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In an apparent about-face, EWG's new rating system gives top scores to fresh produce

The Environmental Working Group, best known for lambasting fresh produce with its annual "Dirty Dozen" list, has released a new food database and smart phone app that recommends eating the same produce it has been railing against for years.

The "Food Scores" app rates about 80,000 foods on a 1 to 10 scale, with 1 being the best and 10 the worst. Only 18 percent of the foods, including most fresh fruits and vegetables, received the highest rating (1-3.5), while 57 percent scored in the middle range (4-7) and 25 percent were ranked in the worst category of 8-10.

EWG calls the new tool "the most comprehensive food-rating database available to consumers." The scoring system factors in nutritional information as well as food additives, such as sugar, and contaminants, such as pesticides. It also estimates the degree to which foods have been processed.

"When you think about healthy food, you have to think beyond the Nutrition Facts panel," Renee Sharp, EWG's director of research, said in a press release. "It doesn't always tell the whole story. EWG's Food Scores shows that certain foods that we think are good for us may actually be much less so because they contain questionable food additives or toxic contaminants."  

According to the press release, the new app is designed to "guide people to greener, healthier and cleaner food choices" by providing "highly detailed information" on how each food stacks up in terms of nutritional content and whether they contain questionable additives, such as nitrites or potassium bromate, or harmful contaminants, such as arsenic and mercury, and which foods have the lowest and highest processing concerns. The app also identifies meat and dairy products that are likely produced with antibiotics and hormones and highlights the fruits and vegetables that are likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues.

In perusing the scoring, it appears that the system is especially harsh on added sugars while giving much better scores to items that are not processed. And while the system notes the fresh produce items that regularly make the group's "Dirty Dozen" list for excessive pesticides, those fruits and vegetables don't appear to be harshly judged for their appearance on that list.

For example, cherry tomatoes made the "Dirty Dozen" list this year coming in 10th place with the note that a single sample tested positive for 13 different pesticides. Yet a 10.5 ounce package of cherry tomatoes scored a 1.5 in the EWG Food Scores system, which places it high in the "Best" category.

The notes about this particular pack of cherry tomatoes do state that the produce is on "EWG's Dirty Dozen list for pesticide residues" but also gives the product good marks for no processing, no additives and being "one of the most nutritious vegetables for the lowest cost."

The cherry tomato listing also contains this information that is included in all the fresh produce listings: "Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is an essential part of a healthy diet."

While the Food Score listings do differentiate between organic and conventional items, the scores are typically very similar.

For example an eight-ounce container of both organic and conventional mushrooms from different companies receive the highest 1.0 rating. The same is true for many different packaged salad products, which all received very high marks (typically between 1.0 and 1.5), though both organic and conventional packs are included and as are many different blends.

The Alliance for Food & Farming, a produce industry trade group that has waged a concerted battle for several years against the publicity the "Dirty Dozen" list has received, weighed in on EWG's new effort.

"In light of this new 'best' ranking for organic and conventional produce and EWG's new and very strong statement regarding the need for increased consumption, we are hopeful this means they will discontinue their annual release of the so-called 'Dirty Dozen' list," Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Alliance, said in a press release. "This 'best' ranking is a very positive step by EWG and we look forward to them continuing this trend by dropping their list, which only confuses consumers about produce safety."

Dolan also praised EWG's new statement promoting increased consumption of organic and conventional produce.

EWG now states, "Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables--especially dark green, red and orange varieties, as well as beans and peas--is an essential part of a healthy diet. Fruit and vegetable intake is associated with reduced risk of heart attack, stroke and some types of cancers (USDA and DHHS 2010). Fruits and vegetables are also key sources of potassium and dietary fiber -- nutrients that many Americans do not get enough of. Perhaps that's because on average, Americans eat only 42 percent and 59 percent of the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables, respectively (USDA and DHHS 2010), making them one of the few foods we should all eat more of."

Dolan said it is an important step that EWG is adopting the same health message put forth by the Alliance and many other health experts.

No spokesperson for EWG was available to comment on the new app.

Jim Formisano, lifelong member of NJ produce industry, was 64

James Anthony Formisano, a lifelong member of the fresh produce industry, died Oct. 2 of liver cancer at his home in Buena, NJ. He was 64 years old.

Mr. Formisano, known as Jim, was born Jan. 27, 1950, in Hackensack, NJ, but moved to the southern part of the state when he was 2 years old, according to his sister Carol Swendsen. He was raised in Buena, graduated from Vineland (NJ) High School in 1969, and started to work in the fresh produce industry, beginning with the Formisano family produce business, she said.JimFormisanoJim Formisano

Skip Consalo launched Fresh Wave Produce (now The Freshwave LLC) in Vineland, NJ, back in 2004, and Mr. Formisano was there from the beginning. When he died, Mr. Formisano was the company's director of field operations.

"He was there since the first year of The Freshwave," Tom Consalo, the company's vice president, told The Produce News Friday, Oct. 24. "He was beloved here in the office. He was so well known and so well liked by so many people in the area. He was such a good guy."

