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NEWARK, DE -- Johnna Hepner, Produce Marketing Association's director of food Safety and technology, joined other fresh produce industry representatives to conduct an educational field tour Aug. 21 for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in California's Salinas Valley.

She participated in the tour as part of the association's efforts to better educate government officials about the produce industry and its particular food safety challenges, which have included recent field tours for other government officials.

Secretary Vilsack was invited to tour the valley by Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Jim Costa (D-CA), who organized this event to showcase the state's agricultural value and to demonstrate the breadth of the industry's food- safety protocols. The three-stop tour ended with a roundtable discussion of the progress and strategic direction of food safety research, in which Ms. Hepner participated with several PMA members including Tim York, PMA past chairman and Center for Produce Safety chairman, who was also representing Markon Cooperative.

"We are very pleased to have the chance to join in and share our industry knowledge with the secretary," Ms. Hepner said in an Aug. 31 press release. "This outreach is right in line with our work to collaborate with government officials and get them acquainted with the cutting-edge, food-safety initiatives our industry has in place, as well as the unique needs and challenges we have that preclude one-size-fits-all approaches."

In recent months, PMA has also conducted similar tours to build key relationships with government officials and to enhance their industry knowledge. In April Bob Whitaker, PMA's chief science and technology officer, escorted Michael Taylor, the Food & Drug Administration's deputy commissioner for foods, on a tour in Nogales, AZ. Last fall Bryan Silbermann, PMA’s president and chief executive officer, hosted Margaret Hamburg, FDA’s commissioner of food and drugs, and Mr. Taylor on a tour of small farms in PMA's home state of Delaware.

"Reps. Farr and Costa recognize that anytime you can get an official the caliber of the secretary of agriculture with boots on the ground in one of our fields is a very good thing," Ms. Hepner said in the release. "We greatly appreciate their effort to help the secretary get an understanding of the produce industry, our practices and our unique food safety challenges and needs."