January 13, 2010

In Today's Issue:

Fruits and Vegetables Are the Stars of New School Meals Regulations

United Fresh is cheering news in this morning's Federal Register that USDA published the long-awaited proposed rule to align school meals with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and the Institute of Medicine's recommendations, focusing heavily on fresh produce.

"Fruits and vegetables are the stars of USDA's goal for healthier school meals, and kids and the produce industry will benefit," said Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, United Fresh vice president of nutrition and health. "The proposed rule would double the amount of fruits and vegetables served to the 32 million kids who eat school lunch every day, for 180 school days a year."

The proposed rule closely follows the recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine and includes doubling the amount of fruit served in school breakfast; doubling the amount of fruits and vegetables served in school lunch; and emphasizing variety of vegetables. Additionally, all schools would be expected to implement the proposed rule beginning in school year 2012-13. 

The new proposed meal requirements will raise standards for the first time in fifteen years and will help improve the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million kids that participate in school meal programs every school day. Together with the recently passed Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, this rule will result in a dramatic increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables available to school children.  

While the initial analysis of the proposed rule is very positive for fruits and vegetables, there are still many details to examine that will impact the industry. United Fresh will be forming a working group to review the rule and provide comprehensive comments back to USDA within the 90-day comment period.

For more information, please contact DiSogra at 202-303-3400, ext. 403. 

New United Fresh White Paper Details Impact of Food Safety Law on Produce

The United Fresh Produce Association has released a new white paper that explores the likely effects of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, passed by the Congress late last month and signed into law by President Barack Obama January 4.
Available for free to United Fresh members, the white paper examines new requirements and regulations faced by businesses within the fresh produce supply chain under the new law. Included in the report are breakdowns on the ramifications for produce grower-shippers, wholesalers and distributors, fruit and vegetable importers, retailers and foodservice operators, and food transporters.
"The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will mean significant changes for the fruit and vegetable industry," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh. “This white paper gives a quick but exhaustive rundown of the major changes that produce industry members can expect under the new law - all in plain English."

In addition to the segment-specific impacts for these sectors, the white paper contains a section that looks at the legislation's effect on the industry as a whole, including the aspects of the bill that deal with mandatory recall authority for FDA, traceability, foodborne illness surveillance, food safety education and training, protections against bioterrorism and laboratory testing.

The white paper also includes a quick-reference-style chart showing what new developments can be expected by each sector, as well as a timeline for the implementation of all new regulations under the law.

The white paper can be downloaded here free of charge for United Fresh members; there is a $50 fee for non-members. For more information on the report, please contact Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education manager at 202-303-3400, ext. 405.

More Steps Forward on Mexican Tariff Dispute

Amid talks to implement a new cross-border trucking program, Mexican Trade Minister Bruno Ferrari announced this week that Mexico will no longer rotate a list of exports subject to retaliatory tariffs. While the tariffs on 99 exports worth over $2 billion will remain in place, Mexico has agreed to cease its "carousel" strategy of rotating tariffs between a broad range of exported American products, including fresh produce.

Because the United States is not currently meeting its NAFTA obligations to allow a pilot program of Mexican trucks entering the U.S., Mexico has placed retaliatory tariffs on many American goods including fresh produce items entering Mexico. Given the economic impact upon the fresh produce industry and the damage caused to U.S.-Mexico trade, United Fresh contends that the crisis must be resolved urgently.

"While there remains a great deal of discussion to be had and work to be done, this is certainly an encouraging sign," said Julie Manes, United's director of government relations. "Coupled with last week's announcement of a proposed cross-border trucking program from the Department of Transportation, this is another step toward resolving this longstanding dispute and getting our trade relations back to normal."

Under the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, Congress blocked funding for the Mexican Cross-Border Truck Safety Program. This was a pilot program allowing a small number of Mexican trucks to enter the U.S. while operating in international commerce. Though this program did not provide the full access that the Mexicans were entitled under our NAFTA obligations, the program had been in operation without retaliation since 2007. By removing this program, the United States is now in violation of its NAFTA commitments and excessive tariffs have been placed on U.S. products totaling $2 billion.

For more information, please contact Julie Manes at 202-303-3400, ext. 404.

Vilsack Chief of Staff Karen Ross Named CDFA Secretary

In Sacramento this morning, newly-elected California Governor Jerry Brown tapped Karen Ross as the secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Since November 2009, Ross had served as chief of staff to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"This is a very strong appointment for California agriculture, as Karen is highly respected for her knowledge and commitment to agriculture,” said United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel. “We look forward to working with her closely at CDFA."

