December 8, 2011
In Today's Issue:
Updated Audits Benchmarking Matrix Provides Side-by-Side Comparison of Third Party Audit Organizations

The United Fresh Audits Benchmarking Matrix, an online tool designed to help produce supplier and customer companies compare third party audit and certification organizations, has been updated and is now available at www.unitedfresh.org/matrix.

The Audits Benchmarking Matrix was designed by the United Fresh Food Safety & Technology (FS&T) Council and launched in early 2010. The purpose of the matrix is to provide a side-by-side comparison of the most commonly used third party audit organizations and GFSI-benchmarked certification standards in the U.S. and Canada.

Divided into three separate sections: pre-farm gate (i.e., GAP audits of on-farm operations), post-farm gate (i.e., GMP audits of packinghouse, processing and warehouse/distribution operations), and GFSI-benchmarked standards, the matrix allows companies to focus just on those organizations relevant to their operation. The matrix includes the audit process questions that companies typically ask when evaluating which third party audit organization or standard is most applicable and appropriate, such as “Describe the cost formula for pricing audits and what is included in the audit cost” and “How are auditors trained to assess hazards and risk of potential food safety issues?” Describe the cost formula for pricing audits and what is included in the audit cost? What audits/certifications are you approved to conduct? Answers to the questions were provided by each of the organizations in their own words.

The matrix update was led by FS&T Council member Gail Murray, Senior Manager, Safety and Quality Systems at Disney Consumer Products. “Several more audit organizations have been added to the Matrix, including CanadaGAP, NCSI Americas and PrimusGFS,” said Murray. “The Audits Benchmarking Matrix is a unique tool for searching and comparing audit organizations’ processes and quality assurance programs right from the convenience of your desktop.”

For more information on the United Fresh Audits Benchmarking Matrix, visit www.unitedfresh.org/matrix, or contact Dr. David Gombas, United Fresh senior vice president food safety and technology at 202-303-3400, ext. 411.

Tomato Industry to Meet in Florida in February, Review Tomato Metrics

Representatives of the fresh tomato supply chain will convene at the headquarters of the Florida Tomato Exchange in Maitland this February to review how well the Food Safety Programs and Auditing Protocol for the Fresh Tomato Supply Chain, more commonly referred to as the Tomato Metrics, have worked over the past year in providing guidance on effective food safety systems for tomato production and handling, and as an audit tool to demonstrate the effectiveness of those systems. The meetings, February 1-2, are open to all stakeholders interested in safe production and handling practices for fresh tomatoes.

During the meetings, the group will also hear observations from auditors and customers, opportunities to improve and enhance the standards, and briefings from FDA officials like Michelle Smith from the agency’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, on recent tomato operation investigations.

"It's been invaluable to watch the development of the Tomato Food Safety System and Audit Protocol.  This work helped inform our draft Tomato Supply Chain guidance in 2009,” said Smith. “I'm looking forward to hearing about the industry’s efforts to foster adoption of this program and how it has worked over the last year. We congratulate the tomato industry on its continuing efforts to ensure the adoption of best practices for the growing, packing and handling of tomatoes along the supply chain."

The Tomato Metrics were originally developed by the industry in a series of meetings in 2008 in an attempt to create a single audit checklist for fresh tomato production and handling anywhere in the U.S. or Mexico. Those meetings included dozens of the tomato industry’s major growers, handlers and foodservice and retail customers, as well as federal and state officials, third party auditors and academic researchers. The Tomato Metrics were ultimately released as four standards, with corresponding audit checklists, covering open field production, harvest and field packing; greenhouse; packinghouse; and repacking and distribution. The standards were last reviewed by the industry in 2010 and revised documents were released in 2011. Spanish translations were developed by La Confederación de Asociaciones Agrícolas del Estado de Sinaloa (CAADES). United Fresh Produce Association serves as the secretariat for the Tomato Metrics and all of the standards and checklists are available on the United Fresh website here.

“The Tomato Metrics remains a joint effort of the entire supply chain and it's rewarding to all involved that the resulting protocol is becoming a requirement of major buyers in the United States,” said Ed Beckman, president of California Tomato Farmers. “California Tomato Farmers remains committed to the harmonization of food safety protocol and the adoption of a single audit, universally accepted by all customers.”

“The food safety standards of the Florida State Regulatory program were based on the Tomato Metrics process and the State continues to work with the Tomato Metrics to maintain a harmonized audit program for the tomato industry in Florida,” added Reggie Brown, executive director of the Florida Tomato Exchange. 

United Fresh Produce Association serves as the secretariat for the Tomato Metrics and all of the standards and checklists are available on the United Fresh website here, or at www.unitedfresh.org/tomatometrics.

New Corporate Commitments to Let’s Move! Focus on Produce and Play

It’s all about eating more produce and playing more!

