Inspector training among concerns raised at first FDA public meeting on FSMA implementation

WASHINGTON — While Food & Drug Administration leaders say inspectors will undergo a culture change before enforcing the Food Safety Modernization Act and “educate before regulate,” the produce industry is looking for assurances inspectors will be well trained and apply the law consistently across the diverse industry.

FDA shared some details of a plan to implement FSMA at an April 23-24 public meeting where the agency asked for input from stakeholders on the looming import, preventive controls and produce safety programs.

While FDA leadership may be committed to changing the adversarial role of inspectors, it will be a “herculean task” to implement the culture change throughout the ranks, said David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology at United Fresh Produce Association, one a seven panelists who spoke on Friday.

The real test will come when inspectors show up at farms or knock at the door of produce facilities, he added.

Other food industry representatives urged FDA to make sure inspectors are well trained and “not just box checkers,” and to share the training curriculum with industry.

“We want to remind FDA there’s a lot of different ways” to make food safe, said the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Leon Bruner, who called for guidelines to help industry comply with FSMA but warned against making them inflexible.

As FDA rolls out the massive new food-safety system, Bruner suggested the agency develop a formal appeals process when disagreements arise between a facility manager and an inspector on interpretation of FSMA.

FDA hinted at plenty of changes being considered to enforce the law.

FDA said it’s investing in specialized training for produce inspectors, most of whom will be state inspectors on the farm, and plans to hire subject matter experts sprinkled throughout the country who will advise inspectors “in real time” to promote consistency.

FDA is working with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture to develop a voluntary on-farm assessment that would be conducted before companies must comply with the law.

The agency is also eyeing whether to factor in “market-driven produce safety programs,” such as the USDA Good Agricultural Practices audit programs and marketing agreements, to make decisions on resource allocation when it comes to inspections.

During the meeting, state representatives warned against dumping an “unfunded mandate” on states, the front lines for educating and regulating industry.

Without adequate funding, said Chuck Ross, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Foods & Markets, “We are buying a grand illusion.”

United Fresh Start Foundation to host Tip Murphy Legacy Golf Tournament

For the second consecutive year, the United Fresh Start Foundation will host the Tip Murphy Legacy Golf Tournament. This year the tournament will take place Monday, Aug. 17 at the Oasis Golf Club near Cincinnati.uflog

“Last year’s event saw record attendance and was an excellent opportunity for networking with industry and retail colleagues,” Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a press release. “The United Fresh Start Foundation is pleased to once again work with the founders of the Tip Murphy Golf Tournament and serve as the ‘Host Partner’ for this event, remembering Tip’s legacy of service to the produce industry.”

Proceeds from the 2015 golf tournament will support the Foundation’s partnership in the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative, which has donated salad bars to more than 4,000 schools nationwide, benefitting over 2 million children every day. The 2014 golf tournament supported salad bars for five Midwest schools, school foodservice trainings, salad bar media and promotional activities and other opportunities to connect members with leading school foodservice directors.

The United Fresh Start Foundation is focused exclusively on increasing children’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables as a critical step in combating childhood obesity and launching a lifetime of healthy snack and meal choices.

The Tip Murphy golf tournament was developed in 2009 to honor the life and career of Terrence (Tip) Murphy, a 15-year veteran of the produce industry. Murphy was division vice president of retail sales for Ready Pac Foods when he died unexpectedly in July 2008 at age 48. His career included 13 years with Chiquita Brands International.

In previous years, The Tip Murphy Memorial Golf Tournament benefitted the Produce Marketing Association’s Foundation for Industry Talent. In 2014, and now again in 2015, the United Fresh Start Foundation will help promote the event, manage registration and provide onsite support.

For more information and to sign up to participate in this year’s golf tournament, visit unitedfresh.org/events-programs/tip-murphy/. Sponsorships and opportunities to support the on-site raffle are also available. Those interested can contact Dana Davis at 302/750-4662 for more information.

Dayka & Hackett expands Disney offerings

DaykaHackett DisneyFrozen-MandarinD-StyleBag2Dayka & Hackett LLC, based in Reedley, CA, announced its release of new citrus packaging featuring Disney’s Frozen. The Mandarin and Navel orange bags are available at grocery retailers nationwide starting this spring.

The Frozen-themed poly and mesh bags feature beloved characters Anna and Elsa, along with fun film facts.

“We look forward to encouraging Frozen fans of all ages to enjoy healthy eating,” Tim Dayka, managing member, said in a press release. “Our new citrus packaging is a great addition to our Disney-themed offerings.”

Dayka & Hackett LLC is a year-round marketer of fresh table grapes, tree fruit, pomegranates, kiwifruit, pears, apples, citrus and mangos. The company operates its own farming and packing operations in Reedley. In addition to its California production, Dayka & Hackett imports fruit from Chile, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Spain and Uruguay.

