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Ask This Old House features special segment on Idaho potatoes


Ask This Old House, a popular home-improvement show on PBS, recently aired a six-minute segment exploring how Idaho potatoes are grown and thoroughly explaining how potatoes from Idaho differ from potatoes grown in other states.

Landscape contractor Roger Cook, a veteran of the show for over 30 years, traveled to Idaho Falls to meet fourth-generation potato farmer and Idaho Potato Commissioner James Hoff. With Hoff’s help, Cook showed millions of his loyal viewers how Idaho potatoes are harvested and stored and offered a few tips on growing potatoes in home gardens. 

“We continually look for new and different venues to tell the Idaho potato story to our target audience, which includes both men and women,” Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Idaho Potato Commission, said in a press release. “James’s deep knowledge of and passion for Idaho potatoes, paired with Roger’s enthusiasm and curiosity, created a very informative and entertaining segment.”

The segment was filmed in October of 2015 during the end of the harvest season and aired the following spring.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Walmart to introduce new food label, with an eye toward reducing food waste

This month, Walmart plans to introduce a new food label that it hopes will help reduce food waste while keeping food prices low.

“With 795 million people in the world reportedly going hungry, food waste is an ugly problem to face,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Walmart. “In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that consumers throw away $ 29 billion worth of edible food each year in their homes. Walmart is especially concerned with reducing food waste, not only because we’re the world’s largest grocer, but also as an integral part of our [everyday low cost] philosophy that provides you everyday low prices. Two culprits of food waste are confusion caused by food labels and the tossing of imperfect — but perfectly usable — fresh produce.”

According to Yiannas, current labeling is confusing to consumers as food-safety indicators. “Most of the labels are created based on peak quality,” he said in a recent blog. “Adding to the confusion is the different language used on labels, including ‘best by,’ ‘use by’ and ‘sell by.’ That’s why, in the last year, we started requiring suppliers of nonperishable food products under our Great Value private label to use a standardized date label, ‘Best if used by’.”

The switch will go into full effect this month and involves thousands of products. Yiannas said the change was motivated by the release of a report by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America in 2013.

“My team has been working on a solution since then,” he added. “I expect the standard labels to have an even bigger impact on waste reduction since many of our suppliers sell products under their own labels outside of Walmart. This is significant, as the global economic impact of food wastage comes to about $ 750 billion each year.”

John Forrest Ales, Walmart’s director of corporate communications, spoke with The Produce News in mid-July to talk about the problem of food waste and ways in which the company is addressing the issue. “At the heart of who we are is everyday low cost,” he said. “We take that incredibly seriously.”

Ales said Walmart has developed its own distribution system to source fresh produce on a global basis. “We have a unique supply chain. We have standards beyond the Food and Drug Administration as to what produce should look like,” he said. “Our farmers pack and sort according to these standards.”

Recently, questions have arisen about food waste and what has been termed “ugly” or “wonky” produce. Fresh produce that falls into this category may not look perfect on the outside, but still provide consumers with high-quality fresh produce when consumed because the flaws are cosmetic only. An example, Ales said, is a three-legged carrot growing from a common green top.

“Farmers find alternate uses for these in most cases,” he explained, saying that the volume of product that does not fit with Walmart’s standard is relatively small. “There’s not a lot of that moving through the supply chain. You can’t just create three-legged carrots.”

In some instances, Ales said Walmart works with its network of farmers to move whole lots of produce that may have been affected by weather conditions. Freezes are examples, he said, of more global events that might have an impact upon the quality of fresh produce.

In the meantime, Jordan Figueiredo, a municipal recycling agent in Castro Valley, CA, and food nutritionist Stefanie Sacks are planning to submit a petition to Walmart at its Bentonville, AR, headquarters on July 20 signed by persons who encourage Walmart to address food waste by making produce that is less than perfect cosmetically available at its stores.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Higaki and Van Valkenburg honored at FPFC expo

ANAHEIM, CA — Longtime industry veterans Harry Higaki of Bay City Flower Co. Inc. in Half Moon Bay, CA, and Rich Van Valkenburg of Van Valkenburg & Associates in Capistrano Beach, CA, were honored with their respective industry’s top award at the Fresh Produce & Floral Council’s Southern California Expo, held here July 19 at the Disneyland Hotel.20-RichRich Van Valkenburg (right) of VVA was awarded the FPFC’s Norman H. (Buz) Bolstad Produce Award during the FPFC Southern California Expo. He is shown with Matt Christ of the Allen Lund Co. and Jason Paez of Cal Poly-Pomona.

