchange in Maitland this February to review how well the Food Safety Programs and Auditing Protocol for the Fresh Tomato Supply Chain, more commonly referred to as the Tomato Metrics, have worked over the past year in providing guidance on effective food safety systems for tomato production and handling, and as an audit tool to demonstrate the effectiveness of those systems. The meetings, Feb. 1-2, are open to all stakeholders interested in safe production and handling practices for fresh tomatoes.

During the meetings, the group will also hear observations from auditors and customers, opportunities to improve and enhance the standards, and briefings from FDA officials like Dr. Michelle Smith from the agency’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, on recent tomato operation investigations.

"It's been invaluable to watch the development of the Tomato Food Safety System and Audit Protocol. This work helped inform our draft Tomato Supply Chain guidance in 2009,” said Smith. “I'm looking forward to hearing about the industry’s efforts to foster adoption of this program and how it has worked over the last year. We congratulate the tomato industry on its continuing efforts to ensure the adoption of best practices for the growing, packing and handling of tomatoes along the supply chain."

The Tomato Metrics were originally developed by the industry in a series of meetings in 2008 in an attempt to create a single audit checklist for fresh tomato production and handling anywhere in the U.S. or Mexico. Those meetings included dozens of the tomato industry’s major growers, handlers and foodservice and retail customers, as well as federal and state officials, third party auditors and academic researchers. The Tomato Metrics were ultimately released as four standards, with corresponding audit checklists, covering open field production, harvest and field packing; greenhouse; packinghouse; and repacking and distribution. The standards were last reviewed by the industry in 2010 and revised documents were released in 2011. Spanish translations were developed by La Confederación de Asociaciones Agrícolas del Estado de Sinaloa (CAADES). United Fresh Produce Association serves as the secretariat for the Tomato Metrics and all of the standards and checklists are available on the United Fresh website at www.unitedfresh.org/tomatometrics.

“The Tomato Metrics remains a joint effort of the entire supply chain and it's rewarding to all involved that the resulting protocol is becoming a requirement of major buyers in the United States,” said Ed Beckman, president of California Tomato Farmers. “California Tomato Farmers remains committed to the harmonization of food safety protocol and the adoption of a single audit, universally accepted by all customers.”

“The food safety standards of the Florida State Regulatory program were based on the Tomato Metrics process and the State continues to work with the Tomato Metrics to maintain a harmonized audit program for the tomato industry in Florida,” added Reggie Brown, executive director of the Florida Tomato Exchange.