July 16, 2009

In Today's Issue:

United Fresh Member McDonald Testifies on Food Safety

McDonald (center) discusses food safety with FDA officials during a 2007 visit

Drew McDonald, vice president of national quality systems for Salinas, Calif.-based Taylor Farms went before the House Agriculture Committee today to discuss food safety. Representing United Fresh as well as Western Growers Association and Produce Marketing Association, McDonald testified as part of a panel convened to discuss the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, which has passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee but has yet to be taken up by the full House.

In his testimony, McDonald spoke about the food safety challenges that Taylor Farms experiences like audit cost and consistency. "One of our greatest challenges today is the lack of consistent and agreed upon standards for food safety audits. Without a government-endorsed standard, the produce industry faces multiple, redundant audits, which in most cases are not interchangeably acceptable to different buyers," he said.

McDonald also spoke of the need for improved accountability and transparency as well as increased communication and collaboration between government and industry. He also spoke about food safety research and the status of current food safety legislation.

"Drew's testimony today is an important step in the push for better and more accountable food safety in America," said United President Tom Stenzel. "Perhaps most importantly, the steps Drew advocated in his testimony are the ones that have long guided our efforts as well: That legislation must allow for a commodity-specific approach, based on the best available science; that it must be consistent and applicable to the identified commodity or commodity sector, no matter where grown or packed in the United States, or imported into the country; and that it must be federally mandated with sufficient federal oversight of compliance in order to be most credible to consumers."

For a full transcript of McDonald's testimony, please click here.

Vitter Amendment Clouds the Future for Social Security No-Match Rule

David VitterLate last week, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) was successful in attaching an amendment to the Senate Homeland Security FY2010 Appropriations Bill that would block the Obama Administration from rescinding the Social Security "No-Match" rule. Just 24 hours earlier, the Department of Homeland Security had released a statement indicating their intent to do away with that rule.

The administration's decision was based upon concern over deficiencies in the rulemaking process that led to federal court intervention blocking its implementation. For more on recent developments regarding the No-Match Rule, please see last week's Inside United Fresh article here.

Senator Vitter's action is not the final word on the matter.  It is still possible for his amendment to be stripped from the bill in conference.  Additionally, it may be possible to complete the rescission of the rule prior to the end of the current fiscal year, thereby alleviating the need to use any FY2010 money.

CIFOR Publishes Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Outbreak Response

CIFORThe Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (CIFOR) released its Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Outbreak Response Wednesday, targeting local, state and federal agencies in order to provide model practices used in foodborne disease outbreaks. These practices include planning, detection, investigation, control and prevention.

As local and state agencies vary in their approach to, experience with, and capacity to respond to foodborne disease outbreaks, these guidelines are intended to give all agencies a common foundation from which to work and to provide examples of the key activities that should occur during the response to outbreaks of foodborne disease.

The guidelines were developed by a broad range of contributors from local, state and federal agencies with expertise in epidemiology, environmental health, laboratory science and communications, including United Fresh; the only produce trade association in the CIFOR Working Group.

"On the whole, we are happy with the council's work," said United Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas. "Any time steps are taken to provide a benchmark from which different bodies can synchronize their efforts, progress is being made."

The document is not intended to replace current procedure manuals for responding to outbreaks. Instead, it is designed to be used as a reference document for comparison with existing procedures; to fill in gaps and update site-specific procedures; to provide models for new procedures where they do not exist; and to provide training to program staff.

"It is our hope that this document will be useful to investigators at all levels in improving outbreak investigations and serve as a platform for developing local and agency-specific policies and additional tools to support these critical public health activities," said  Dr. Tim Jones, Tennessee State Epidemiologist and Co-Chair of CIFOR.

For more information contact CIFOR's Lauren Rosenberg at (770) 458-3811 or to access the guidelines document, please visit www.cifor.us.

United Fresh Applauds Support for Fruits and Vegetables from First Lady

Michelle ObamaMichelle Obama and her passion for eating more fresh fruits and vegetables made the front page of the Washington Post's July 15 food section. The illustration accompanying the article depicts local kids are happily eating the fresh vegetable salad she is making as she sets an example for the country.>

As the article notes, Mrs. Obama is utilizing a broad approach to healthier eating for kids and families and committed to accomplishing her food policy goals. At the center of Obama's mission has been increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables, including more produce in school meals. The first family's private chef Sam Kass has also been actively participating in nutrition policy discussions that will impact the upcoming 2009 Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill.

