your-news image

Safe Food Act could streamline food safety, extend FSMA

WASHINGTON — Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a bill this week that would merge all food-safety-related programs across 15 agencies into a single, independent food-safety agency.

The two lawmakers have introduced the bill before with little success, but they’re hoping to gain support from fiscally conservative members of the new GOP-controlled Congress.

The bill would transfer food regulators, inspectors and researchers from the Food & Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration to the newly created Food Safety Administration.

It would extend the Food Safety Modernization Act program to more foods by building on FSMA’s mandatory recall, preventive controls and performance standards. It would improve foreign food import inspections and require full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks, the lawmakers said. It would, however, keep disease surveillance programs separate and housed at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

“I am proud to join Senator Durbin in introducing this bill to ensure that we have a single person being held accountable for food safety, research, prevention, inspections, investigations and labelling,” DeLauro said. Food safety programs are “buried” in other agencies and this would free regulators from having to juggle other priorities, DeLauro said.

Durbin said he hopes the bill “sparks a national debate,” and that a single agency would “allow us to prioritize system-wide food-safety goals and targets. It would also help families navigate the differing federal, state and local food-safety agencies to get the answers they deserve.”

He said the bill would make it easier for companies to comply with food-safety laws.

The Safe Food Act of 2015 is co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Cosponsors in the House of Representatives include Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), James Langevin (D-RI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

Good supply of strawberries on tap for Valentine’s Day

Though some reports indicated that there could be a supply gap for strawberries in early February that would affect Valentine’s Day, industry representatives in both Florida and California do not expect that to be the case.

“Supplies should be adequate,” said Shawn Pollard, who sits on the sales desk for Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC in Plant City, FL. “We are going to have good supplies, but there won’t be a lot of extra berries available. Ninety percent of what we will have [for the Valentine’s Day pull] is pre-sold.”

Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms in Watsonville, CA, said supplies from the Golden State are on the rise, and while no supply gap is expected, “there are never enough berries for Valentine’s Day.”

She said strawberries, especially stem berries, are always popular as a Valentine’s Day gift and no matter how many are produced for that holiday, shippers tend to run out.

But looking at the total supply situation, Jewell said both Florida and Mexico are running ahead of last year’s totals. While California is down a bit, there has been very little rain during the month of January, so February supplies should be significantly greater.

California reached the 1 million tray-per-week level in mid-January, but by the end of the month supplies had dropped below that threshold. It would not be surprising, however, if each week in February produces more berries than the week before.

A strawberry blooms about four weeks prior to the fruit being ripe. So a survey of blooms at any given time reveals volume a month later, barring any weather issues.

As such, Pollard told The Produce News at the end of January that he expects great strawberry volume out of Florida at the end of February and moving into the first two weeks of March. On Jan. 30, Florida strawberry field were loaded with blooms.

Jewell said the Southern California production areas of Orange County and Oxnard received a little bit of rain Jan. 27 but not enough to significantly affect supplies. That rain, in fact, should help the plants and also produce increased supplies in about a month.

For the last week in January, strawberry prices on both coasts were in the mid-teens per flat. Pollard said his pre-sold Valentine’s Day pricing was in the $13-$15 range.

“Nothing less than $13,” he said.

He characterized the 2014-15 season as a “good year — much better than last year.”

Albertsons-Safeway merger complete

The Albertsons-Safeway merger, first announced in March 2014, was completed Jan. 30. Under the terms of the agreement Albertsons will acquire all outstanding shares of Safeway. In December, the companies announced the sale of 168 stores to four separate buyers, as divestitures required in order to secure U.S. Federal Trade Commission approval of the transaction.Untitled-2

Robert Edwards, Safeway's president and chief executive officer, is now president and CEO of the newly combined company. Current Albertsons CEO Bob Miller will become executive chairman.

"We plan to be the favorite local supermarket in every community we serve," Edwards said in a press release. "We will do this by knowing, listening to, and delighting our customers; providing the right products at a compelling value; and delivering a superior shopping experience. We will also continue to be active members of our local communities."

"This is a transformative day for both Albertsons and Safeway," Miller said in the press release. "This merger creates a unified, strong organization that is dedicated to bringing a better shopping experience to more customers across the country. Our combined geographic footprint, vast range of brands and products and service-oriented staff will enable us to meet evolving shopping preferences."

