Common Market Georgia Earns Leading Safe Quality Food Certification

Staff Report From Metro Atlanta CEO

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Today’s consumers are expecting more from their food, and that means expecting more from the entire food chain. While the majority of food service providers in the institutional marketplace would prefer to offer their patrons fresh, local food, the issue of getting certifiably safe products from independent producers is a major hurdle. For The Common Market Georgia, that’s no longer a problem.

Based in Atlanta, The Common Market Georgia is the only local food hub in the region to receive the Safe Quality Foods certification and is second only to its flagship The Common Market Mid-Atlantic, which became the first local food hub in the nation to receive the certification in 2016.
This globally recognized certification involves a strict and comprehensive validation process to gaurantee that all food safety control systems in place have been implemented effectively and undergo continuous, robust monitoring procedures to ensure only the safest of foods reach consumers.
“The certification is a way for us add legitimacy to the local food space by focusing on safety from our vendor supply all the way to our customers,” says Lily Rolader, director of The Common Market Georgia. “It’s a way for us to increase confidence [...] and increase transparency around the process.”
With these increases also comes a reinforcement of Common Market’s mission to support local farms in accessing the institutional marketplace.
Broadline distributors and full-service food providers — companies like SYSCO and US Foods  — also carry the SQF certification, but they are typically too big to interface with smaller-scale producers because of stricter liability and compliance mandates. Smaller producers may not have the wherewithal to complete the time-consuming, expensive processes involved in SQF’s certification.
Additionally, food service providers that connect larger institutions with locally sourced products are far and few between; those that include smaller and/or family-run operations are almost nonexistent. For The Common Market, however, bridging these gaps in the food chain is a top priority.
“We’re trying to create a resilient regional food system and looking to see how we can reject some of the conventional ways that the food system has developed,” says Rolader. “We can [achieve this] by working with local producers through a traditional marketplace, but mixing up the way people receive and connect with their food — like giving farmers a chance to tell their story. The SYSCOs of the world are too big for that.”
The Common Market Georgia connects institutions with over 30 producers throughout Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee, all located with 250 miles of the Atlanta-based warehouse.  The farmer-suppliers at Common Market go through comprehensive approval and inspection processes, which prepare them for certification from the USDA-compliant, third party food safety program, Good Agricultural Practices.  Through a partner grant with Global Growers, a Georgia organization that connects farmers to land, education, and markets, The Common Market Georgia is working toward 100 percent GAP certification for its suppliers.
Setting the highest standard of approval for new suppliers is a way for The Common Market Georgia to “open up windows of opportunity for [the farmers] to quickly scale up and serve  larger institutions,” says Rolader.