Higaki is largely credited with opening up supermarkets to floral merchandising when he sold potted mums to Ralphs Grocery Co. in the 1950s. His son and past winner Harrison Higaki presented the FPFC Floral Achievement Award to his father, outlining his personal story and the vital role he played in transitioning the more than 100-year-old company from a cut-flower grower to a provider of potted blooming plants to the mass market.

When 95-year-old Harry Higaki strolled to the podium, he noted that he has been retired for 30 years and indicated that while the award was appreciated, he was a bit dumbfounded by its presentation at this point in his life. But he quickly revealed his continued interest in the floral industry, touting a technology currently being tested that will eliminate the wilting of roses. Higaki called it a “game changer.”14-HarryHarrison Higaki (right) of Bay City Flower Co., presented the 2016 FPFC Floral Achievement Award to his father, Harry.

Van Valkenburg received the Norman H. (Buz) Bolstad Produce Achievement Award, named after one of the founders of the FPPC, who was a longtime Southern California retailer. In fact, Bolstad was one of Van Valkenburg’s early mentors in the industry.

Besides a long career in produce retailing, Van Valkenburg has operated his own food brokerage business for the past decade. He has been a longtime supporter of the FPPC, first serving on the board and the Executive Committee in the 1980s. After increased workload required him to step down from the Executive Committee before serving as chairman in the late 1980s, Van Valkenburg continued to be a constant presence at FPFC events and once again made an appearance on that committee in 2012, serving as chairman of the council in 2014.

The one-day expo, which is the grandfather of the ever-expanding regional produce show movement, attracted 2,000 produce professionals to its location at the Disneyland Hotel Convention Center in Anaheim.

Chef Fabio Viviani gave the keynote speech at the opening breakfast, exhorting the crowd of many in-store produce and floral personnel to go way beyond the bare minimum in doing their jobs. He said that while everyone can’t and shouldn’t be an entrepreneur, everyone is the CEO of themselves and responsible for what they accomplish and how far they go in their careers and lives.

Viviani told of his inspiring career that began as an 11-year-old in a bakery in Florence, Italy. Forced to work at an early age because of a family financial crisis, he made the most of it and has emerged as a rock star in the restaurant business, owning many locations and being featured as a regular on many cooking shows.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Hawaii Hepatitis A cases up to 74; vaccine being redistributed

The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) has updated to 74 its confirmed case count in the ongoing Hepatitis A outbreak, which is an increase of 22 new cases since the department’s previous update last week. of the sickened individuals are Oahu residents, DOH noted, except for two people who live on the islands of Hawaii and Maui but were on Oahu during their exposure period.

Twenty-six of the 74 people have been hospitalized. Onset of the illnesses ranges from June 12 to July 14.

DOH is calling the following two local businesses “places of interest” because an employee at each of them has been diagnosed with Hepatitis A infection:

  • Baskin-Robbins at Waikele Center, where possible exposure dates were June 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 25, 27, 30 and July 1 and 3, and,
  • Taco Bell at 94-790 Ukee St. in Waipio, where possible exposure dates were June 16, 17, 20, 21, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30 and July 1, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 11.

Department officials cautioned that this doesn’t indicate that these businesses are sources of the outbreak, and that no Hepatitis A infections have so far been linked to exposure at the two businesses.

“The likelihood that patrons of these businesses will become infected is very low,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park, adding, “However, persons who have consumed food or drink products from these businesses during the identified dates of service should contact their healthcare provider for advice and possible preventive care.”

“Identifying the source of infection continues to be a challenge because of the long incubation period of the disease and the difficulty patients have in accurately recalling the foods consumed and locations visited during the period when infection could have taken place,” according to a DOH website page about the outbreak.