That was the message in Washington, D.C., last week as Hyatt Hotels, Kaiser Permanente, Kellogg Foundation, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4H, YMCA and other companies and foundations joined First Lady Michelle Obama to announce major new commitments to support Let’s Move! at the Building a Healthier Future Summit. The commitments of several United Fresh member companies, including Darden, Walmart, Supervalu and the Mushroom Council, were also recognized.

The summit, hosted by the Partnership for a Healthier America, brought together 800 private sector, philanthropic, government and public health leaders to focus on an agenda to end childhood obesity. The Partnership for a Healthier America brokers private sector commitments to support First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. Hyatt Hotels announced that all kid’s menus would now include fruits and vegetables. Similarly, the major youth organizations announced that fruits, vegetables and water would now be the policy for all snacks.

The summit program noted major accomplishments in the first two years of Let’s Move including the donation of 1,000 salad bars to schools across the country. United Fresh, CDC and other National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance members wore “Ask Me About Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools” buttons and urged others to become part of the success of salad bars in schools.

For information about making a commitment to Let’s Move!, contact Partnership for a Healthier America at www.ahealthieramerica.org. For information about supporting Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, visit www.saladbars2schools.org or contact Andrew Marshall at 202-303-3400, ext. 407.

Let’s Move Highlights C.H. Robinson’s Salad Bar Donations to Minnesota Schools

Thanks to United Fresh member company C.H. Robinson, more and more Minnesota schools are finding that salad bars are a popular way to offer kids a rainbow of healthier foods at lunch. Minnesota’s success with salad bars was recently featured in the First Lady’s Let’s Move! blog. The article also recognized C.H. Robinson for its donation of four salad bars to Independent School District #197.

Lisa Gemlo, Minnesota’s Fruit and Vegetable Coordinator, is working with schools throughout Minnesota to promote salad bars as an effective strategy to increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption and to provide training for schools. Minnesota has also launched a website to highlight the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative and help schools successfully implement salad bars. Gemlo and C.H. Robinson have been working collaboratively for the past year to expand salad bars to schools throughout Minnesota. “Kids love the salad bar,” one Minnesota teacher told Gemlo. “Kids that normally wouldn’t take any fruits and vegetables love it.”

C.H. Robinson has also donated salad bars to three charter schools in St Paul and to a school in New Orleans. In January 2012, IDS #197 will receive another salad bar from the company which will result in the school district having a salad bar in every school.

Each month, United Fresh works with its colleagues at CDC to post stories about exceptional school districts across the country that have embraced Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools on the Let’s Move blog.

“All of these school districts are superstars,” said United’s Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health “Everyday, they load up their salad bars with delicious produce items, increasing kid’s fruit and vegetable consumption and improving their eating habits.”

Currently, more than 800 schools nationwide have completed their applications and are waiting to receive salad bars. For information on how you can support the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative, please visit www.saladbars2schools.org or contact United’s Andrew Marshall at 202-303-3400, ext. 407.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan Highlights USDA Commitment to Specialty Crops in Michigan

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan joined specialty crop producers in Michigan this week to highlight USDA’s commitment to America’s specialty crop producers, as well as improving the safety of the nation’s food supply through agricultural research. In Grand Rapids yesterday, Merrigan gave the keynote presentation at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetables and Farm Market Expo, in which she encouraged Americans to 'Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables,' the first themed message supporting MyPlate, the federal government's new food icon that serves as a reminder to help consumers make healthier food choices. Merrigan also detailed USDA’s Fresh Produce Pilot for schools in Michigan, noting opportunities for regional producers to participate in the program.

“A growing number of specialty crop producers are selling to markets of all sizes, including local, regional and international. Moreover, specialty crop producers in the United States—as with all of American agriculture—are seeing sales surges both domestically and abroad as consumers search for high-quality fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, herbs and other horticulture. America’s specialty crop producers are helping consumers improve their nutrition and creating jobs in the process, and USDA is proud to support their good work,” stated USDA’s office of communications.

Also on the trip, Merrigan visited Michigan State University, where she announced several new grants to support improving the safety of the food supply in the United States through research, education and extension.

United Fresh, Ag Industry Weigh in on Child Labor Regulations

With formal comments last week, United Fresh joined a broad array of agriculture industry partners to raise concerns with the Department of Labor regarding proposed regulations on farm work done by persons under the age of 18.

Earlier in the fall, DOL proposed revisions to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) relating to standards for permissible youth employment in agricultural operations. While United, like its counterparts in other sectors of agriculture, condemns any exploitation or abuse of children, significant concerns exist about DOL’s proposal and how it could affect legitimate, non-hazardous work activities on a farm and the success of farm operations.

DOL’s proposals appear to set standards that would narrow the parental exemption for permissible work done by young extended family members of farm operators, the types of situations in which youth would be allowed to operate tractors, and would prohibit work in any fruit or forage storage silo or bin, among other recommendations.

