Cilantro may be culprit in cyclospora outbreak totaling 358 illnesses

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is reporting that, as of July 30, there are 358 people confirmed with cyclosporiasis across 26 states in an outbreak that may be tied to fresh cilantro.

Most of the illnesses began around May 1, and health officials have been investigating clusters of illnesses in Texas, Wisconsin and Georgia.

“Cluster investigations in Wisconsin and Texas have preliminarily identified cilantro as a suspect vehicle,” CDC said.

FDA, along with Texas and Wisconsin officials, found that cilantro from the state of Puebla, Mexico, was supplied to restaurants where some of the victims ate, and tainted cilantro from the region has been suspected in previous outbreaks.

“The investigations are ongoing, and a conclusive vehicle for the contamination has not been identified,” FDA cautioned.

However, FDA and Mexican officials are “enhancing the safety of fresh cilantro with produce-safety controls on both sides of the border,” FDA said.  Mexican officials are instituting export controls for cilantro from Puebla, and FDA issued on July 27 an import alert that detains shipments from April through August each year, unless they’re on a Green List of approved companies.

“Shipments of fresh cilantro from other states in Mexico will be allowed to enter and to be released into the United States if sufficient documentation is submitted with at entry demonstrating that the cilantro was harvested and packed outside of Puebla,” FDA said.

Signaling growing concern about the latest development, the United Fresh Produce Association, Produce Marketing Association, Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and the Texas International Produce Association scheduled a briefing July 31 with FDA officials on the effect of the import alert.

Kroger exec to retire after 18 years with the company

Kroger announced that Lynn Marmer, group vice president of corporate affairs and president of The Kroger Foundation, will retire in early 2016, after 18 years with the company. The company said her replacement will be named at a later date.

"Lynn has always appreciated the power of our industry to connect with people's everyday lives," Rodney McMullen, Kroger's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a press release. "Her leadership has helped advance Kroger as a leader in community engagement — especially through our partnership with local food banks — and in sustainability, customer relations and always connecting our external relations efforts to our customer-first business strategy. Lynn has been a trusted counselor and advisor to three CEOs during a period of significant change in food retail. We wish her and her family all the best in retirement."

Marmer joined Kroger in 1997 as a senior attorney in the legal department. When appointed to her current position in 1998, she became Kroger's first female corporate officer.

She focuses on reputation management and leveraging and protecting Kroger's brand. Marmer leads external communications and brand public relations; media; government and regulatory affairs; corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability; community relations and customer service centers; crisis management; cause-marketing and corporate philanthropy.

Marmer is responsible for growing Kroger's supplier diversity program to $1 billion annually, creating a national program of fresh food rescue that donates 200 million meals annually to food banks across the United States, and creating four award-winning cause marketing campaigns that contribute millions of dollars to Kroger's signature community programs. In 2011, Forbes magazine named Kroger the most generous company in America.

In addition to her industry leadership, Marmer has been deeply involved in nonprofit boards and civic problem-solving groups. She currently is a member of the boards of the Cincinnati Zoo, Interact for Health, CRBC (Cincinnati Regional Business Committee), the Cincinnati Business Committee Education Task Force, Leadership Scholars, Carpe Diem (charter school), the Finance Committee of the Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), and is chair of the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati.

She earned a bachelor's degree in education, her master's degree in Urban Planning; and J.D. from the University of Cincinnati. She also completed The University of Cambridge programme for sustainable leadership.

South Carolina peach crop is bountiful and juicy as harvest moves into high gear

COLUMBIA, SC — Supermarket produce departments can bank on an excellent volume of quality South Carolina peaches this summer, affirmed Martin Eubanks, South Carolina Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture, in a mid-July interview here. He is a 28-year veteran of the department and an old hand at riding the weather roller-coaster for produce crops.

He predicts a bountiful and juicy harvest this year, ending in early September. “We could easily top four million 25-pound boxes this season,” he told The Produce News (in 2014, 3.5 million boxes were shipped).peachThis peach tree bears some of the bountiful and juicy fruit for the South Carolina peach harvest, which is in full swing in late July. South Carolina now has 20,000 acres of peach orchards, he estimates. “The outlook is good. We had a cold winter, received good rainfall and peach orchards received all the chill hours they need.”

Growers are bustling to get the crop in. At McLeod Farms in McBee, SC, for example, Kemp McLeod, a fourth-generation owner who grows 22 varieties of peaches on 650 acres, said workers have expanded from about 40 year-round to 200 for the harvest season, and 15-hour workdays are not uncommon. McLeod uses drip irrigation; high-speed wind machines that pull warmer air down into the orchards to save peach trees from frost damage; and in spring and early summer, a hail cannon which uses sonic waves to crush hail into harmless rain.

Chalmers R. Carr III, president of Titan Farms in Ridge Spring, SC, said the peach crop there was “the biggest and best in years.” He was interviewed July 16, when Titan had about half its crop harvested. “We’ve got a million boxes shipped, and a million boxes to go,” when harvest is finished around Sept. 12, he noted. Production is steady, he added, with about 100 tractor-trailers filled each week.

