September 1, 2011

Safeway Senior VP Steve Burnham Joins United Fresh Board of Directors

United Fresh Chairman of the Board Reggie Griffin, The Kroger Company, has appointed Steve Burnham, senior vice president of produce, floral and bakery for Safeway Inc., to the United Fresh Board of Directors. Burnham replaces Geoff White of Safeway, who recently took a new position within the company.

"Steve is a respected leader in the produce industry and a valued voice on produce issues. We're proud to welcome him to the United Fresh Board," said Chairman Griffin. "Our association and the produce industry as a whole will benefit greatly from his ideas and his leadership."

Burnham joined Safeway in 1989 and worked his way through the company's meat unit at the store, district, division and national levels, eventually being appointed group director for the company's corporate meat business unit in 2003. In 2007, he left the meat and seafood world and was appointed vice president of marketing planning. Burnham was promoted to vice president of produce in 2008, and senior vice president of produce earlier this year. Burnham and wife Laura have three sons and live in Livermore, Calif.

"United Fresh works hard to create an environment in which the entire produce industry, from grower to retailer, can succeed together. I am both honored and excited about this new opportunity to serve United Fresh and the entire produce industry," said Burnham.

A full list of United Fresh board members is available at

United Foundation Announces Volunteer Leadership for Sustainability Advisory Board

Nikki Rodoni, director of sustainability for Oxnard, CA-based Gills Onions, will chair the Advisory Board for the United Fresh Foundation's Center Global Produce Sustainability.

Rodoni is the Advisory Board's first chair, and United Fresh Vice President of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability Burleson Smith points to her leadership as a key asset for the sustainability effort within the produce industry.

"Under Nikki's watchful eye, Gills Onions has become an industry leader in sustainability," said Smith. "We're excited to work together to help our members and the entire industry make progress on what is a very important issue in sustainability."

As the director of sustainability for Gills Onions LLC, one of the largest producers of fresh-cut onions in the United States, Rodoni works to increase the efficiency of the operation and reduce waste and emissions. Since she created the sustainability department in 2007, Rodoni has guided Gills Onions through initiatives to achieve zero waste, calculate and report greenhouse gas emissions, reduce water consumption and, most notably, convert onion waste into renewable energy to power the plant. The company's sustainability efforts have been widely recognized through prestigious awards, including the 2009 Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA), the 2010 Green California Leadership Award, the Waste Reduction Award Program (WRAP), and the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Golden State Award. Rodoni also led Gills Onions to become a founding member of The Climate Registry and to achieve 99.5% waste diversion rate in 2010.

In addition to Rodoni's chairmanship, Gregg Storey and Joel Nelsen will join the Advisory Board as members. Storey is the executive director for the Center for Science and Innovation at Clarkson Consulting, and Nelsen is the president of California Citrus Mutual.

The Center for Global Produce Sustainability was established in 2009 through a founding grant from Bayer CropScience, with the mission to help companies across the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain enhance their businesses through sustainability. For more information on the Center, visit

School Visit, Produce Tours and Policy Roundtable Highlight Concannon's Visit to Salinas

From right, Taylor Farms' Andrew Fernandez discusses harvesting with Rep. Sam Farr, United's Robert Guenther and USDA's Kevin Concannon.

This week, U.S. Representative Sam Farr (D-CA) and the United Fresh Produce Association and its members, welcomed Kevin Concannon, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, to Salinas, CA, the largest vegetable growing region in the United States, more famously known as the "Salad Bowl of the World."

Concannon began the day with a tour of area grower Taylor Farms, witnessing a lettuce harvest where the company demonstrated a new harvest technology. This was followed by a tour of Mann Packing Company's state–of-the-art fresh-cut vegetable facility. 

A highlight of the Under Secretary's trip was the event, "Back-to-School with Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: California Schools, Parents and Students Support Healthier School Meals." Taking place at local Sherwood Elementary School in Salinas, Mr. Concannon, standing in front of a salad bar filled with fresh California fruits and vegetables, discussed the importance of the new school meal standards that will double the amount of fruits and vegetables served in schools. 

