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Two Nogales, AZ-based produce distributors and one wholesaler- consolidator with a Nogales presence were honored for their commitment to produce quality at a dinner in Nogales Wednesday, April 15, sponsored by the Mexico Calidad Suprema program.

Companies honored at the dinner were two shipper-distributors, a broker- consolidator and a retail chain.

The shipper-distributors were Los Angeles-based Giumarra, which has a Nogales division, and Nogales-based Farmer's Best. The shipper-consolidator was Bay Area Produce Inc., which is headquartered in San Jose, CA, and has a division in Nogales. The retail chain was Safeway Inc.

According to Veronica Kraushaar, agency representative in the United States for Mexico Calidad Suprema, the recipients were chosen because they "best exemplify the commitment to the promotion of top-quality Mexican produce, which is the cornerstone of the MCS program."

MCS is a quality-assurance initiative that was launched by the Mexican government 10 years ago. Under the program, only producers meeting rigid certification requirements for product quality and food safety are authorized to display the MCS seal. MCS is now involved in working with retailers in the United States to encourage promotion of products displaying the MCS seal.

"Food Safety has been paramount in our program since the start of Farmer's Best," Jerry Wagner, sales manager for Farmer's Best, told The Produce News prior to the dinner. "We have always tried to stay ahead of the curve as far as what we do and how we do it. Now this year, we have two third-party auditors on all of our ranches. We use Primus for certification," and, in addition, an auditor from Agro-Support "is on all of our ranches weekly just to help our people along and make sure that they are constantly adhering to good agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices."

Farmer's Best was the first company to implement an ISO 9000 program in Sinaloa, Mexico, in the 1990s, Mr. Wagner said. "We brought that over from Europe [because] we wanted to try and stay ahead of the curve."

The company's farmers now have MCS certifications as well, and Mr. Wagner applauded the program and the efforts being made in the industry in Mexico to maximize food safety.

"We think it is wonderful that everybody is trying to step up and make sure they are doing everything they can to try and minimize risks," he said. "Everybody is making a conscious effort to participate on the best level they can. We think it is fabulous."

The efforts of MCS will be beneficial in the long term, he continued. "The stronger they can make everybody as a whole, the better off the industry is." Regarding the award, Mr. Wagner said, "We really appreciate the fact that we were recognized. ... We all have to work together to better the industry as a whole."

In a written statement, Giumarra Nogales commented on its selection to receive the award: "Giumarra is honored to be a recipient of this award and would like to express our gratitude to Mexico Calidad Suprema for the recognition. Our relationship with the Mexican fresh produce industry is extremely important to us. For the past 40 years, we have been involved with Mexican growers who, like ourselves, are third- and fourth-generation farmers. We very much value the loyalty of these long-standing relationships and the associations we have built within the Mexican fresh produce industry."

"We are naturally very grateful" for the recognition, said Hank Imwalle, president of Bay Area Produce, who traveled from San Jose to Nogales to attend the dinner and receive the award. Bay Area has had a presence in Nogales for 35 years and has had a consolidation warehouse in Nogales for 17 years.

"We have always prided ourselves on buying the very best produce available at all times, no matter where it is from," he said. "We founded our company on that, and because of that, I think we have that reputation around the country and in Mexico."

Regarding the MCS program, Mr. Imwalle said, "I think it is fantastic, because it raises the bar for a lot of people."