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As of Sept. 30, Wegmans Food Market will require all of its fresh produce suppliers to show they’ve passed a “Good Agricultural Practices” (GAPs) inspection. In 2008, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans phased in this requirement, first for growers of crops linked to past outbreaks of foodborne illness, like spinach or melons.
Over the next few years, the grocer expanded the requirement to apply to more types of fresh produce, and alerted growers that it would eventually require all of its produce partners to pass a GAPs audit. In advance of this requirement, Wegmans began hosting food safety education training sessions for growers in 2005, and several hundred growers have so far taken part in these programs.
“The good news is that nearly all of the growers we work with have already passed a GAPs audit,” noted Bill Pool, Wegmans’ food safety manager for produce, “and if a grower misses this deadline, we’ll look at reinstatement after they’ve passed an inspection.”
Designed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the voluntary audit system pinpoints key food safety issues for growers and enables them to verify that best practices are in place at their farms. In 2012, the USDA Audit Program performed more than 3,000 audits in 46 states, Canada and Chile, according to the department’s Agricultural Marketing Service website.
“These audits are the best way we have to know that a grower is following practices to minimize the chance of pathogens getting into the food supply,” explains Pool. “We all want to keep earning our customers’ trust in the safety of the fresh foods we offer.”
While most of the grocer’s larger grower partners completed audits soon after they became available, smaller local growers, lacking the same resources, lagged behind, so Wegmans stepped up to offer assistance. “We’ve partnered with research universities and held training sessions to help educate smaller growers,” said Pool. “Food safety concerns apply to farms of all sizes, and it doesn’t really matter if the farm is conventional or organic. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act has an exemption for small farms, but we believe that rigorous food safety standards should apply to all farms we work with.”
To that end, Wegmans held day-long education sessions for the growers, paying for training, materials and food. The sessions are offered regularly during the off-season in states where Wegmans operates stores.
Family-owned Wegmans operates 82 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts.