December 9, 2010

In Today's Issue:

House Passes Continuing Resolution with Senate Food Safety Bill Included, United Responds

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday evening to pass the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, as part of the Continuing Resolution. Contained in the bill were many important provisions supported by United Fresh, but also a controversial amendment proposed by Senator Jon Tester of Montana that will allow for the exemption based on the size of their business, their geographic location, or to whom they sell their products.

Robert Guenther, United's senior vice president of public policy offered the following summation of Wednesday’s developments. "United Fresh has strongly supported modernization of our food safety laws for the past four years, working with members of Congress and the administration, and testifying before House or Senate committees more than 10 times. There is no doubt the food safety bill passed as part of the Continuing Resolution contains a number of important provisions that we have long supported, including implementation of preventive controls for production and processing of specific fruits and vegetables when shown necessary by a risk-based, scientific analysis by FDA."

"Yet," Guenther continued"... the Tester amendment inserted into the Senate bill and now passed by the House weakens public health protection by exempting some producers and processors based on entirely non science-based factors, limiting FDA's ability to assure consumers that all foods they purchase, whether at grocery stores, restaurants, farm markets, or elsewhere, have all met the same food safety standards."

In recent weeks, United Fresh withdrew its longstanding support for the bill based on the inclusion of the exemptions contained in the Tester amendment, citing the dangerous loopholes it would create through the application of non-scientific based regulations. After the Senate version of the bill passed, only to be sidetracked by a procedural issue, the association encouraged the resolution of the exemption conflict through a conference between the House and Senate.

"We fear that this profound error will come back to haunt the Congress, public health agencies, consumers and even those who thought they would benefit from food safety exemptions," said Guenther. "Food safety must be a universal commitment, shared by all who would grow, process and sell foods. While the food safety bill will do much good, it is highly regrettable that the House leadership failed to exercise its responsibility to engage with the Senate in a conference to fix these provisions. Our industry and a large number of House members have urged repeatedly over the past week that a conference could be completed within the remaining days of this session. When it became apparent that the House would need to pass its own bill due to the constitutional problems with the Senate bill, this afforded the direct opportunity to provide due diligence to correct this mistake, and send a better bill back to the Senate, which must again pass the bill in any case." 

Guenther did, however, acknowledge the progress made and said the association would look forward to continued work with Congress on food safety matters.

"For all of us who have worked long and hard to pass food safety reform, this is a bittersweet moment, with a job only partially done," added Guenther. "As we look ahead, we will continue to voice our strong support for uniform, risk-based food safety standards, whether in the remaining days of this Congress, or in the new Congress convening in January."


Capitol Hill Enrollment Ceremony for Child Nutrition Bill

United Fresh joined House and Senate leaders and other child nutrition advocates Friday afternoon at a ceremony at the Capitol for a formal enrollment of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. During the ceremony, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the legislation, the last official step before the bill is sent to President Obama at the White House.

Joining Speaker Pelosi at the ceremony were members of the House and Senate who championed the child nutrition bill, each recognized by the Speaker for their leadership on child nutrition and commitment to passing this bill. Congressman Sam Farr was specifically thanked for his ongoing commitment to increasing fruits and vegetables in school meals.

Following a standing ovation, congressional leaders thanked the advocates for their two and a half years of work on this historic bill to improve the healthfulness of school meals and create healthier school food environments. It is anticipated that President Obama will host a signing ceremony at the White House next week.


Q3 FreshFacts on Retail Shows Gains for Most of the Top Produce Categories

Weekly dollar sales and per store volume of fresh and fresh-cut produce has gained over the third quarter of 2010, when compared with the same period in 2009. The average price of produce at supermarkets in the third quarter has also increased, according to the latest edition of FreshFacts® on Retail, the quarterly retail research report of the United Fresh Foundation.

According to the report, consumers showed with their pocketbooks that the quality and nutrition of fresh produce was still a high priority in the third quarter. Even with higher prices in some categories, consumers purchased more produce, resulting in sales gains for a majority of the top 10 produce categories as well as organic and value‐added produce.

The FreshFacts® on Retail report, produced in partnership with the Perishables Group and sponsored by Del Monte Fresh Produce, measures retail price and sales trends for the top 10 fruit and vegetable commodities, as well as value-added, organic and other produce categories.

Highlights of this quarter's report include:

  • A 3.1 percent increase in weekly dollar sales of vegetables, and 2.2 percent for fruits
  • Seven out of the top 10 fruits and top 10 vegetables grew in dollar sales compared to 2009
  • Dollar growth in the top 10 vegetable categories was primarily driven by onions, which saw a 26.1 percent increase in dollar sales
  • Gains in both dollars and volume for value‐added fruits and vegetables
  • Sales of produce items sold in the deli increased through a 7.9 percent sales gain in deli salad bars and 4.7 percent in deli potato side dishes

Additionally, this edition's Quarterly Spotlight features a look at private label products and their effect on overall produce sales. Sales of private label produce have grown steadily from 6.8 percent in 2005 to 10.1 percent in 2009 and most recent figures attribute $2.8 billion in annual sales to the private label industry. Growth in this category, according to the report, can be attributed primarily to vegetables, which accounted for 89.3 percent of all private label produce sales.

The complete FreshFacts® on Retail report can be downloaded free of charge to all United Fresh members ($50 for non-members) by clicking here. For more information about how to obtain the report, please contact Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education manager, at 202-303-3400 ext. 405 or for questions about specific data contained in the report, please contact Kelli Beckel at the Perishables Group at 773-929-7013.


Produce PAIR Call Reveals Industry and Regulatory Food Safety Initiatives

Alongside the Idaho Potato Commission on Wednesday, United Fresh co-hosted this quarter's Partnership Among Industry and Regulators (PAIR) teleconference with FDA, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), as well as representatives of multiple fresh produce associations.

Regulatory updates during the teleconference included briefings on FDA's proposed Preventive Controls for Fresh Produce, the Produce Food Safety Alliance, Health Canada’s research and reports on norovirus, parasites and non-O157 E. coli in fresh produce, import activities by Canadian Border Services Agency and CFIA’s Food Safety Action Plan.

Charlotte Christin, FDA senior policy advisor in the Office of the Commissioner, described the "One Mission, One Program" effort initiated by FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Mike Taylor.

"In an unprecedented effort of cooperative involvement," she said, "ten core groups have been drawn from FDA's CFSAN, Center for Veterinary Medicine, Office of Regulatory Affairs and other FDA branches to identify synergies and new approaches for topics like preventive controls for Good Manufacturing Practices, federal and state integration, imports, incident preparedness and risk-based decision making."

The ten groups mentioned by Christin will make recommendations to the commissioner on ways to improve how FDA achieves its regulatory mission. Also on the call, the California and Florida citrus industries described their independent but related efforts to develop commodity-specific food safety guidances for citrus crops, noting that the draft guidances are now available on the Indian River Citrus League and California Citrus Quality Council websites for comment.

The PAIR teleconferences are ongoing quarterly meetings between fresh produce associations, FDA officials and regional produce regulatory agencies to discuss food safety activities of mutual interest.  For more about these and other topics covered in this week's PAIR teleconference, please contact United Fresh Senior Vice President Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas at 202-303-3400, ext. 411.


Interested in Getting Involved? Driving Solutions? Industry Leadership? Consider the United Fresh Market Segment Boards!

Nominations are now being accepted for open positions on each of United's four Market Segment Boards: Grower-Shipper, Fresh-Cut Processor, Wholesaler-Distributor and Retail-Foodservice. New board members will be announced and inducted at United Fresh 2011, May 2-5 in New Orleans.

The United Fresh Market Segment Boards include a broad pool of talent from each business segment of the produce supply chain. Boards serve as the representative voice of their sector and are responsible for identifying the unique issues impacting their market segment and developing solutions to address specific business needs. 

Each board has up to 22 members, predominately representing companies from their business sectors, as well as supplier and allied association members that work closely within a specific segment. Terms of service for board members are two years.  The boards meet two to three times a year in person and conduct additional business by phone and web conference.

In addition to the four Market Segment Boards, United's volunteer leadership also includes several cross-cutting Expert Advisory Councils, each addressing a core business area within our industry. The councils include: Global Advisory Council, Government Relations Council, Food Safety & Technology Council, Supply Chain Council and Nutrition & Health Council. The five expert advisory councils are vertically integrated, including members from all sectors of the industry, in order to address common issues and challenges. We also invite industry members to consider volunteering for service on one of these expert councils. 

Candidates interested in consideration by the Nominating Committee for service on one of these boards may contact United's Victoria Backer by December 29, at 202-303-3400, ext. 408.  Only a limited number of seats are open on each board, and all volunteers will be reviewed by the Nominating Committee for consideration, which will present the final slate of board nominees to the membership for election later this spring.


Surgeon General Joins United’s Tom Stenzel in Celebration of IFIC's 25th Anniversary

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin was a special guest last week at the 25th anniversary of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization dedicated to effectively communicating science-based information on health, food safety and nutrition. United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel was the founding president of IFIC in 1985 and guided its growth for eight years before joining United in 1993.

"From the very beginning, our Board at IFIC was committed to sound science as the basis for all of our communications and outreach. That led to strong relationships with academia, public health organizations and government officials such as Surgeon General Benjamin for the last 25 years," Stenzel said. "On a personal note, it was meaningful for me to see so many old friends, but also be able to share with them the experience of kicking off the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools campaign with First Lady Michelle Obama just a few days before."

For more information on the council, visit www.foodinsight.org.


United Fresh Works to Help Enhance Federal, State, Local Inspector Training

Today's food safety regulatory system in the United States relies on a diverse network of federal, state and local inspectors, too often approaching their work with differing guidance and uneven expertise. To help meet this challenge, United Fresh supported the formation of the International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI) in 2009 to develop a comprehensive training curriculum to develop consistent expertise among inspectors across all of these agencies.

United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel serves on the IFPTI's Advisory Committee, which met Tuesday in Baltimore to review progress reports and make plans for future course development.

"Ensuring consistent expertise among all inspectors who might go out to a produce farm or fresh-cut processing plant is crucial," Stenzel said. "We know that an integrated food safety system must rely on inspectors from all levels of government in investigating outbreaks or conducting regular inspections. Standardizing and enhancing their training is a really important way to elevate their role as partners to industry in preventing contamination, and ensure a common level of expertise."

In its first year of operation, more than 1,100 inspectors took part in IFPTI-approved courses. For more information, visit www.ifpti.org.


FDA Food Safety Materials Now Available in Eight Languages

To help improve food safety practices in grocery stores, restaurants and other food service operations, such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals, the Food and Drug Administration rolled out a series of basic training materials this week for front line food employees in languages they are most comfortable with. These materials for "oral culture learners" are part of FDA's efforts to work closely with state and local governments and operators of retail food establishments to prevent illness from contaminated food. 

The materials, in the form of seven downloadable posters on key safe food handling issues, are available in English, Hindi, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese by clicking here.

Directed at improving how industry and regulatory food safety professionals communicate with front line food employees on the importance of food safety, the posters use a minimum of text, relying on  photographs or drawings to show food workers in real-life situations and make their points forcefully. The storyboard-style posters, designed to print on standard 8.5' by 11' paper, cover three critical basic principles in safe food handling, including the use of gloves or utensils to handle ready-to-eat foods, not working when ill and proper hand washing.

FDA has worked closely with its regulatory, industry and academic partners to develop and field test these materials. Additional materials are under development to address other important food safety practices such as proper temperature control and minimizing cross-contamination. These materials will be posted on FDA's website as they become available.


USDA Highlights New Sesame Workshop Multimedia Outreach Initiative to Improve Child Nutrition

In Washington, DC, this week, USDA joined Sesame Workshop for the launch of a new multimedia outreach initiative aimed at helping families eat healthier despite lower incomes.

The new Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget program will provide families with an educational outreach kit, which includes an original video featuring the debut of the "Super Foods," four new Sesame Street Muppets. The video also features Elmo and friends, along with real families as they try new foods, learn about the importance of healthy snacks and discover that sharing a meal together is a perfect opportunity to connect as a family. The initiative will also include two public service messages promoting trying new foods.

Through the program, Sesame Workshop will work to educate families on how to nurture their children's overall development through good nutrition, even in the face of tough economic or social decisions, resulting in positive effects that last a lifetime.

Improving child nutrition is a focal point of the recently passed Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which authorizes USDA'S child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program, which serves nearly 32 million children each day. It will allow USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, the chance to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children.


United Fresh Welcomes Los Angeles Industry for Town Hall Luncheon

More than 75 United Fresh members participated in a town hall luncheon today at the Kyoto Grand Hotel in Los Angeles. The luncheon, sponsored by Coast Produce, Pura Vida Farms and Westlake Produce brought together a cross-section of the Southern California produce industry for a lively discussion of United Fresh programs and provided valuable input on food safety and nutrition initiatives, said Jeff Oberman, United's vice president of membership and trade relations.

Photos and a full recap of the event will be available in next week's issue of Inside United Fresh. For more information contact Miriam Miller, United's senior director of membership at 202-303-3400, ext. 410.


Meet Your United Fresh Board of Directors: Family Underscores David Dever's Work at Pandol Brothers.

David Dever
President and CEO
Pandol Brothers, Inc.
Delano, California

How long has Pandol Brothers been in business?

The Pandol Family has been farming in the San Joaquin Valley for more than 70 years. Now with four generations of Pandol family members in the organization, the company has truly maintained its deep-rooted culture.

What are some of the challenges Pandol has faced in the past year?

Life in the grape world has been a bit of a challenge in the last year. We just started our California grape season and were lucky that the Mexico crop cleaned up quickly in order to minimize the adverse impact on price. However, the entire Mexico season was depressed which came off of the worst Chilean season since 1989. Therefore, we are all looking forward to an uptick in the grape world and hopeful that this coming California season is a very successful one for everyone involved.

What are some unique aspects and experiences of your life that you bring to your role both at Pandol and on the Board here at United?

My career in the produce industry has encompassed 22 years now, all of which except for four have been to support family businesses owned by growers. I have had the wonderful opportunity to work for diverse families where my business acumen and non-family objectives bring value to meeting the goals of each company. As a Board member of United, we believe the views of the California family business are well-represented when we express our thoughts at the Board level. We work hard to keep in mind the challenges that we all face in today's agricultural world when assisting to establish policy. United is considered the primary voice for our industry to our government officials and regulators, so it is imperative that we work together as small family businesses and the association to educate and to express the views of our constituency at the Washington Public Policy Conference and periodically throughout the year.

You mentioned that it has been a tough year in the grape world. What characteristics do you rely on organizationally and personally to allow you to step back, reevaluate and ensure you have a workable, solvent plan moving forward?

The grape industry is being challenged in many ways like many other commodities. New grape varieties that require capital, increased costs of production and the perpetual development of improved practices in combination with an economy that is very difficult in managing at the retail level, are all factors that provide a difficult environment to operate within. Yet, we are continuing to develop new ways to package both our products and our services to enhance our products. Pandol is one of a few that are large importers of grapes from South America and the current global economic instability and dollar exchange rate presents additional challenges from an importing perspective.

Of the issues that we deal with as an industry, which strike a chord with you the most and why?

I believe that food safety and worker safety are two very critical issues where standards must be developed and enforced by all companies. It is unacceptable to allow unsafe conditions in today's world. Whether that be to our workers in our operations or the consumer from a food safety perspective. The Pandol Companies promote and instill safety as a primary initiative. Additionally, we are very supportive of child nutrition and are co-sponsoring a salad bar in our local community in order to promote healthy eating for our youth.

Earlier this year, Pandol lost Jack Pandol, Sr., one of the more iconic figures in an industry that features so many strong and unique personalities. How do the individual personalities at Pandol help to shape the company identity?

This has been and continues to be a family business where the family creed is instilled in the culture and the employees. It operates in a very similar fashion as it did in the earlier years where the objective is to produce quality products for consumer consumption using the best practices known to the industry. It's all about nurturing and protecting the land so it produces healthy fruit and at the same time protects and saves our natural resources.

What is something that your fellow board members have yet to find out about you?

I am a sports car enthusiast, from the old TR6's to the new Ferrari 458 Italia.


Chairman's Roundtable Thanks 2010 Supporters

United Fresh's Chairman's Roundtable provides extra support for programs in government relations, food safety, nutrition policy and other areas to help grow the produce industry. We are pleased to recognize the following companies who

  • Apio, Inc., Guadalupe, CA
  • Mann Packing Company, Salinas, CA
  • Monsanto, St. Louis, MO
  • Polymer Logistics, Riverside, CA
  • River Point Farms, Hermiston, OR
  • Wayne E. Bailey Produce Company, Chadbourn, NC

have committed to the 2010 Chairman's Roundtable:

The Chairman's Roundtable is an opportunity for United Fresh member companies to contribute above and beyond their basic dues. Roundtable members are industry leaders who set the pace in building United Fresh's strength in areas that do not generate their own revenue. Members of Chairman's Roundtable enjoy special recognition throughout the year for their support.  For more information on the Chairman's Roundtable, please contact Director of Membership Miriam Miller at 202-303-3400 ext. 410.


New Member Welcome

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

Welcome
  • Creative Labels, Inc., Gilroy, CA
  • ITW Thermal Films, Romeo, MI
  • Pero Family Farms, Delray Beach, FL

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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