"Mrs. Obama's commitment and support for increasing children's fruit and vegetable consumption is a theme in almost every speech and appearance she makes," says United Vice President of Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra. "She is the administration's major spokesperson for good nutrition and the policy changes that need to take place in the coming years. Her role, actions and commitment clearly signal what her priorities are and her support is critically important to us as we drive policy changes that will increase fruit and vegetable consumption over the next few years."

For full text of the article, please click here.

ICE Begins Aggressive I-9 Audits

DHSIn the absence of immigration reform for agriculture, federal authorities are continuing to ramp up pressure on employers. U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement has announced a major new initiative comprised of I-9 employment eligibility form audits nationwide.

ICE began this action by issuing over 650 notices to employers that they will be the target of an audit. This initial round of notices is more than ICE issued for the entirety of 2008.

"This action highlights the need for Congress to take action in support of immigration reform for agriculture," said Kam Quarles, vice president of government relations and legislative affairs. "Employers are seeing unilateral action on enforcement, without addressing our broken system of immigration laws through reforms to ensure that our immigration laws respond to current and future needs."

A full copy of the DHS release can be found here.

United's Produce Inspection Training Program Returns

Produce Insepction
Produce Inspection Training Program attendees discuss cucumbers

United Fresh and USDA have again partnered to present the popular Produce Inspection Training Program, September 21-25 in Fredericksburg, Va. Divided into two sections, this unique program is designed to provide real, hands-on instruction from USDA experts to anyone involved in the produce supply chain. "From growers to retailers, if you receive, handle, buy, ship, or sell produce, this course is for you," said Victoria Backer, United Fresh senior vice president of member services.

This specialized training course is developed into two courses: Introduction to Produce Inspection and Advanced Produce Inspection. The introductory course is a classroom based program that covers the fundamentals of produce inspections such as grading, standards, tolerances, PACA, and sampling procedures. Additionally, the introductory course is a prerequisite for the advanced course.

The 3-day advanced course focuses on hands-on commodity inspections in the lab. Each advanced course includes inspection of the five most commonly requested commodities: grapes, lettuces, potatoes, strawberries and tomatoes. Plus, in addition to these five, each course will be customized with up to ten additional commodities based on the attendees' most common preferences.

"I came away with a better understanding of inspection procedures and tolerances, which has helped our operations tremendously,” said Sysco’s Jim Balaguer, a past program attendee. “I strongly recommend this program to others, regardless of their present level of experience."

Click here for Produce Inspection flyer and downloadable registration form or contact Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education coordinator, at jjacocks@unitedfresh.org or 202-303-3400 ext 405.

United Fresh Member Produce Served to Senate Republicans

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (second from left) entertained GOP colleagues last week with produce from Walter P. Rawl and Sons.

Produce from South Carolina's own Walter P. Rawl and Sons was included in a luncheon for Senate Republicans on July 9.  The event, hosted by Senator Lindsey Graham, aimed to give Senate members of the GOP a taste of South Carolina cuisine, and included fried green tomatoes, collard greens, peach cobbler and boiled peanuts accompanying lowcountry shrimp and stone ground grits.

Rawl and Sons is no stranger to Washington. Recipients of the Industry Advocate of the Year Award at last year's Washington Public Policy Conference, the company dispatched director of field operations Charles Wingard to Capitol Hill to press Congress for increased access to fruits and vegetables in schools across South Carolina and the nation.

Most recently, Wingard was invited to testify on food safety as a representative of United Fresh and the entire produce industry.  "Congratulations to Rawl and Sons on this unique opportunity," said United President Tom Stenzel. "As one of our most involved members, the dedication that the Rawl team has shown in attending WPPC, staying connected and pushing for change is paying off in some great exposure this month in the Senate lunchroom!"

United Fresh Staff Wields Knives, Other Dangerous Kitchen Utensils in First Annual Cooking Competition

Cook Off
United staffers Dan Vaché, Tressie Tillar, Andrew Marshall, Julie Jacocks and Tom Stenzel choose tomatoes for Monday's competition

Fresh peaches and heirloom tomatoes were the centerpieces of United’s inaugural cooking competition, held during the association’s annual summer staff outing this week. Complete with scrutinizing judges and hungry fans, three teams of United staffers gathered at Washington cooking school CulinAerie, to test their gastronomic mettle.

