October 22, 2009

In Today's Issue:

Produce Industry Committed to Food Safety, Says United President at Senate Hearing

Tom Stenzel

United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel reiterated the produce industry's support for strong commodity-specific food safety standards during testimony before the United States Senate this morning.  This marks the 12th time United Fresh has testified before Congress on food safety since the Board of Directors adopted a series of policy principles for federal food safety oversight in January 2007.

Stenzel and Michael Roberson, director of corporate quality assurance for Publix Super Markets, were the only industry representatives invited to testify at the hearing together with Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  The hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions was the first to examine the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), introduced in March by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).

"The produce industry welcomes the opportunity to provide input on this extremely important legislation," said Stenzel.  "We will continue to push for standards that are commodity-specific and science-based, consistent and applicable regardless of where grown, and provided with sufficient federal oversight to ensure effectiveness and credibility."

Following the July passage of the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 in the House (HR. 2749), the Senate is now considering its own legislation on food safety, which will eventually be blended with the House bill. 

Stenzel also called on the Senate committee to reject calls to "water down" the food safety requirements in the bill as a way to satisfy some who say that small farms, organic farms, or others shouldn’t have to comply.  "Mr. Chairman, I have a number of small farms and organic farms in our membership, and all are committed to following the same food safety rules that FDA sets for anyone else.  Size does not determine the importance of food safety - every consumer's health is just as important whether purchasing vegetables at a farmers market or a grocery store.  Our industry has learned the painful lesson that we are only as strong as our weakest link.  If Congress truly wants to build public confidence in our food safety system, all fruits and vegetables must comply with basic safety rules no matter where or how grown."

Stenzel's complete testimony is available here, a summary can be found here, and a video recording of the entire hearing is available here.

IOM Report Recommends More Fruits and Vegetables in School Meals

Lorelei DiSogra
United Vice President of Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra chats with Mary Jo Tuckwell of the IOM’s Committee on Nutrition Standards for National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

United Fresh applauds Tuesday's release by the Institute of Medicine of School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children report.  Increasing both the amount and the variety of vegetables and fruits that schools offer in meals is one of IOM's top recommendations contained in the report for improving the healthfulness of school meals. During a press conference Tuesday, the chair of the IOM's Committee on Nutrition Standards for National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs noted the report’s goal of improving children's health and fostering healthy eating habits. The recommendations contained in the report are designed to bring school meals in line with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Dietary Reference Intakes.

Specific fruit and vegetable recommendations in the report include:

  • An increase in the amount of fruit offered in school breakfast to 1 cup per day for all students
  • An increase in the amount of fruit offered in school lunch to 1 cup per day for students in grades 9-12
  • An increase in the amount of vegetables offered in school lunch to ¾ cup per day for grades K-8 and to 1 cup per day for grades 9-12
  • An acknowledgement that improving the nutritional value of school meals by increasing servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains will increase the cost of breakfast by 25% and lunch by 9%
  • A requirement that students take at least one serving of fruit at breakfast and at least one serving of fruit or vegetable at lunch.

"The IOM's recommendations are everything that we worked for," said United Vice President of Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra. "Today's report means that more than 30 million students who eat school lunch every day will receive significantly more fruits and vegetables, as will the 10 million students who eat school breakfasts. In the wake of the CDC's recent report that American kids aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables, improving school meals is even more important than ever."

"This change is long overdue," continued Dr. DiSogra. "It has been 14 years since the school meal nutrition standards were last updated."

In the coming weeks, Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) plans to introduce the Children's Fruit and Vegetable Act of 2009 in Congress, supporting and reinforcing many of IOM's recommendations and promoting salad bars as an effective strategy to increase student access to a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in lunch rooms and cafeterias. Additionally, United Fresh is currently working on Capitol Hill to build broad bipartisan support for strengthening fruit and vegetable policies in the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.    

For more on United Fresh's efforts on child nutrition, please contact Dr. DiSogra at 202-303-3400 or ldisogra@unitedfresh.org.

GAO Report Contains Recommendations for Importers Similar to Produce Traceability Initiative

GAOThe Government Accountability Office has issued a report recommending that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seek congressional authority to assess penalties on food importers that violate FDA laws, as well as explore ways to identify importers with a unique identifier.

"If that sounds familiar," says Dan Vaché, vice president of supply chain management for United Fresh, "it is because the GAO recommendation is very similar to the first milestone of the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI): Assigning each company a unique prefix. In the event of a recall, this step would give FDA the ability to know instantly from which importer the tainted product came."

According to GAO, imported food makes up a substantial and growing portion of the U.S. food supply. To ensure imported food safety, federal agencies must focus their resources on high risk foods and coordinate efforts. Given these facts, GAO was charged with evaluating how three federal agencies: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and FDA work together to address challenges and oversee the safety of imported food. 

While the three agencies have worked to tackle challenges pertaining to the safety of imported foods, gaps in enforcement, collaboration and communication still serve to undermine progress, says the GAO report. "This lack of communication may potentially increase the risk that unsafe food could enter U.S. commerce without FDA review ...".