Mr. Formisano devoted much of his time to his work, which he liked very much, but he also enjoyed fine dining and traveling, and his favorite travel destination was the island of Anguilla in the Caribbean, according to Barbara Frasnelli, his companion for the last nine years.

Mr. Formisano, who was divorced, is survived by two sisters, Carol Swendsen and Theresa Newman; two brothers, John Formisano and Ralph Formisano, of Formisano Produce Co. Inc.; and many nephews, nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces.

E. Armata earns HACCP certification with a 100 Superior percent rating

E. Armata’s extensive renovation project at the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, NY, began in April 2013. By November of the same year, the facility had been totally gutted and rebuilt from the ground up.

In announcing the completed project last February, Chris Armata, president, told The Produce News that the project was planned and started months before it was announced that Hunts Point had negotiated a seven-year lease extension with the city of New York.Nick-LomaxNick Lomax

“We undertook this project because we feel strongly that we need to supply our growers, shippers and customers with a facility that matches the quality of our produce and our service,” said Armata.

The company has 21 units in rows A and C on the market, and a separate building adjacent to the market that is used for warehousing and tomato repacking. Its warehouse and refrigeration space alone accounts for over 60,000 square feet.

Now the company has made another outstanding advancement. On Oct. 20, Nick Lomax, head of operations, announced to The Produce News that only a week earlier the company learned that it had been certified by Good Management Practices, commonly referred to as GMP, and HACCP for the first time — and with a 100 percent Superior rating. Lomax headed the certification process, and he described the rigorous certification process.

Lomax, who has worked for the company for 18 years, was a natural choice to head up the process. He started as a warehouseman and worked his way up the corporate ladder to checker, foreman, head foreman and sales prior to being appointed head of operations.

“We started the certification process in early September 2013, and finished it by December,” he said. “The first step was to go to AIB. They sent us all of the necessary materials and documents. I took the basic food-safety course, followed by the GMP and then HACCP programs. These took place at different times during the four-month process. I moved pretty fast because we wanted to obtain our certifications as quickly as possible to coincide with our renovation project.”

Since finishing the courses last December until the certification was acquired, E. Armata, under Lomax’s direction, spent a great deal of time implementing changes at the facility. It meticulously followed the Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures, commonly referred to as SSOP, compiling documents of instructions for every division of the company.

“The procedures call for certain areas to be cleaned every day, and other areas every week, such as deep cleaning the floors. There is also a required every six-month process that involves things like deep cleaning the racks with a chemical that is expelled from a spray foamer so that the spray is carefully contained in the designated areas.

“The yearly requirements include issues like cleaning the entire building and all the refrigeration units, which we contract out to Hughes Environmental, a local firm that is certified to do this procedure,” he continued. “Everything from soup to nuts must be certified, and any outside firms we employ must also be certified.”

Lomax stressed that the job could not have been done, especially within such a short time frame, had it not been for the attentiveness and cooperation of the company’s 16 foremen. They were trained on proper cleaning procedures, employee safety habits, such as wearing clean clothes when they come to work, washing their hands regularly, wearing hair nets, smocks and gloves, not having beards, not wearing jewelry and other requirements while working.

“Employees were given HACCP classes and received handouts on what each division was required to do,” Lomax explained. “The regulations related to our tomato division are even more stringent because we hand repack on a machine, which is more detailed.”

Certification rules also dictate that temperatures are checked on units twice a day and everything must be documented on hard copy. The foremen also conduct spot checks during the day, which are also documented. Before each foreman begins his shift at E. Armata’s 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation, he must complete a checklist of every detail required.

In a video that ran with the Feb. 18 announcement in The Produce News of the completion of the renovation project, the fourth-generation Armata family members commented on the project.

“Our state-of-the-art facility enables us to have the capability to repack 5x6 gas-green tomatoes for customers for the end user,” said Paul Armata, vice president. “Anyone who supplies a restaurant or wholesales out can meet the end user whether they want pink or full color.”

“At E. Armata we believe in our shippers and growers, and all the families in the field that actually produce the product that we sell here,” said Chris Armata. “Our customers are very key and very important. We care about them and we need them as well. And our people treat your product like their own — it’s their children. We take care of it from the time it gets here until the time it leaves. Here at E. Armata, we believe in the future.”

And Lomax said that future for the company includes even more major updates.

“Our strategy is to go digital soon,” he said. “We use the Produce Pro Software system, and we’re looking at implementing digital devices through their program that our foreman would carry with them at all times. They are the backbone of our company, and they have the ability to pinpoint any issue or problem within seconds. Digital devices will only enhance that ability.”

Lomax also concurs with the Armatas about how the new certifications affect the company’s customers.

“Our customers are assured of getting safe food from our shippers to us and to them,” he said. “Our shippers are required to have third-party Primus audits, which are required by HACCP, and they provide us with a letter of guarantee. This entire process and certification boils down to self-policing and maintaining precise documentation.

