International Produce Training

USDA Food Safety Audit Programs

If you have taken notice, there has been quite a bit of news recently involving produce recalls involving green onions and spinach.  Various blogs are posting comments related to recalls in general, the responsibilities of industry, and the blame on the food safety auditing firms.  The Leafy Greens Marketing Order (LGMA) has taken the brunt of the criticism as the recent food safety incidents may have originated from California farms or packing houses.  I want to emphasize the word “may,” as the FDA is completing their investigation.

I have nothing negative to say about the LGMA and their auditing program.  About two years ago I accompanied an auditor from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and witnessed first hand the many technicalities involved in the food safety plans and audits. 

Many of the states also have started up food safety audit programs, under the licensing guidelines and authority of the USDA Fresh Products Branch, within the GAP/GHP Program.  These auditors do have to meet some minimum qualifications.  I could not find any official qualifications from the USDA, but I did come across the minimum qualifications of a USDA/Oregon GAP/GHP auditor:

  • Must be an Oregon Department of Agriculture Employee and a USDA licensed produce inspector
  • Must have completed and passed a USDA auditor training class
  • Must have completed food safety training and receive continuing food safety education
  • Must shadow and/or be supervised by a licensed GAP/GHP auditor for a minimum of three audits

The discussion that is brewing is the fact the USDA is blocking the use of private third party audit firms from USDA programs.  Is this a good idea?  For example, the LGMA requires all participating firms to use the USDA/Calif auditing program.  Included in the federal register notice, for a national leafy greens marketing order is the same language, mandating the use of the USDA Inspection Service (and state cooperators) as the auditors.

Should the USDA restrict the use of audit firms, under this program?  The USDA also mandates that any shipper selling their product to the USDA’s Commodity Procurement Program (School Lunch purchases) must also be audited by the USDA Inspection Service.  I have nothing against the USDA’s audit program, but should it be the only act in town?  Many growers are already required to utilize other third certifications, such as SQF, and GlobalGap for their marketing needs.  The expense involved for setting up and adhering to these requirements can be costly, and no one will disagree these certifications are harder to achieve than a USDA GAP/GHP certification.  Shouldn’t the USDA recognize these higher certifications as being acceptable?  After all, the companies don’t just hire anyone off the street.  A check on the minimum requirements for a Food Safety Auditor for Primus include:

  • Bachelor’s degree in Agronomy or related food or environmental science
  • Minimum of 1 to 2 years of auditing experience 

It does appear many in the produce industry are beginning to question the mandated use of the USDA Inspection service for their audits.  If they already have a program in place, a better program, shouldn’t that be good enough for the USDA?  Everyone realizes the USDA is placing this restriction to guarantee a constant source of revenue, to help stabilize their inspection program.  But should money for a government program overshadow the costs placed on an already stressed industry?

And lastly, if you are interested in reviewing a very well written GAP/GHP Process please take a look at this document created by the Washington Department of Agriculture.  It is easy to understand and may answer many of your questions pertaining to preparing a food safety plan.  Washington State GAP/GHP Document

One Comment on “USDA Food Safety Audit Programs”

Kelly Says:

I have been working in the food industry for 15+ years and wanted to look into becoming a food saftey auditor. What avenues should I take to get into this field? I am also really interested in presueing a position in quality insurance inspection for restaurants and or hotels. Any information you can give me would be wonderful. Thank you in advance.

Leave a Comment