For more on the GAO report, click here, and for more on United’s work on traceability, please visit www.producetraceability.org.

Celebrating Fifty Years, Philadelphia Regional Produce Market Looks Toward Future

The main concourse of the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market's new Essington Avenue facility.

United Fresh Director of Membership Miriam Miller traveled to South Philadelphia Tuesday to join the celebration of the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market's 50th Anniversary, as well as to tour the site of the new market facility.

Celebration attendees viewed a photographic and video history of the Galloway Street location, which currently serves 500 customers an hour and supplies produce as far north as Canada and as far south as the Carolinas.  The group was then led on a tour of the market’s new Essington Avenue site.  Expected to open in the fall of 2010, the new market will offer 667,000 square feet of refrigerated space.

"Our members on the market are pleased to be celebrating fifty years of service to the City of Philadelphia at the Galloway Street location, but are thrilled at what the new market facility will offer their businesses," said Miller.  "The unique design of the new facility will enhance companies’ abilities to maintain the cold chain and monitor traffic."

USDA Looks to Study U.S. Household Food Purchasing Patterns

ERSThe US. Department of Agriculture has announced an upcoming survey that will explore food choices and expenditures by U.S. households. The National Household Food Purchase and Acquisition Study looks to "fill in critical gaps in existing data on the food purchases of U.S. households and be invaluable in assessing and enhancing the effectiveness of USDA's food assistance programs for low-income families," according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The survey will gather unique, detailed data not previously available to researchers. USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS), which made the selection, will use the resulting data to study how food assistance programs and other economic and demographic factors affect household food purchase decisions and health outcomes. This effort will be carried out with the support of USDA's Food and Nutrition Service.

"This study will allow us to enhance and increase the efficiency of federal nutrition assistance and education programs that serve as the nation's first line of defense against hunger and a critical safety net for the underserved Americans," said Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at USDA.

The results of this survey will allow USDA to understand how households make their purchase choices, and what those choices mean for diet quality, and also aims to answer questions like how price and income influence food choices and the dietary quality of food purchases; how participation in food assistance programs influences food purchases; how access and retail outlet choice and location influence food purchases and the resulting dietary quality of purchases; and the influence of nutrition knowledge on food purchases.

United Fresh Heads to North Carolina for Leafy Greens Hearing

Leafy GreensUnited Fresh Senior Vice President Robert Guenther is in Charlotte, N.C. today urging growers and other industry members to strongly consider the potential benefits of a National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) as the USDA continues a series of public hearings in the matter.

"It is critical that the produce industry be heard on this matter," said Guenther. "The Charlotte hearings offer growers in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast a chance to get involved in shaping the standards, ensuring local differences are allowed for, setting the funding rates, and really writing the rules of the road."

Today's hearing is the final in the series organized by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to consider the NLGMA proposal, which would establish a voluntary marketing agreement for leafy greens.

United President Tom Stenzel testified at a hearing earlier this month in Columbus, Ohio about the potential value of the NLGMA in restoring consumer confidence in fresh produce.

Also participating in the hearings were representatives of Western Growers Association. The NLGMA proponent group includes Georgia Fresh Vegetable Association, Georgia Farm Bureau, Produce Marketing Association, Western Growers Association, Texas Vegetable Association, Arizona Farm Bureau, Leafy Greens Council, California Farm Bureau, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and United Fresh.

For more information on the NLGMA, please visit www.nlgma.org or contact United Fresh at 202-303-3400.

Recall Training Kicks Off in West Palm Beach Next Week

Recall United Fresh and Syngenta are teamed up once again to help the produce industry take control and learn how to minimize the impact of a recall with Training for a Recall, Communicating Under Fire, October 27-29, in West Palm Beach, Fla.

This specialized training program is a two-day course that focuses on helping attendees understand the fundamentals of a product recall, including individual and corporate responsibilities, the role of the FDA, how to limit individual and corporate liability and manage customer expectations.  It also takes an in-depth look at how to build a customized communication plan in the event of a recall, and how to effectively communicate to the industry, customers, consumers and the media.

In addition to the two-day training course, United Fresh is offering a separate, customized media training session immediately following the recall training.  Designed to prepare attendees for the rigors of a real-life interview, program staff will stress the importance of adeptly navigating an interview, delivering the necessary messages and staying on point.

"This course is designed for everyone on your recall team including your management, technical, food safety, sales, marketing and communications staff," said Ray Gilmer, vice president, communications. "It combines recall protocols and communication management principles to ensure that your entire staff works together effectively and efficiently during a product recall."

Those interested in attending may reserve limited space in the training program by clicking here.  For more information and to read what past attendees have said about the program, click here, or contact Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education coordinator, at 202-303-3400 ext. 405.

New Member Welcome

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

  • BASF, Research Triangle Park, NC
  • Multisac, Montreal, QC
  • StePac USA, Encinitas, Calif.
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 at 831-422-0940 or Miriam Miller at 202-303-3410.

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