 The hot and dry weather raised the peaches’ sugar levels high, he said, making them extra sweet. Prices have drifted lower, he said, but demand remains strong and he expects prices to stabilize at normal levels. “Consumer reaction has been phenomenal to this year’s harvest, our retail partners tell us,” he observed.

Eubanks noted that the state ranks second in the nation in peach production with a peach industry valued at $130 million, right behind sprawling California and well ahead of Georgia, “The Peach State.” South Carolina’s location in the Southeast allows overnight shipments to reach much of the U.S. population. Other advantages include 842 miles of interstate highways and 9,500 miles of state primary roads, he said. “Water is abundant,” he commented, “and warm, humid growing conditions on slightly acidic, sandy loam soil provide outstanding quality and flavor in our products.”

Speaking of flavor: South Carolina peaches carry the slogan, “The Tastier Peach,” Eubanks noted, warning that “anyone eating a South Carolina peach with its natural juices will need two napkins.” The loam soil in the Upstate and The Ridge area of the state, where 80 percent of the state’s peaches are grown, gives them a distinctive sweet flavor, Eubanks stated.

Over his nearly three decades at the department, Eubanks said the number of produce Stock Keeping Units has grown from about 60 to more than 500—some SKU’s due to new varieties, others reflecting new processing for existing products, including peaches. In 2009, Yonce & Sons in Johnston, SC, began processing frozen sliced peaches, a first on the East Coast. Among the many customers for its Sweet Carolina Frozen Peaches was R J Rockers Brewing Co. in Spartanburg, SC, which used Yonce frozen peaches to make its “Son of a Peach” beer. In 2015, Titan Farms also began making peach puree.

Josie’s Organics receives Best rating from Whole Foods

Braga Fresh Family Farms' Josie’s Organics line of fresh vegetables has earned a Best rating under Whole Foods Market’s Responsibly Grown rating system for fresh produce and flowers, thanks to the line’s top performance in pest management and environmental protection, water and energy conservation, protection of air, soil, water and human health.braga

For nearly 20 years, Braga Fresh Family Farms has expanded its certified organic program, and in 2013 it launched Josie’s Organics, a brand that pays homage to the family’s grandmother, Josie Braga, who began farming with husband, Sebastian, on the same fertile soil the Braga family grows their line of more than 25 varieties of premium, USDA-certified organic vegetables on today.

“We’re excited to receive the highest recognition from Whole Foods Market for Josie’s Organics’ sustainability practices and commitment to providing great-tasting, organic, fresh vegetables grown with care of the land and conservation in mind,” Roger Zardo, director of sales at Braga Fresh Family Farms, said in a press release.

Responsibly Grown is a result of Whole Foods Market’s collaboration with suppliers, scientists and industry experts to hone in on important issues in food safety and sustainability, while providing more transparency in the industry for supplier accountability and consumer benefit.

“With Josie’s Organics, we demonstrate the Braga family’s long commitment to growing sustainably in all aspects, as this is the food we’re feeding our own families, too,” said Zardo.

Whole Foods Market’s Responsibly Grown rating system acknowledges exceptional performance in numerous areas of sustainable farming. To earn a Best rating, farms must participate in 16 practices to protect air, soil, water and human health; use no Whole Foods Market-prohibited pesticides and have GMO transparency; employ no biosolids or irradiation; make substantial efforts in water and energy conservation; have advanced soil health; protect rivers, lakes and oceans; make farmworker health and safety a priority; protect bees and butterflies; and demonstrate industry leadership of pest management and environmental protection.

Piazza Produce to host the Taste of Piazza 2015

The Taste of Piazza 2015 will be held Aug. 25 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The event is presented every other year by Piazza Produce Inc. The first show was held in 2009, making this the fourth such Taste of Piazza.

Michelle Agresta, sales and marketing assistant for Piazza, indicated that 130 of Piazza’s produce and specialty food vendors will be exhibiting on the fieldhouse concourse, which is the home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.taste-of-piazza-logo

Between 800 and 1,000 customers and potential customers will attend the event, which runs from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The 2015 Taste of Piazza theme is "Our Ingredients … Your Creation." Certain Piazza vendors are pairing to demonstrate product uses. For example, an Indiana cabbage supplier is working with a spring roll supplier to demonstrate how to use cabbage in preparing spring rolls, Agresta said.

Such exhibits will show Piazza’s customers “this is what you can do,” with the products, she noted. Students from The Chefs Academy in Indianapolis are cooperating in developing some of the recipes.

Adding variety to the Taste of Piazza 2015 is the participation of a local brewery, which is serving its beers and is cross-merchandising with local producers of cheeses and other items. Four local Indiana wineries are also involved in the show.

“'Local’ is so big and we are such a powerful player in local foods in Indiana” that the show and its special participants are a successful mix, Agresta said.

Piazza serves customers within a 250-mile radius. This includes Chicago, parts of Michigan, Kentucky and Illinois, as well as Indiana.