The merger will create a diversified network that includes 2,230 stores, 27 distribution facilities and 19 manufacturing plants with over 250,000 employees across 34 states and the District of Columbia.

The new company will be comprised of three regions and 14 retail divisions, supported by corporate offices in Boise, ID, Pleasanton, CA, and Phoenix. Banners will include Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Carrs, Albertsons, ACME, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Shaw's, Star Market, Super Saver, United Supermarkets, Market Street and Amigos.

United Fresh seeking nominations for chef awards

United Fresh has opened the nomination period for the 2015 Produce Excellence in Foodservice Awards Program, which honors the foodservice industry’s most innovative produce performers.

The program, sponsored by PRO*ACT LLC since its launch in 2008, has honored 37 different chefs and foodservice operators for their exceptional work in incorporating fresh produce in menu development, proper food safety and handling, engaging in community outreach and building an overall positive dining experience with fresh produce as a centerpiece. 

“Thousands of talented chefs work hard every day to find innovative ways to delight diners with menu items featuring fresh produce,” Tom Stenzel, United Fresh president and chief executive officer, said in a press release. “With PRO*ACT’s continued generous support, we are proud to recognize chefs who are committed to making produce the centerpiece of the meal.”

Chefs will be honored in each of the following business categories: Business in Industry, Casual and Family Dining, Colleges and Universities, Fine Dining Restaurants, Hotels and Healthcare Industry, K-12 Foodservice and Quick Service Restaurants. Winners are selected by a panel of United Fresh member representatives. Nominations must be submitted by March 16, 2015, and nomination information is available at unitedfresh.org.

“Fresh produce continues to drive success for the foodservice sector, and chefs play a critical role in encouraging consumers to explore produce items,” Max Yeater, president of PRO*ACT, added in the press release. “We are proud to continue to support this exceptional program and honor leading chefs who are making fresh produce the highlight of their menus.”

The seven winning chefs and their corporate executives receive complimentary airfare, hotel accommodations and registrations to United Fresh 2015, to be held June 8-10 in Chicago. The winners will be honored at the Retail-Foodservice Celebration Dinner, and the chefs will also participate in the education program at United Fresh 2015 to share their views on produce trends in foodservice. PRO*ACT will also make a donation to a charitable organization of each winner’s choice.

Titan Farms brings sales in-house under new vice president

SAVANNAH, GA — Daryl Johnston made his first appearance here Jan. 9 at the Southeast Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference as the first vice president for sales at Titan Farms.

Johnston had worked in sales at Southern Specialties in Pompano Beach, FL; B&W Quality Products; and Dole Food Co. He also served as a consultant on reorganization and business development to Pure Fresh in Doral, FL.

Chalmers R. Carr III, who announced the appointment Jan. 6, said the newly created position is part of a move to bring all major functions in-house at the Titan firm.TITAN12615-JOHNSTON--CARRDaryl Johnston, new vice president for sales at Titan Farms, with Chalmers R. Carr III, president.

“We are working to become a fully vertically integrated company, and bringing sales in-house is a big move in that direction,” he told The Produce News. “This change will bring us closer to our retail customers.”

Johnston said he was excited about building a sales division from the ground up. “We will be hiring five or six people for our sales team,” he said. “My portfolio includes marketing and new business development, along with serving our existing customers. My first priority is to get on the road and go see our customers.”

Titan, in Ridge Spring, SC, is a grower-packer-shipper of 2.4 million boxes a year of peaches, broccoli and Bell peppers.

“Representing our own products is a logical step to becoming a national player,” said Carr.

Bringing sales in-house was a three-year project, he explained, with processing the last major move.

“We are looking at getting into frozen, sliced peaches and peach puree,” he said, adding that the final move to processing is in its third and final year.

In addition to adding a sales division, Titan is hard at work building a $6 million packingline, which it plans to open by May 1, as well as making final arrangements for bringing processing operations in-house. And all this is taking place during what the outside observer might characterize as “down time.”

A bit like building an airplane while you are trying to fly it? “It’s not just a way of life,” Carr observed. “It is our life.”