The teams were charged with creating one tomato and one peach dish and given one hour to complete each. Dishes included jerk chicken with peach, mango and tomato salsa, peach cobbler paired with homemade ice cream, peach and tomato gazpacho alongside a spring bruschetta of diced peaches and tomatoes, and broiled tomatoes stuffed with lamb, rice and tzatziki sauce.

The winning team of Ray Gilmer, Jill Grigg, Miriam Miller and Tom Stenzel served twin lamb chops on a pureed tomato base, coupled with a peach smoothie and blueberry-peach strudel. "I was amazed at the culinary skill of the staffers here at United," said Stenzel. "From the preparation to the presentation, there was real artistry at work."

Judge Patrick Delaney suspected that insider knowledge may have played a part in some of the entries.   "The large portion size was interesting,” he commented. “I suspect that each team did their homework on my eating habits and served me accordingly."

United Fresh to Entertain WPPC Attendees at Nationals Park

Nats Park

In addition to a full slate of activities on Capitol Hill, attendees at this year's Washington Public Policy Conference will have the added enjoyment of watching the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies take on the hometown favorite Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.

"We couldn’t be more excited about this year's event," raved Angela Bezon, United's manager of political affairs. "Not only will this year's attendees be able to make a real difference on produce policy in Washington, they'll be able to do so from the best seat in the nicest ballpark in baseball."

The event will be held Thursday, September 10, with all proceeds to benefit the United FreshPAC, which helps elect, and re-elect pro-produce candidates. All United FreshPAC funds support members of Congress who support the fresh fruit and vegetable industry on issues important to United Fresh members.

"It is vital that the produce industry participates in growing a successful PAC to give our industry a voice and actively work to advance the produce industry's interests," said Bezon. "Great events like the one coming up at WPPC give our members the opportunity to affect great change, and have a great time doing it!"

To register, contact Angela at 202-303-3400 ext. 416 or click here.

What They're Saying about WPPC

Bob Morrissey
Executive Director
National Watermelon Association

"I feel my members get excellent value from the Washington Public Policy Conference, including a first-hand look at federal and international politics and how agriculture ties in. One of the truly unique things about WPPC though is the opportunity for face-to-face meetings with legislators and key staffers as well as access to offices, legislators, administration and other opportunities in D.C. not typically readily available to the general public. What this breeds is a real understanding and appreciation for United's and NWA's lobbying efforts on the Hill, with the administration, USDA, FDA and other federal bodies on behalf of the industry and our established priorities and needs," said Morrissey.

"I ask our attendees following WPPC what their take-away is each year. Time and time again, it is an eye-opening experience for them. Key issues such as immigration are frustrating to them, as it is with all of us, but they know how so many of us are working on that and other issues like it very hard. Otherwise, the overwhelming feedback is that the trip is very much worthwhile, and they will be back. We show growth in numbers each year, and project that growth to continue. Now it is up to other crop groups to do the same."

Meet Your United Fresh Staff

Erin and Mom United Fresh welcomes Erin Grether as a summer intern in our Washington, D.C. headquarters. The Ventura County, Calif. native recently graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. with a B.A. in public relations.

The daughter of a lemon and avocado grower, Erin has been directly involved in the farming and agriculture industry for more than 20 years. Her family has over 100 acres of fruit trees, growing for the Sunkist Packing House in Oxnard, Calif. Avid horse lovers, Erin and her family operate a full equestrian facility next to the ranch where they breed racehorses.

She will be concentrating on projects concerning the upcoming Washington Public Policy Conference, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, as well as the campaign for a salad bar in every school.

New Member Welcome

Each week, United Fresh welcomes its newest partners in building a stronger produce industry:

  • Accu-Label, Inc., Leamington, Ontario
  • Little Caesar Enterprises, Detroit, Mich.
  • Intergrow Greenhouses, Inc., Albion, N.Y.
United Fresh thanks all current members for their dedication to the Association and the produce industry. Please let us know whenever we can be of service to you.  For more details about the benefits of membership, please contact Jeff Oberman or Miriam Miller at 202-303-3400.

Upcoming United Fresh Events
Upcoming Events

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