Mann Packing Company's Lorri Koster addresses the need for healthy options in school meals at Sherwood Elementary in Salinas this week

United Fresh Board Member and Mann Packing Company Co-Chair and Vice President of Marketing Lorri Koster, represented the produce industry at the event, highlighting the importance of serving more fresh fruits and vegetables, and the produce industry's commitment to supplying schools.

"We are excited that Under Secretary Concannon has the opportunity to see first-hand the dedication and commitment of the fresh produce industry to supplying schools with a wide variety of fresh produce," said United Fresh Vice President of Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, who traveled to California to participate in the event. "Salinas' schools are role models for the rest of the country, providing students with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables every day." 

Mann Packing Company's Lorri Koster details her company's involvement with the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program to USDA's Kevin Concannon, center, and Rep. Sam Farr

"I'm so happy to announce that this year our district will have seven schools participate in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program," said Dr. Donna Vaughan, superintendent of the Salinas City Elementary School District. "This program will reach a total of 5,000 students! Also, all 13 schools in our district have salad bars, a direct result of the determination and persistence of the parents who wanted salad bars so all of our district's children can have access to healthy options."

"It's my belief that it's easy to double the amount of fruits and vegetables in school meals," said Rodney K. Taylor, director of nutrition services at the Riverside Unified School District, who also attended today's events, "I've been doing this for 14 years, in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and now at Riverside Unified School District, where I have salad bars in 29 of my 31 elementary schools. At Riverside, we've served over two million salad bar meals in the last five years. And according to a recent CDC of study of our program, kids will eat healthy, and will consume more fresh fruits and vegetables when offered a salad bar on a daily basis."

USDA's Kevin Concannon speaks before a roundtable on healthier school meals at Salinas' Hartnell College

To conclude the day, Concannon and Rep. Farr joined a group of approximately 75 produce industry leaders, school nutrition advocates and school foodservice directors, for "Building Healthier School Meals – A Policy Roundtable." The policy roundtable focused on the produce industry's commitment to providing healthier options for school meals. Several individuals representing the various event organizers participated in a panel discussion to further explain the importance of increasing fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals. Speaking for the produce industry was Tim York, president of Markon, Inc., who addressed the commitment of food service distributors to partner with schools to ensure children have access to both high quality and a wide variety of fresh produce every day.

"We're an industry built on providing cost effective services that can help schools achieve the new healthier school meal guidelines," York said.

FDA's Kraemer Discusses Preventive Controls for Produce Safety with United Fresh Members, Staff

Members of the United Fresh Food Safety Regulatory Oversight Committee, seeking more information about the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration's current thinking on the Preventive Controls for Produce Safety rule, met with Acting Deputy Director for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) Don Kraemer and other FDA officials this week.

"While nothing is definite until the proposed rule is published, Mr. Kraemer was very open in discussing approaches that FDA is considering using for selecting commodities to be included and excluded in the rule, how food safety ‘risk' might be gauged, and how importers will be held responsible for the food safety practices of their suppliers" said David Gombas, United's senior vice president for food safety and technology.

During the meeting, Kraemer noted that implementation of the rule, expected to be published as a proposed rule in early 2012, will be staggered by size of the operation. Using the precedent of prior food safety rules, FDA is considering enforcing the new regulation three years after publication of the final rule for very small operations, two years after publication of the final rule for small operations, and one year after the final rule is published for large operations. FDA also made it clear that the costs of implementing the fresh produce rule are top of mind, and the scope of the rule will be limited to those operations where the public health benefits of the requirements outweigh the costs of implementation.

In addition to the Produce Safety rule, FDA officials provided updates on the Preventive Controls rule that will impact fresh-cut operations, traceability pilots required by the Food Safety Modernization Act, the Produce Safety Alliance, and research initiatives that FDA plans to fund in support of the Produce Safety rule. United Fresh members interested in these and other FDA activities should plan to attend the Washington Public Policy Conference, October 3-5, during which FDA will provide additional briefings.

Sold-Out Food Safety Webinar Strikes Overwhelming Interest with Produce Industry

FDA's Mike Taylor, left, and United's Tom Stenzel discuss the Food Safety Modernization Act in Washington, D.C., in 2009
Mike Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), kicked off the third webinar of United's Summer Series, sponsored by 3M Food Safety this week, discussing how FDA is working to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The phone lines were packed with participants from all over the country and abroad, each wanting insight into how FDA plans to implement the fifty or so regulations, guidances and other deliverables required of FDA by FSMA. 

