July 29, 2010

In Today's Issue:

United Fresh Unveils Blockbuster Speaker Lineup for WPPC

Deputy Secretary
Kathleen Merrigan

Senator Lindsey Graham

House Minority Leader
John Boehner

The architect of Obama Administration's "buy local" movement, one of the most important "deal makers" in the United States Senate, and one of the most recognizable faces in the House of Representatives will address attendees at the United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Public Policy Conference in September. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan will speak at the conference's Wednesday Keynote General Breakfast Session, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) will address congressional visit attendees after Wednesday's luncheon session and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) will join the United Fresh’s political supporters Wednesday night for dinner to benefit United FreshPAC, the association’s political action fund.

"The produce industry is in a very unique position," said United Fresh President Tom Stenzel. "We are currently invested in the outcomes of many important discussions on Capitol Hill; from locally-grown, energy, climate change and food safety, to labor, immigration and child nutrition. Having this caliber of lineup to address many of these important issues, the Washington Conference provides our attendees, the tools needed to continue tackling these issues. Deputy Secretary Merrigan, Senator Graham and Minority Leader Boehner are each at the core of these debates in Washington and having them speak to the industry is a fantastic opportunity."

  • Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan - One of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World," Deputy Secretary Merrigan oversees the day-to-day operation of USDA’s many programs, including the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" effort as well as USDA's other local food initiatives. Under these efforts, Merrigan pushes USDA to more simply connect farmers and consumers and support local and regional food systems.
  • Senator Lindsey Graham - Known as an independent and bipartisan voice, Senator Graham has long been one of the Senate's most important members, engaging in discussion with the White House and his Democratic colleagues on key issues such as immigration reform, climate change and energy policy. He has been an important supporter of the produce industry in South Carolina and across the country on a number of important issues.
  • House Minority Leader John Boehner - A former chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Minority Leader Boehner continues to shape issues that affect not just the produce industry but the entire country. As a key leader in the Republican Party, Rep. Boehner has appeared in many venues and across all of the major national media outlets discussing his party’s views on issues ranging from national security, energy, business, taxes, and health care.

The addresses by Merrigan, Graham and Boehner will headline the first day of the Washington Public Policy Conference, September 14-16 at the Gaylord National Hotel on the banks of the Potomac River. During the three-day conference, attendees will gather to discuss food safety, farm labor, nutrition and consumption, locally grown and other priority issues for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry. During the annual March on Capitol Hill, industry members will have the unique opportunity to meet in person with lawmakers and staff, discuss food safety policies with FDA officials, hear from key Cabinet officials and engage in face-to-face dialogue with President Obama's executive team.

This year's conference will also include the return of the Management Resource Center, where attendees can research and explore new solutions and technology providers, and the popular Fresh Festival on Capitol Hill, a favorite among industry members and congressional staffers alike. During Fresh Festival, House and Senate lawmakers and their staff join attendees to sample the various fruits and vegetables the produce industry has to offer. In addition to Fresh Festival, the conference will also include a New Orleans-themed cruise up the Potomac River to benefit United's A Salad Bar in Every School campaign. As part of the build-up to the United Fresh 2011 convention and expo in New Orleans, guests will enjoy Dixieland jazz, dinner and waterfront views of Washington, D.C., all while raising funds to provide salad bars to schools in New Orleans and nationwide.

Registration is now open for the 2010 Washington Public Policy Conference. More information may be found by contacting United Fresh Political Affairs Manager Angela Bezon at 202-303-3400, ext. 416 or by visiting http://www.unitedfresh.org.

United Fresh Responds to FDA on Preventive Controls for Fresh Produce

Food safety regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should not vary based on operational size, according to comments submitted to FDA by United Fresh this week. The comments refer to a potential regulation on fresh produce food safety, asserting that public health is not best served by exempting operations simply on the basis of size.

"Food safety hazards and risks may vary by commodity, region and growing/handling practices," said United Fresh in the comments, "… but not on size of operation."

FDA received over 600 submissions from the public since soliciting comments last February. United Fresh members met by teleconference and deliberated several times on how best to respond to FDA's 14 specific questions before submitting the final version last week.

"An FDA regulation on preventive controls for fresh produce will have a significant impact on our industry," said Dr. David Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology at United Fresh. "FDA is to be commended for their early and extended outreach to the industry and all stakeholders on how best to craft such a regulation. United Fresh members took the opportunity seriously in their deliberations and comments to FDA. With these comments, we look forward to a practical and effective proposed rule from FDA that meets our long-stated objectives of being 'based on a commodity-specific, risk-based approach, based on the best available science; consistent and applicable to the identified commodity or commodity sector, no matter where grown or packaged in the U.S., or imported into the country; and federally mandated with sufficient federal oversight of compliance in order to be credible to consumers.'"

For more on United's work on food safety, visit www.unitedfresh.org.

Meet the Member: Phil Muir, Muir Copper Canyon Farms

Beginning this week, Inside United Fresh will take a deeper look at the members that make up the United Fresh Produce Association. We want to hear about your history, your triumphs and your challenges. We'll start at altitude this week, talking with Phil Muir, United Fresh Board Member and president and CEO of Salt Lake City-based Muir Copper Canyon Farms. 