“While we are certainly opposed to children and young people being subjected to hazardous or exploitative work situations, the proposed regulations do not seem to take into account that there are a lot of activities on the farm that young people can engage in without being subjected to significant risk,” said Julie Manes, director of government relations for United Fresh. “Furthermore, those activities can be helpful to the career development of young people and the success of the farm. We’ll keep working with other segments of the production agriculture chain to make sure DOL understands the real-life situations and needs of agriculture today.”

For more information on United Fresh and child labor, contact Manes at 202-303-3400, ext. 404.

Growers Sought for Sustainability Metric Calculator Pilot

The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops is looking for growers to participate in the 2011-2012 pilot of the SISC sustainability metric calculator, and asks that industry stakeholders consider working with SISC to develop and refine the methods for measuring and communicating performance on key environmental indicators. 

By participating in the SISC pilot, growers can make an important contribution in shaping stewardship metrics for their industry, driving forward both consistency in approach and methodology as well as ensuring that the metrics themselves are practical and meaningful.

The 2011 pilot will look at water use efficiency, irrigation efficiency, nitrogen and phosphorus use, energy use, and soil organic matter.  Background information will be asked for one or two fields, including crop(s) planted, harvest dates and yields, pest control and inputs.

“The pilot will require some effort on the part of growers to locate and enter their data, but the result of spending this time is to have growers provide their assessment of the tool that has been developed”, says Burleson Smith, United Fresh vice president of environmental affairs and sustainability. United Fresh serves on the SISC Coordinating Council and provides practical and technical input into the program from the producer’s perspective. 

According to Smith, ease of use will be an important criterion for growers to assess. “We all need to understand whether the questions being asked can provide information that will be useful to growers in managing their operations in a more sustainable manner, and growers who actually use the tool are the only ones who can reliably provide this information.”

A series of upcoming webinars will give interested participants insight into the pilot process and provide a live demo of the metric calculator. Please click on the following links to register or for more information on the webinars:

December 14, 8:00 a.m. PST
December 15, 10:00 a.m. PST
 
For more information about the calculator, click here, and to inquire about the webinars or participating in the SISC pilot program, contact Jessica Siegal at info@stewardshipindex.org.

United’s Gombas Joins USDA’s Merrigan for Launch of Online Food Safety Tool

United Fresh Senior Vice President Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas will join USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan for the the launch of the On-Farm Food Safety Project at a press conference at USDA headquarters in Washington on Thursday, December 15, at 2:00 p.m. The On-Farm Food Safety Project includes a free online tool to help farmers create a customized food safety plan and to adopt best practices in food safety.

“The tool is available at www.onfarmfoodsafety.org and gives farmers the capacity to answer a series of questions in eleven areas of food safety risk, and create an operation-specific food safety plan,” said Jim Slama, president of FamilyFarmed.org and founder of the On-Farm Food Safety Project.

“The online tool was developed by an excellent group of food safety technical experts, including United Fresh member Will Daniels, Earthbound Farm, and FDA’s Dr. Michelle Smith, and we are pleased to see it based on the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative Harmonized Standards,” added Gombas. “The online tool should be an invaluable resource to growers who are unsure of what documents and records they need to demonstrate compliance with a produce food safety audit.”

Please contact Gombas or Slama for more information about the Project and online tool.

Tee Times, Tickets Going Fast for Salute to Reggie Griffin

Get your tickets today for next month’s golf tournament and dinner honoring industry icon Reggie Griffin as United Fresh recognizes the achievements and celebrates the career of the long-time retail veteran January 23 at San Diego’s historic Rancho Bernardo Inn. Proceeds from the event will support the United Fresh Foundation’s Center for Leadership Excellence.

“We’re honored that Reggie has agreed for the proceeds from the event to support the Foundation’s Center for Leadership Excellence,” said Steve Grinstead, CEO, Pro*Act, and chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. “Reggie’s career has defined the word ‘leadership’, and this event will help us continue to invest in future leaders of our industry.”

The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization committed to developing leadership skills at all levels of the industry, advancing produce safety and quality, promoting global produce industry sustainability, and increasing children's consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables for better health.

“With his retirement as corporate vice president of produce and floral merchandising procurement, Reggie punctuates a 42-year career with The Kroger Company in which he touched the lives of thousands of us in the produce industry, and helped make fresh produce a cornerstone of the retail supermarket business across the country,” said United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel.

More information and registration options for the Salute to Reggie Griffin are available by clicking here or contacting United’s Angela Tiwari at 202-303-3400, ext. 416. Sponsorship opportunities are also available, with multiple recognition levels for those attending the event and those across the industry who would like to join in honoring Reggie. Please contact United’s John Toner at 202-303-3400, ext. 424.

Chairman’s Roundtable Thanks 2012 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 2012 Chairman’s Roundtable:

  • Mann Packing Company, Salinas, CA

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 Senior Director of Membership Miriam Miller Wolk at 202-303-3410.

New Member Welcome

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

  • Gruszka Consulting, Bakersfield, CA
  • Kingston & Associates Marketing, LLC, Idaho Falls, ID

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 Wolk at 202-303-3410.

Upcoming United Fresh Events