Joining Taylor on the webinar was Leanne Skelton, on loan to FDA from USDA's Fruit and Vegetable Programs, who briefed the audience on the Produce Safety Alliance. Acting Deputy Director for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) Don Kraemer provided insights into FDA's current thinking on several pending regulations that will affect the fresh produce industry from the field through packinghouse, fresh-cut and distribution operations. Bill Correll, acting director of the Division of Enforcement in CFSAN's Office of Compliance outlined FDA initiatives and challenges regarding inspection and compliance, and Charlotte Christin, senior policy advisor in the FDA's Office of Policy, outlined how FDA envisions regulating companies who import FDA-regulated products, including fresh produce, into the U.S.

"This was an incredible opportunity for United Fresh members to hear directly from the Deputy Commissioner and leaders of FDA's FSMA implementation teams how they are progressing, what challenges they face, and what the industry can expect when they have completed their tasks," said Dr. David Gombas, United Fresh senior vice president of food safety and technology, who moderated the webinar.

Members can find the archived presentation here, and are encouraged to registerfor the last and final webinar of the summer on Tuesday, September 20 at 11:00 am Pacific / 2:00 pm Eastern. The webinar will focus on policy insights, and participants will hear straight talk from top insiders in preparation for this year's Washington Public Policy Conference.

PFSE Mythbusters Campaign Just in Time for Food Safety Month

September is National Food Safety Education Month and United Fresh is joining with the non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) to introduce Food Safety Mythbusters to consumers. This year's four myths are presented with the facts consumers need to know to help reduce their risk of foodborne illness.

    Myth: Freezing foods kills harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning

    Myth: I eat a vegetarian diet, so I don't have to worry about food poisoning

    Myth: Plastic or glass cutting boards don't hold harmful bacteria on their surfaces like wooden cutting boards do

    Myth: Locally-grown, organic foods will never give me food poisoning

Now in its third year, the Mythbusters series is part of PFSE's outreach to consumers, food safety educators and the media on the importance of safe food handling to good health.Â
United Fresh is a contributing member of the Partnership for Food Safety Education which created the Fight BAC! consumer food safety education campaign. Free downloads and resources are available at

Produce Safety University Spreads Message of Better Food Safety in Schools

Schools want to serve more fresh produce, and USDA wants to help.

With the success of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, farm-to-school initiatives, school garden programs, and new regulations that will require schools to serve more fruits and vegetables, USDA wants to ensure school personnel know how to safely procure and handle fresh fruits and vegetables.

Earlier this month, Andrew Marshall, United's policy and grassroots manager, attended the last 2011 class of Produce Safety University. Developed to address potential food safety risks associated with the use of fresh produce in schools and to help school foodservice staff identify and mitigate food safety risks for fresh produce, Produce Safety University is a joint venture between the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service and Agricultural Marketing Service. 

The program, held at AMS's training facility in Fredericksburg, VA, was launched in 2010. The program consists of five, week-long comprehensive courses that provide hands-on education covering all aspects of the fresh produce supply chain. Attendees are by invitation only and include state child nutrition and food distribution staff as well as school foodservice directors from across the country. All attendees are encouraged to return to their respective states and teach others about produce safety using comprehensive training materials derived from the course.

The August course included 32 participants from 22 states. USDA taught 151 individuals in 2011, and 91 attended in 2010. Produce Safety University participants have represented 49 states, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

"All of the school foodservice personnel in attendance were very impressed by the Produce Safety University course," said Marshall. "They are excited to go back to their states and local school districts to share what they learned, and were very pleased that USDA was providing education materials that they could share with colleagues in their state and communities, since schools are encouraged to serve more fresh produce."

Next year, five more Produce Safety University classes will be held. For information about USDA Produce Safety University, contact the USDA, Fresh Products Division, Training and Development Center at 540-361-1120.

Meet Your United Fresh Board of Directors: Mark Murai

Mark Murai, President
California Strawberry Commission
Watsonville, California

Tell us about your role at the California Strawberry Commission.

