Records, he said, are important. “Keep it simple but keep it accurate.”

Product recalls may be the bane of the industry but Gombas said operations can survive—with adequate preparation. “You don’t have to do anything wrong to be caught up in a recall,” he said. “Recalls can be painful or very painful but fortune favors the prepared. Many unprepared companies no longer exist.”

He said likelihood of recalls is greater with increased surveillance of fresh produce for pathogens. “All fresh produce is now treated as ready-to-eat. And when pathogens are detected public health agencies are obligated to ask companies to recall the product.”

He said investigators “rarely find the cause” of contamination.

Audits are part of the process and a fact of doing business in the produce industry. Gombas said standards among different audits may be similar but “different enough to require complete repeat of an audit. Operations complain of ‘audit fatigue,’” he said.

“Also, customers have difficulty accepting audits from different schemes. Standards and audit processes are too different to compare results.”

An industry vision is to develop a “harmonized food safety standard and checklist for Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) audits and globally accepted auditing processes to protect consumers from potential hazards that may contaminate produce at that stage of the supply chain and that will build efficiencies into the audit process.”

Gombas said one audit by any credible third party should be acceptable to all buyers.