“Not only are we proud of the changes that have been made at E. Armata in the past year, but I agree with Chris — we did this because we feel strongly about supplying our growers, shippers and customers with the best quality and safest food possible,” he continued. “It’s been a long and arduous process, but we are very glad that we did it and we look forward to a future that insures that we always have the highest level of technologies and food safety initiatives.”

San Francisco Market holds opening of new building

On Oct. 22, the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market marked what is being called the first phase of an expansion project with the opening of a brand new 85,000-square-foot state-of-the-art produce and food distribution facility.

The warehouse and office structure, which sits on 3.4-acre site on Rankin Street adjacent to the 50-year-old market, will house several companies including a distribution center for a well-known regional supermarket chain.SFmarket1Former San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, current Supervisor Malia Cohen and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee join the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market board of directors Chairman Larry Brucia in dedicating the new building.

Mollie Stone's Markets Central Distribution Center will house purchasing and distribution functions for all nine Mollie Stone's Markets. The interior is currently being built out to the supermarket's specs but will include extensive refrigerated storage for fresh fruits and vegetables. The chain will occupy about 25,000 square feet of the building and is expecting to be open for business in the spring of 2015.

Michael Janis, general manager of the market, said negotiations with two or three other potential tenants were currently underway and he expected to make an announcement with regard to that within several weeks.

Janis said the completion of phase one in the reinvestment project is tangible proof of the continuing vitality of the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market. About a decade ago, a similar expansion occurred and 18 months ago the market signed a new 60-year lease with the city of San Francisco, which owns the property.

The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market is comprised of 30 independent merchant businesses, united at one distribution center.

The market has a long history with the city of San Francisco. Many of the market's merchants sold fresh produce along the Embarcadero for many years before redevelopment in 1963 moved the market to its current location in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood.

When the new lease was signed in 2013, it was accompanied with a multi-year, $96 million reinvestment project to upgrade and expand the facilities and position the market for future success. The addition of this building on Rankin Street is part of the first phase of the project and expands the market considerably in both size and in capacity for merchant businesses.

In addition, Janis said several tenants have seen their individual spaces expanded or relocated in the past 18 months to accommodate their own growth.

He said the next phase of the project is currently under consideration as the market board discusses its needs and prioritizes them. On the agenda are a number of capital improvements to the core infrastructure, such as redevelopment of the market's four central warehouses; a new front office and operations center; an enhanced and re-routed traffic pattern around the market; and a new entry point to provide a "front door" for customers and visitors making it more conducive to visit the market.

Janis said judging by the expanding needs of current merchants, business is thriving. He said it is a challenge to "find the space we need now for the existing tenants."

Wegmans holds kale-tasting event

All Wegmans stores will be holding a "Love Kale" tasting event Saturday, Nov. 1 to highlight the vegetable's versatility, flavor and health benefits. Kale-inspired foods will be distributed throughout the store, allowing each department to feature its own kale-centric recipe, loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.kaleuoa

“Kale tastes great in so many different ways that I think every customer who comes to the store for the ‘Love Kale’ event will be in for some nice surprises,” Executive Chef John Steinhoff said in a press release. “Every dish we’ll be sampling features kale as an ingredient, so customers will get a sense of its versatility. There’ll be a salad and side dishes, a vegetarian sushi roll, a pasta dish, a smoothie, and even sweets and snacks. We’ll have recipe cards for those who want to recreate some of these dishes at home.”

The featured recipes will be sautéed kale and kale chips in the produce department; Hail Kale Caesar salad in the self-serve bar in prepared foods area; 'Kale-elujah’ rolls at the sushi bar; Tuscan roasted squash and kale, paired with roasted honey-brined rib end of pork in the meat department; kale and cannelini cappellacci, a ravioli dish in the dairy department; Kandy Kale and Rhythm Chips in Nature’s Marketplace; and fruit and kale smoothies in the frozen foods area.

“Kale is really popping in my garden right now, and my kids love it,” Steinhoff said. “They’ll ask if I can make some kale chips for them, and then go pick some leaves for the chips. One day, after my son and I came home from a sporting event, I made ‘Hail Kale’ Caesar Salad. He ate it and liked it so much he asked for more.”

In fact, Steinhoff said, a good way to introduce kale to kids is to have it in foods with a familiar flavor — such as Caesar salad or a minestrone soup.

“Kale’s reputation as a superfood is understandable since it’s so rich in a number of important nutrients,” Jane Andrews, Wegmans nutrition and product labeling manager, said in the release. “But no one fruit or vegetable — even kale — offers all the nutrients our bodies need from this food group. So as our Eat Well, Live Well guidelines suggest, enjoy five cups a day of fruits and vegetables in many varieties, tastes, and colors.”

Kale grows best in cool temperatures, and its leaves grow sweeter with a touch of light frost, so its peak growing season, from fall to spring, is just beginning. Curly kale is the most popular and common variety. Tuscan kale (also known as Lacinato or dinosaur kale) has a slightly sweeter, more delicate flavor. Ornamental kales in shades of white, pink and purple are grown for their beauty in the garden and in floral arrangements — though edible, they have a somewhat bitter flavor.