Vidalia Onion Committee announces start date, marketing campaign

The Vidalia onion season official start date is set for April 27 and the committee is continuing the V is for Vidalia marketing campaign after its successful debut last year.  The campaign focuses on promoting the versatility and benefits of Vidalia onions to a younger consumer base.apricotbin

The promotion features increased digital and social media activities with outreach to food bloggers, a coupon and weekly give-a-ways on Facebook along with advertising and public relations activities.  

“We had a tremendous response to the V is for Vidalia campaign last year, which is why we have decided to make this a long-term promotional effort,” Susan Waters, executive director of the VOC, said in a press release. “We were able to reach the targeted Millennial consumers and are beginning to establish their long-term loyalty for the Vidalia onion brand.”  

The campaign is set to launch with the Golden Onion Chef Competition on Sunday, April 26  during the Vidalia Onion Festival in Vidalia, GA. Chefs from throughout the state of Georgia will compete to showcase their creativity and culinary skills using Vidalia onions in a variety of recipes. The Vidalia Onion Committee is now hosting this annual event with support from the Georgia Restaurant Association, Georgia Grown and The Vidalia Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“We are very excited to be managing the Fourth Annual Golden Onion Competition this year,” Waters said in the release. “Mara Davis will host the event as emcee. Davis is a television and radio personality for Atlanta Eats in Atlanta and executive producer of Tastemore Atlanta. Our goal is to expand this event to become more interactive and relevant for attendees.”

A newly expanded retailer section of the Vidalia Onion Committee’s website provides retailers with a range of marketing and merchandising resources at www.VidaliaOnion.org. Retailers can order a monthly crop report, review highlights from the 2014 onion category research study, download campaign graphics and merchandising tips, as well as access storage and handling information.  

Retailers can also request point-of-sale materials from their Vidalia onion supplier, which will feature the colorful “V is for Vidalia” theme. Items available include half-bin displays, a poster, shelf cards and a self-adhesive, tear off recipe pad.

New normal forecast for California stone fruit crop

After several years of bad markets, California stone fruit growers began pulling out trees in the mid-2000s, which has created a new normal of lighter supplies and better markets.

A very significant amount of trees were pulled with the acreage shifted to other crops. Bill Purewal, owner of PureFresh Sales in Selma, CA, said most estimates conclude that about 30 percent of the acreage was pulled. The result is a very manageable supply of fruit and a strong market. He noted that there should be promotable fruit in early May but no oversupply throughout the entire season — and it may even be light on the back end.

Maurice Cameron, global sales of The Flavor Tree Fruit Co. in Hanford, CA, agreed that it should be “a nice crop of all three fruits” — peaches, plums and nectarines — with some varieties at the tail end of the season being in short supply. “I think we will have a nice market that will look a lot like last year.”

Clint Lucas, account manager for RJO Produce Marketing in Fresno, CA, agreed with the other two assessments and called this the “new normal.” Different than it was in the last decade when oversupply was the situation every years, Lucas said the new normal is punctuated with good markets and not too much fruit. On April 22, he talked to The Produce News after spending the previous day touring various packing operations in the San Joaquin Valley. “The theme we keep hearing is that it should be about the same as last year especially in May and June. But it is a short crop, especially with the varieties on the back end.”

Lucas said plums appear to be off more than nectarines or peaches. Growers are reporting minimal chill hours, a warm and mild winter and very little rain as the culprits that have created a less-than-bumper crop.

Nonetheless, by mid-May there should be promotable volume when the Spring Flame peach and the Zee Fire nectarine varieties hit the market. Lucas said these are the first two varieties that will have sufficient volume for promotion. “The question is will the price be low enough for those promotions," he said. "I don’t know.”

Like many seasonal crops, stone fruit prices start out high as shipping gets under way, but that price will drop as volume picks up. The question is if it will drop fast enough to induce promotions. Lucas predicted there would be sufficient volume for retail promotions throughout May and June, but he said July may offer more of a challenge in terms of volume. He said this mirrors what happened in 2014 when it was a tough, tight market toward the second half of the season.

But with that said, Lucas added that shippers tend to work with retailers on program pricing and he expects the two marketing partners will come up with creative ways to promote the fruit. He noted that there will be pockets of outstanding production on some varieties as the season moves on. “It will just depend on what varieties the growers have,” he said.

While lack of supplies and good markets tend to lead to increased plantings and potential oversupply in a relatively short time frame, Lucas does not expect that to happen in the tree fruit industry. He said it takes a long time to turn the volume around and he does not see many new plantings in the ground. Most people believe, the new normal is going to last the next five to 10 years, he said.

Purwal of PureFresh agreed stating that California growers in the San Joaquin Valley have many good crops to choose from these days, as there are many different tree and nut crops performing well. This tends to guard against the overproduction in any one of them.