I've been here since 2005 as the president, but prior to that, I was an 18-year board member and was the past chairman of the commission before I assumed the role of president. I'm a third-generation strawberry grower, and my family farmed in Southern California. They have since moved from the growing side of the business to the supply and logistics side, in cooling and shipping.Â

Though you spent considerable time in the industry before assuming the role of president, were there any surprises for you once you took the job?

I think that it's similar to United Fresh in that you have a real vast array of thoughts, principles and ideas, and it's about bringing all of that together to create the synergy and energy to be able to move the industry forward. It's a great power to be united as a larger produce industry and the same holds true for strawberry growers. Our vision is to have a strong, unified voice that promotes a healthy strawberry industry, and I think our growers appreciate that. They appreciate having a voice.

What have been some of your major accomplishments recently?

I think that our industry has been the most successful at creating a grassroots culture of food safety. In the mid 90's we established one of the first commodity-specific food safety programs, and recently we've focused on a real culture change at the harvest level. We went out and created training tools that were language-neutral (we realized that not all of our field workers speak Spanish) through pictures and familiar visuals. That training program not only trains the harvest workers, but it also trains the trainer. We realized that industry members expected their employers to train, and just because you're a successful supervisor or manager doesn't necessarily make you a good trainer. In the first 14 months of the program, we were able to train about 85 percent of our industry voluntarily, which is a lot of people. We're very proud of that. Not to simply develop the tools and say, "okay, come use these tools," but to actually show people how to use them. Our shippers, our growers and our processors came together and made it a priority not just for the commission, but for the whole industry. People really rallied around that, and as a result, we've created a culture of food safety, not just food safety in response to an audit. Audits are a given in our industry, but food safety goes beyond the one or two days during the audit process. We're looking to drive that food safety culture even further in the future.

On the flip side of the coin, what frustrations have you seen?

One of the things that is consistently a challenge is the politics of opening up global trade. We really want to create an abundance of food for the world, and it's frustrating when countries aren't working to expedite the movement of food. We've been working on China for a couple years, and we got into the Beijing Olympics in 2008 on a limited basis. We're looking to continue, because Chinese vendors, brokers, importers and restaurants are just screaming for California strawberries, but we just don't have the access. There's such a pent-up demand for California strawberries over there, but working through the technical and political barriers to get it done has been a real challenge.

Tell us about the balance between your work at the commission and your work here on the board at United Fresh.

That's the beauty of United. What the California strawberry industry can do by itself only goes so far. On that same token, what one California strawberry grower can do only goes so far, but when teamed up with other growers and other industry members throughout the state, their voice becomes much stronger. Through United, I see California strawberries being partnered with other leaders around the country to be a stronger voice for our produce industry. We also want to create a voice for the individual member, too, and by coming together, exchanging ideas and needs, and creating plans, we can really make a difference. That's what makes United a great place of knowledge and of action.

Looking forward, is there something that you see as a big issue for the industry moving forward?

I'm concerned about the Food Safety Modernization Act, but more generally-speaking, I'm concerned about regulations. Not just in California, but nationwide. This underscores the importance of involvement and feedback and being part of the process so that the industry can help to create a framework of guidelines that don't impede business, success or creativity. We're really hoping for a smooth transition to modernizing our food safety laws, and creating a regulatory framework under which we're still able to create that abundance of safe food for the world, but not placed under undue regulatory stress.

What about in your down time? Any hobbies?

I work up north near Santa Cruz, and I live in Southern California, so I get to travel between two great surf spots. I'm blessed that I work and live in two great surfing areas. I've been a surfer all my life. There's something about surfing that really settles you down and reconnects you to the earth and to the environment. When you have the power of the ocean propelling you, it puts everything in perspective. It's a natural power and I think that's why most surfers get so grounded so quickly and get a feeling of relief when they surf. This world that we live in is so fast paced, and it's really an opportunity to reconnect with earth and with nature. It's also a great family activity. My family is really centered around water sports. I played water polo and swam, and surfing was a natural extension from that. My sons carry that on, and we all enjoy surfing and that lifestyle on the beach.

New Member Welcome

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

  • Agromod Produce, McAllen, TX
  • Garlock Printing & Converting Corp., Gardner, MA
  • nGroup, Fort Mill, SC

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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