Consulate office in Leamington to aid Mexican farmworkers

The government of Mexico held its official opening of a consulate office Aug. 29 in Leamington, ON. The purpose of the office and the staff's assigned functions may well prove to be a lesson for other countries, including the United States.

The office, which is staffed by three people who are Mexican citizens, has been opened to assist the approximately 2,500 Mexican guestworkers who live and work in the area for periods of time throughout the year. These workers, and often the family members they bring with them to Canada, have typical and sometimes uniquely personal issues, concerns and problems that their Canadian employers, due primarily to language limitations, are not as apt to readily handle.

The Leamington area is known around the world today as having a world-class greenhouse vegetable and floral industry, second only to Holland. Growers and those associated with the greenhouse industry in the area utilize the latest technologies and advancements in their processes, but they still depend heavily on Mexican workers during the growing and harvesting procedures.

Anthony Cervini, owner of Lakeside Produce in Leamington, ON, is involved with governmental concerns such as worker issues. He said that Mexican workers generally stay in Canada for about six months, although their work permits allow them to stay for about eight months each year.

"The Mexican consulate office is needed to aid these people with the same issues that our own citizens have, but they arent able to communicate as easily," said Mr. Cervini. Mexican President Fox was in Ottawa in November and made the commitment at that time to open this office. We are happy to see that he has fulfilled his promise, and we know this office will be a valuable asset to workers in the future.

Mr. Cervini said that the consulate office is more of a division of the full-service Mexican consulate, which is located in Toronto. Its primary functions will be in worker issues.

The benefits of having this branch open extend beyond having the ability to service workers, said Mr. Cervini. The program builds unilateral relations between our two countries. These workers are well protected by both of our governments, and they have the same benefits that Canadian citizens are entitled to, including insurance and worker compensation.

The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers issued a statement Aug. 29 congratulating the government of Mexico on the opening of the consulate office, stating that both employers and employees in the Ontario greenhouse industry should welcome it.

In the statement, Glen Lutz, chairman of OGVG, said, The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers fully supports this initiative and looks forward to working with all labor supply countries to ensure the success of the Caribbean and Mexican seasonal agricultural worker programs.

IPC unveils new 'Idaho' label for potato bags

SUN VALLEY, ID  At a meeting held here Aug. 31, the Idaho Potato Commission unveiled a new "Idaho" label that shippers can use at their option on bags of Idaho-grown potatoes.

In announcing the new label, commission President Frank Muir emphasized that it is not mandatory and will not be featured in commission advertising programs, which will focus, rather, on the Grown in Idaho seal. But he said that it makes sense for shippers to use the new Idaho label as an opportunity to market Idaho.

Graphically, the label design features the Idaho name prominently in white lettering on a blue background, crowned with the familiar Grown in Idaho seal, said Mr. Muir. Under the Idaho name are the words Russet Potatoes, also in white. Eventually, the label wording may be modified for use with other potato types grown in Idaho, such as reds or fingerlings, he said.

The purpose of this label, Mr. Muir said, is to more readily identify Idaho potatoes to consumers who have a difficult time identifying Idaho if the Idaho name is less prominently displayed. The objective, he said, is to make it very clear to consumers when they look at a bag of potatoes with the Idaho label that the potatoes in the bag are, indeed, Idaho potatoes.

The Idaho name is closely associated with potatoes in consumers' minds, and studies show a high degree of consumer preference for Idaho potatoes, he noted. But there is a downside to such a close association in that many times consumers just assume that potatoes are from Idaho, while not all of them are. It is for that reason that much commission advertising over the last several years has focused on encouraging consumers to look for the Grown in Idaho seal on the bag, and that effort will continue.

But the Idaho label on a bag will give it instant and unmistakable identification as Idaho-grown product without consumers having to look for the seal.

Idaho is identified very clearly on the bag as the brand, with the certification mark crowning the logo on top, Mr. Muir said. With a consistent look, we think it will be easier for consumers to find Idaho potatoes and readily choose them.

It is completely the option of the shipper if they want to use this label, either as a replacement for or in addition to their existing labels, Mr. Muir told The Produce News. We are hoping more and more shippers will choose this as their premier label. We do believe it demonstrates a premier look.

The commission has not talked directly to retail customers to get their reaction to the new label. That is something that will be up to the shippers to discuss with their own customers, Mr. Muir said. But we have talked to the end consumers, and consumers say it is something they want. Based on that consumer input, the commission decided to make the label available directly to shippers and let them talk to their customers and see if it makes sense to them.

Mr. Muir said, however, that he expects the new label to be readily accepted by retailers. He said that based on his experience in packaged goods, he believes most retailers like to have the national brand and their own private label. This will provide a national brand, 'Idaho,  and they can still continue to offer their private label as well. They may still pack Idaho potatoes in their bag also, he said. They may, for example, use No. 2 Idaho potatoes in their store brand at a little lower price and feature the national brand, Idaho, as the premium brand.

FDA warns processors of basil recall

WASHINGTON  Federal food safety officials warned processors and repackers about a recall of basil after saying a California company was not doing enough to alert its consignees to the problem.

Majestic International Spice Corp. in Montebello, CA, is recalling its dehydrated Extra Fancy Basil in 12.5-kilogram bags because FDA said that it found the product contaminated with Salmonella Blockley during routine sampling.

"FDA is issuing this advisory because we are concerned that the firm has not adequately alerted its consignees to the problem," according to the agency's Aug. 26 press statement.

