When buying produce, many consumers note food safety as one of the most important things they consider. Consumers prefer produce backed by trustworthy verified and certified processes. As a result, more retail and foodservice sectors are requiring growers to undergo food safety audits. In an effort to meet this demand, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Fresh Products Division, which provides voluntary, audit-based programs utilizing Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices (GAP/GHP), recently reached an agreement with Wal-Mart.
The division will now provide auditing services to verify farmers are meeting the requirements of the Produce GAP Harmonized Food Safety Standards along with Wal-Mart-specific food safety requirements. The integration of our auditing services into retail purchasing processes helps local farmers meet the quality assurances needed to sell their fruits and vegetables to nationwide chains, such as Wal-Mart.
“Having the right tools and partners to ensure the safety of our food is critical,” said Frank Yiannas, Vice President of Food Safety for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. “The collaboration between USDA and Wal-Mart is a great example of two organizations committed to strengthening the safety of our food supply and recognizing the value of using new technologies and resources to achieve enhanced food safety.”
Wal-Mart joins an increasing number of retailers, local and regional businesses, and grower groups who use USDA’s auditing services. This list includes organizations who are involved in the Arizona and California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and the California Avocado Commission. Last year, USDA performed over 3,000 food safety audits nationwide.
AMS was one of the first organizations to perform audits as part of the industry-supported Produce GAP Harmonization Initiative. The initiative harmonizes basic GAP retail and food service sector audits to minimize duplication. Through the Produce GAP Harmonized Food Safety Standard process, AMS works with small and mid-sized suppliers to verify their on-farm practices meet food safety criteria required by establishments like Wal-Mart and other retailers.
GAP and GHP are key parts of USDA’s commitment to support local and regional food systems. These programs help build trust between farmer and consumer, distributor and retail chain. With the help of FDA, the produce industry and companies like Wal-Mart, we will continue our efforts to improve our food supply and increase consumer confidence in the foods that they eat.