Ross, who served as president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers for 13 years until 2009, will replace outgoing secretary A.G. Kawamura.

Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference Draws Large Crowd for Food Safety

More than two thousand Southeast growers and fresh produce stakeholders converged on Savannah, GA, last week for the annual Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference.

During the show's segment on food safety, United Fresh Senior Vice President Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas briefed attendees on changes to be expected with the recently-signed food safety law.

"The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will have a sweeping impact on our industry," said Gombas. "Congress has required FDA to write food safety regulations for fresh produce, so that debate is over. Now we move to the details of what those regulations will require."

According to the new law, FDA has up to a year to publish regulations for how operations will identify and control potential food safety hazards in fresh produce and, after an indeterminate comment period, up to another year to finalize them.

"Congress has told FDA that those requirements must be flexible, risk-based and science based. Now it’s up to FDA to follow the congressional intent,” added Gombas.

Gombas also briefed the audience on the Produce Traceability Initiative and the traceability components of the new law.

“Congress has given FDA clear instructions to investigate product tracing procedures, here and internationally, and potentially publish new recordkeeping requirements for operations that handle 'high-risk' foods. Based on the new law, we still believe that companies who have adopted PTI will be compliant with whatever FDA comes up with."

Gombas to Speak at First Global IFPS Forum During Fruit Logistica

United Fresh Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas will address members of the international food safety community at the inaugural Global Forum of the International Federation for Produce Standards during next month's Fruit Logistica in Berlin.

Speaking on "Global Harmonization of Good Agricultural Practices," Dr. Gombas will discuss efforts to build efficiency for both growers and retailers through the harmonization of GAP audits. The address will come as the first part of the forum's "30 Minutes on Food Safety," and will be followed by a presentation on traceability, as well as two 30-minute sessions on product identification and supply chain information management.

The forum is Thursday, February 10, and will be free to all registered Fruit Logistica attendees. For more information, on the forum, visit www.ifpsglobal.com/forum, and for more on Fruit Logistica, visit www.fruitlogistica.com.

United Fresh Teams Up with Southeastern Produce Leaders to Talk GAPs, GMPs

Next month, United Fresh Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas will join representatives from the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association, the Southeast Produce Council and the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Department of Food Science and Technology in presenting GAPs and GMPs for HACCP-Based Food Safety for the Fresh Produce Industry.

The course, which is now accredited by the International HACCP Alliance, is presented at UGA's Extension Food Science training facility in Athens and will teach participants how to develop and document good agricultural practices (GAPs), standard operating Procedures (SOPs), sanitary standard operating procedures (SSOPs) and good management practices (GMPs) for farm and field operations, packing facilities, cold storage operations and produce shippers. Additionally, specific breakout sessions will use HACCP principles to teach participants to identify and prevent food safety hazards, set preventive/control measures and control limits, develop control and monitoring procedures, document and verify the results of their efforts, each as established by the International HACCP Alliance. Participants will also learn how to use microbial testing as a verification tool for audit compliance. The goal of the interactive sessions is to assist participants in developing a food safety plan that they can implement in their specific operations.

The course will run from February 15 through 17 and United Fresh, GFVGA and SEPC members will receive discounted registration. For more information, visit www.efsonline.uga.edu, or contact UGA's Extension Food Science department at efs@uga.edu or 706-542-2574.

Produce Inspection Program in Full Swing

This week, produce industry members are hard at work at the USDA Fresh Products Branch National Inspector's Training Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia for the United Fresh Produce Inspection Training Program.

Twenty seven participants representing wholesalers, distributors, grower-shippers and retail operations are taking part in the two-part course that will wrap up Friday.

Check back in next week's Inside United Fresh for photos and a recap of the course, and don't forget to sign up for the spring edition, May 16-20. For more information, contact United Fresh Education Manager Julie Jacocks at 202-303-3400, ext. 405.

Early Registration Deadline Approaches for Produce Executive Development Program

Just eight days remain for United Fresh members to take advantage of early registration discounts for the association's annual Produce Executive Development Program. The program, developed in partnership with Cornell University, is specifically designed for produce industry leaders to sharpen their executive skill set.