The eight-year-old firm supplies herbs and spices to wholesalers, distributors, packers, gourmet stores, restaurants, institutions and foodservice companies. But the company said that tests showed no Salmonella in samples analyzed by private laboratories. Majestic tested the product when it came into the United States and then again after FDA expressed concerns. In both cases, Majestic received certificates of a clean product. It began distributing the dried basil only to receive notice from FDA that it had tested positive. An official with the company said it has been alerting customers to the recall, despite FDAs comments that the company was not doing enough, and has yet to receive a certificate from FDA showing the product tested positive for Salmonella.

The only identification on the 12.5-kilogram paper bags is a white paper label stating Extra Fancy Basil 12.5 Kgs. A company official said that more than 6,000 pounds of the product were distributed to customers mostly in California and Nevada from March to June. The firm has ceased distribution of the product, and FDA was instructing processors and repackers who received the product to stop using it and contact their local FDA office.

In other news, FDA has apparently traced the source of fresh basil linked to a large outbreak of cyclospora contamination in Florida. The tainted basil has been traced to an unnamed grower in Peru, according to the Produce Marketing Association.

In June, Florida health officials asked FDA to start tracing the origin of fresh basil that was believed to have sickened more than 300 people across the state.

FDA said they are reasonably certain that the contamination occurred prior to entry into the U.S. FDA officials noted that because it was fresh basil that was implicated, it is highly unlikely that any of the tainted product is still in the distribution system or marketplace, according to PMA.

FDA officials have met with the grower and importer, who have voluntarily ceased shipments until the processes or mechanisms are in place to prevent future contamination, said PMA. FDA officials plan to visit the grower to attempt to determine the cause of the contamination.

Murai fills interim post for strawberry commission

Santa Ana, CA-based strawberry grower Mark Murai assumed the role of interim president of the California Strawberry Commission, effective Aug. 29.

Mr. Murai, a third-generation Orange County grower and president of Murai Farms, has served on the commission's board of directors for 17 years and led the organization as its chairman of the board from 2002 to 2004. As chairman, he regularly communicated with state, federal and international governments. Prior to accepting the appointment, Mr. Murai was a grower member-at-large with the commission.

Mr. Murai has experience on the "grower, shipper and processing end" of the strawberry industry, which contributed to his being chosen, he said. He replaces Rodger Wasson, who in mid-August announced his resignation from the commission, effective Sept. 15. Mr. Murais interim status will continue indefinitely.

The [commissions] executive committee and board of directors want to do a thorough job of finding a president, Mr. Murai said. He added that his role is to help the commission keep moving and that hes familiar with [the commissions] main objectives.

Mr. Murai said that he would use the commissions headquarters in Watsonville, CA, as a base, but he will travel throughout the state.

On July 1, Rick Tomlinson started with the commission as governmental affairs director, working out of Sacramento. Mr. Murai said that Mr. Tomlinson would handle the brunt of the commissions work on public policy in the political arena from Sacramento and Washington, DC.

The role of commission president requires working in the political realm on issues affecting strawberry growers as well as having a presence with those growers in the trenches, Mr. Murai said. The ideal candidate to fill the presidents position permanently would have to be a down-to-earth, common-sense person and be able to relate to growers, as well as be a fast learner and be able to understand what growers face, he said.

Mr. Murai said that he believes the commission is moving ahead, but that many of the areas where it is investing dollars in product research have some results but nothing we can hang our hat on. He said that he is excited about the commissions health data on eating strawberries and how that affects the consumer, but that the commission needs to work on how it communicates with the buying community.

The commissions overall strategic goal is to allow Californias strawberry growers to succeed, especially since many have struggled through a couple of lean years, he said.

In most areas I believe were following what the industry wants, Mr. Murai said of the commission. Members have a tremendous amount of input.

Richard Amirsehhi, the commissions chairman of the board, said in a statement that Mr. Murais knowledge of the industry would make him an excellent interim leader.

Marks experience and leadership in the industry made him a natural choice for this important role, Mr. Amirsehhi said. With his understanding of the commissions strategic goals, he will be able to support the industrys vision and provide the board with a chance to focus on finding a permanent leader.

Mr. Murai began growing strawberries with his familys farms in 1985 while studying agricultural business management at California State Polytechnic Institute at Pomona.

The California Strawberry Commission supports and represents the California strawberry industry with programs in research, education, marketing and issues management. The commission represents an industry of over 600 growers, shippers and processors.

Epic Roots introduces its new ready-to-cook 'Chard Mix'

Salinas, CA-based Epic Roots LLC, a grower and distributor of specialty greens, has announced the introduction of "Chard Mix," a ready-to-cook, multi-colored assortment of Bright Lights chard and Salad Savoy.

Bright Lights is a new generation of Swiss chard with delicately flavored brightly colored leaves of gold, orange, pink, red and white. Salad Savoy is a member of the cabbage family, while chard is actually a beet green that is grown for its delicious and nutritious leaves rather than its root.

Home and restaurant chefs will love Chard Mix because it is nutrient rich (an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and a good source of calcium), fat-free, it brightens the plate and it eliminates preparation time.

Epic Roots' Chard Mix is available year round. It is prepared by simply saut?ing, braising or steaming it with seasonings such as garlic and onions as a side dish, it may be added to soups, stir-frys or pasta, or it can be a substitute for spinach in other recipes such as in poultry stuffings. A classic Italian holiday dish features chard with raisins and pine nuts.

Epic Roots Chard Mix is available for both retail and foodservice in one-pound bags (six one-pound bags per case).