Inside United Fresh: How long has your company been in business?
Phil Muir: That is a difficult question for us. The Muir family has been growing and distributing fresh fruit and vegetables since 1850. Muir Copper Canyon Farms has been in business since 1999. However, Muir-Roberts Co., Inc. its predecessor was started in 1947. It was a grower, packer, and shipper of primarily potatoes, onions, apples, and cherries which sourced product from Oregon, Idaho, and Utah, selling its products nationwide. It progressively discontinued its shipping businesses from 1999 to 2005. Its predecessor started in 1921, and so on back to 1850. Our family has been active and associated with United Fresh for three generations and proud that both my father and grandfather were Chairmen of the Association. 

IUF: What values are most central to your company?
PM: 1) Family. That means treating customers, employees, and suppliers as if they are family. Treat all with respect and honesty. 2) Excellence, our customers deserve the best from each of our individual efforts. 3) Commitment. Our family has been committed to the produce business for 150 years. We must recommit ourselves each and every day. 

IUF:  How do the organization dynamics of your business factor in to your operation, and how does it help you fulfill your company values? 
PM: We follow the admonition of embracing change. If our organization is doing the same thing (i.e. processes, technology, products, etc.) that we did five years ago, we will quickly be out of business. Without adapting to and adopting change we truly cannot be sustainable. I am constantly observing others in our great industry and those that survive are continually improving and changing. Communication becomes paramount to change, because it takes constant brainstorming, consensus building, organizational structure adjustments, and adopting the best practices of others. It can't be accomplished without open communication. We have a positive attitude. At every managers meeting each manager must start with "What went right this week?"  We don't have problems, rather we have challenges we must overcome.  In this way, we focus on the three company core values of family, excellence and commitment.  

IUF:  What are some of the challenges your company has faced in the past year?
PM: The number one challenge has been to keep the ship afloat during the troubling economic times. We have had to face a downturn in business volume as people have slowed down their eating out habits in 2009 and the first half of 2010. We have had to be more creative in building business while doing more with fewer resources. We have to take a critical look at our customer base, including their long term viability, credit worthiness, and profitability. It has been tough, but in the long run it will make our business stronger. The second challenge we face is the cost of technology to push our business along with the rest of our industry toward Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) on the heels of some difficult profitability years. 

IUF: In terms of new products, projects or processes, what are you working on?
PM: We are focusing on new products that offer more convenience to our customers while protecting or improving the cost per serving, taking into account their on-site cost factors of labor and shrink. The new products now being offered that offer "ripe and ready at point of use" packaging technology are some with a lot of promise. Education of the customer base will be the key to converting customers over. We are re-working all of our technology for the next generation produce industry. We are also re-working many of our operational processes to streamline in preparation for new technology and the full implementation of PTI. 

IUF: Of the issues that we deal with as an industry which strikes a chord with you the most and why?
PM: First, the Produce Traceability Initiative, because of the cost. We must provide a safe product to the consuming public, but the cost will be tremendous. Second, childhood obesity. This includes the continued emphasis of healthy eating at the school level.  Our industry is at the center of the action and we must respond. This is a huge task to re-work the bureaucracy of the school lunch program, not only on the national level, but more critically and difficult, by the district level. This is important to our company because of our current commitment to the K-12 segment.  Finally, the crisis of food safety in the local movement. Small growers not being compliant to the current standards that commercial growers now meet, yet the consuming public believing the "if it is local, then it must be safe" mindset. This is also wrapped up in the sustainability issues, of proximity to market versus efficient use of overall market resources.

IUF: How does your company interact with the surrounding community, both in a community service sense and in a business sense?
PM: Our company is actively involved with community service. We participate annually with Food Bank drives, and daily making sure product gets utilized by the Food Bank system. We have participated on Food Bank committees, and have the commitment to solely support a parish food pantry. We actively support charitable causes that address, hunger, homelessness, childhood or health issues. We actively participate in locally produced issues such as "Utah's Own" initiative and other grass-roots organizations. We pride ourselves on the fact that we are a locally owned business and the money generated by our business supports many families in our community and stays in our community. We also believe that our company is part of a larger "Produce Industry" community, and that in order for us to be good citizens of this community we need to actively participate in solutions to the challenges ahead.

If you would like to have your company featured in an upcoming Inside United Fresh, contact Communications Manager Patrick Delaney at 202-303-3400, ext 417.

A Report on the Reportable Food Registry

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this week released its seven-month report on the Reportable Food Registry (RFR), the mandatory electronic reporting protocol for all FDA-registered facilities.

The report indicates that there were 125 "primary" reports of food and animal feed contamination in that period, of which nine were linked to RAC produce and two to fresh-cut, all for detection of pathogens. In a media teleconference Wednesday, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Mike Taylor said that firms that reported these contamination events were being responsible and doing the right thing. Taylor emphasized that the number of events reported is too small to draw inferences concerning patterns of adulteration or whether stronger oversight of any particular product or process is warranted.