Designed for mid- to senior-level produce executives with management experience, the five-day course kicks off March 13, and will provide participants with a robust program that examines the latest business trends, blends personal and professional development, and teaches effective tools to navigate challenges affecting today’s produce executives.

Click here to register for the program or for more information, contact Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education manager, at 202-303-3400, ext. 405.

John Vena is This Week's BIG Winner in United's Restaurant A Week Giveaway!

Congratulations to John Vena of John Vena, Inc., as the winner of United's first Restaurant a Week Giveaway. John is headed to Executive Chef Brian Landry’s Galatoire's Restaurant, courtesy of United Fresh.

Every Friday, United Fresh draws a winner from all registered attendees to United Fresh 2011. Winners receive a gift certificate to one of New Orleans’ finest restaurants. Each week, the list is updated with the most current registered attendees, so the sooner you register for United Fresh 2011, the BIGGER your chances are to win!

Congratulations John! Next week’s Restaurant a Week winner is headed to Chartres House Café, courtesy of United Fresh 2011.

Meet your United Fresh Board Member: Geoff White is a part of a larger Safeway family, literally.

Geoff White
Senior Vice President, Produce, Floral and Bakery
Safeway, Inc.
Pleasanton, California

You’re based in the Bay Area now, but are you from there originally?

I'm not, actually, I was born in British Columbia, Canada where I lived for 32 years, the majority of which was spent in Vancouver. That's where I started my Safeway career. I will hit 30 years with Safeway in July, personally, but I tell people that I actually have 45 years with the company, because I was born into the Safeway family. My dad was a store manager for many years, and he got me my first gig as a bagger and a basket pusher, and interestingly enough I married into a Safeway family as well. My wife's mother works for Safeway, and she has been with the company close to 40 years now. In addition to that, my brother-in-law is a store manager, my sister is a deli manager, and we have a handful of aunts and cousins in the organization too. At one point about fifteen years ago, I had 18 family members working for Safeway. On top of all that, my 17-year-old son Ryley recently started with the company as well. For that reason, we really consider Safeway to be our family, because we've grown up with it so closely.

United Fresh headquarters is a few miles away from what has been dubbed the "Social Safeway," for its importance as a congregating and meeting place within the community. What is it about Safeway organizationally that fosters this community feel within each store?

I know the store well, and that spirit is something that is shared by a lot of our stores. As an organization with 1700 stores, we try very hard to be connected with the communities that we serve. We do a large amount of our fundraising at the store level for multiple major, national causes, but we also make sure that we give the stores some autonomy and a wider berth to support local charities so they can really stay connected within their communities. There is a lot of work put in at every store to ensure that each is enabled to sponsor everything from pancake breakfasts to hosting community groups that fundraise in front of the store.

There has always been great representation from Safeway in United's Retail Produce Manager Awards Program. With 1700 stores, how do you make sure that each individual produce manager recognizes and embraces how he or she can further the cause of increasing produce consumption?

We're a centralized company, so sometimes it can get tricky, but we really work hard to operate regionally. Each one of our regions has a senior management team, and each is fully up to speed on all of the initiatives, as well as the benefits we are trying to create as a company. From that point, we try very hard to make sure that those driving factors filter all the way down to the produce managers.

What's one thing that your colleagues and counterparts don't know about you?

I love my yard. I love my garden. I love doing yardwork; it's like therapy to me. I connect it to when I worked at the store level and there was a huge sense of accomplishment when your produce department looked absolutely incredible. With beautiful quality, vibrant colors, perfectly stacked displays, you stepped back, looked at your department and went "wow." I think when you move backstage, so to speak, you lose a little bit of that sense of hands-on creation. I"ve rediscovered that in my yard.

As a veteran to someone starting a career in the industry, what advice would you give your son?

I'm a firm believer in the concept that what you put into it, you get out of it. My approach is really pretty simple: hard work, keeping your nose clean, doing what's right for the company, taking what is expected of you and exceeding those goals and objectives. At the end of the day, it's not a secret, it's common sense, hard work, good judgment, and really being happy and enthusiastic not only with the people you work with, but also the customers you serve.

Chairman's Roundtable Thanks 2011 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 have committed to the 2011 Chairman's Roundtable:

  • Bayer CropScience, Research Triangle Park, NC
  • Syngenta, Boise, ID

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:

  • Advantage Sales & Marketing, Pleasanton, CA
  • Fresherized Foods/Wholly Guacamole, Saginaw, TX

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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