United Fresh fresh-cut members and other members that are required to register their facilities with FDA are reminded that the RFR is mandatory and FDA has recently updated its procedures for compliance. Questions regarding the RFR can be directed to Dr. David Gombas at 202-303-3400, ext. 411.

Gombas to Speak, United Fresh to Sponsor Italian Fresh-Cut Short Course

For the fourth straight year, United Fresh will sponsor a short course on fresh-cut produce in Italy early this fall. The three-day "Quality & Safety of Fresh-Cut Produce" will take place September 27-29 at the Auditorium Castello Normanno-Svevo in Mesagne, Italy, and will feature several presentations from United Fresh Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas.

"Year in, year out, we are proud and excited to sponsor this short course as a service to our European members in the fresh-cut convenience sector," said Gombas. "I am honored to join other instructors from some of the top research universities and companies in the United States and Europe for what promises to be an educational three days."

The program is designed for individuals from the fresh and processed fruit and vegetable industry, including food scientists, food engineers, quality assurance personnel and new product development staff.

For more information, please click here.

FPFC Honors United Fresh with Norman "Buz" Bolstad Award

Jan De Lyser, California Avocado Commission, left, and FPFC President Carissa Mace, right, present the Norman “Buz” Bolstad award to Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United Fresh.

During its Southern California Expo in Anaheim, Calif., last week, the Fresh Produce and Floral Council awarded United Fresh the Norman "Buz" Bolstad Award for service to the fresh produce industry. United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel and Vice President of Membership Jeff Oberman were on hand for the presentation.

"For decades," said Jan DeLyser of FPFC and the California Avocado Commission, "… the United Fresh Produce Association has spearheaded efforts across the country to encourage increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially in children. Their collaborative style of working with other industry organizations has lead to achievements that are beneficial to all."

"United is a valuable resource for the FPFC and its membership during those times when accurate, reliable information is needed in a hurry," said FPFC President Carissa Mace. "We depend on their expertise during food recalls, natural disasters and labor disputes that affect the produce business.  The FPFC is a regional association with a staff of three and we can’t possibly have the expertise and talent that United has on board.  We are very fortunate that when crisis hits, United is there for the entire industry."

"I am tremendously gratified to hear President Mace talk about the collaborative relationship between our associations, and the value they find in our working together in so many ways," said Stenzel. "Jeff and I were truly honored to be present in Los Angeles to accept the award on all behalf of the entire Board, volunteer leadership and staff team." 

Champions of Produce Stop by as United Fresh Wraps up Summers PAC Fundraising Series

Congressman Dennis Cardoza

Congressman Sam Farr

United Fresh hosted two events at its Washington, D.C., headquarters recently, benefiting specialty crop proponents on Capitol Hill. Congressmen Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA), both long-time allies of the fresh and fresh-cut produce industry in California and nationwide, both seek reelection in November.

"Both Rep. Farr and Rep. Cardoza have worked closely with United Fresh throughout their terms to ensure the success of produce businesses not only in their districts and in the Golden State, but all across the country," said United Fresh Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther.

Rep. Farr represents California's 17th District, including Salinas and Monterey, and Rep. Cardoza represents the state's 18th District, including Stockton and Modesto.

North Carolina Produce Seminar Tackles Traceability

United Fresh Vice President of Supply Chain Management Dan Vaché spoke before more than 60 members of the North Carolina specialty crop industry earlier this month at a traceability seminar hosted by the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation. In his presentation, Vaché emphasized the importance of food safety with traceability and the Produce Traceability Initiative as critical piece of the puzzle.

"It is clear that the members of the North Carolina produce industry appreciate the leadership shown by United Fresh and the larger produce industry in taking on traceability before it is legislated and the use of standards to avoid industry confusion," said Vaché. "North Carolina has a multitude of small- and medium-sized growers and shippers and they must each be part of the solution, as each business plays an important role in the success of the perishables industry in the United States. To see these growers represented, voicing their feedback, suggestions and concerns about PTI is very encouraging."

For more on the Produce Traceability Initiative, visit www.producetraceability.org.

United's Produce Inspection Training Program Returns

United Fresh and USDA have again partnered to present the popular Produce Inspection Training Program, September 20-24 at the USDA Fresh Products Branch National Inspectors' Training and Development Center in Fredericksburg, Va.

This specialized training course is developed into two courses: Fundamentals of Produce Inspection and Commodity Labs. Fundamentals of Produce Inspection, a prerequisite for the Commodity Labs course, is a classroom-based program that covers the fundamentals of produce inspections such as grading, standards, tolerances, PACA and sampling procedures.

The 3-day Commodity Labs 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.

"From growers to retailers, if you receive, handle, buy, ship, or sell produce, this course is for you," said Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education manager. "The two-day fundamentals course provides knowledge that anyone who handles produce needs to have, while the commodity labs course enriches and reinforces that knowledge utilizing hands-on lab-based training with USDA's own trainers."

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

New Member Welcome

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

  • D'Arrigo Brothers of California, Salinas, CA
  • Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Group, LLC, Washington, DC

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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