Meanwhile, some pharmacies on Oahu have apparently run low on supplies of the Hepatitis A vaccine and are either having to redistribute on the island or get additional supplies from the mainland.

“What we’re telling people is that we have a list on our website of vaccinating pharmacies and to call before they go in because some pharmacies might be temporarily out but have requested or ordered more,” said Gail Ogawa, a public health educator with DOH in Honolulu.

A single dose of single-antigen Hepatitis A vaccine, or immune globulin, may provide some protection against the disease if administered within the first two weeks after exposure. A list of frequently asked questions about Hepatitis A can be found here.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, diarrhea, and yellow skin and eyes, and symptoms typically last several weeks to as long as two months. Most people will recover without complications.

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Food Safety News

U.S.: Chiquita buys Dallas cold storage facility

Fresh produce multinational Chiquita Brands has opted to buy a cold storage warehous it was previously leasing in Dallas, Texas, website reported.

The 113,000-square-foot facility in Grand Prairie was purchased by Switzerland-headquartered Chiquita and its Fresh Express brand for US$ 19.5 million, the story reported.

The deal was reportedly brokered by Colliers International vice president Marc Bonilla.

“This institutional grade industrial asset combined outstanding functionality with an incredible opportunity for the tenant to expand the building footprint in one of the strongest sub-markets in the country – Dallas/Fort Worth,” Bonilla was quoted as saying.

“This was a strategic purchase on behalf of the tenant — Chiquita Brands International, Inc.”

Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers’ pears to start first week of August

A new crop of pears is coming on in the Northwest, and Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers will soon be shipping exceptional fruit in all varieties. OSRG Marketing Director Scott Marboe said Bartlett harvest will start the first week of August, with first loads going out the week of Aug. 8.SR-Bartlett

“The Bartletts are beautiful this year,” Marboe said in a press release. “They’re clean, with great size, and we have lots of 90 and larger fruit. Also, our Starkrimson will start close to the same harvest window, giving consumers a great selection of snack-perfect pears.”

 In addition to the earlier varieties, Marboe said the Anjous are exceptionally clean this year.  “We did have a drop during the spring heat, so volume will be down in the Hood River area,” he said. “However, the great size and clean crop will make up for that.”

The Bosc crop, which is expected to start shipping the first week of September, “looks great,” Marboe said. “Comice are down in volume, but the fruit look to have excellent size, and they will start Aug. 29.”

Red and Green Anjous will start Sept. 12, followed by Seckels and Forelles Sept. 19. For the Seckel variety, a new two-pound pouch bag is being offered this year.

“A number of people were asking for additional varieties in pouch bags to add to displays,” Marboe said. “Pouch is proving to be a great impulse buy in the pear category, and many of our top retail customers are seeing added sales and category increases when displayed,” he added.

“We’re looking forward to a great pear season, and we have some exciting promotions lined up for this fall,” Marboe said.








The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

U.S.: Stable start for Chilean orange season despite higher volume

While recent reports suggest quality problems have set back pricing for Chilean lemons and easy peelers, the first weeks of the season showed a strong footing for the country’s oranges in the U.S.

According to figures from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Chilean orange prices stood at US$ 22/15kg (33lbs) box last week, which is similar to the level they were at for the same period in 2015.

South African orange prices were also within the historic two-year average at US$ 24/15kg (33lbs) box.

Chilean orange shipments started in June and until the first week of July they reached 7,483 metric tons (MT), representing a rise of 11% year-on-year, according to Chilean statistics agency Odepa.

As has been the trend at this time of year, the U.S. has accounted for 85% of Chile’s shipments.

In 2015, Chile finished the orange season with 69,170MT exported, recovering from a low of 57,445MT in 2014.

In terms of easy peelers, a representative from the Chilean Citrus Committee has told the local press there has been a lot of fruit with seeds this year due to cross-pollination.


Norovirus is parked down the road from GOP convention

Those attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland should have little to worry about when it comes to a norovirus outbreak more than a hour away in Sandusky, OH.

The 11 staffers who were stricken are members of the advance team for the California delegation.The first illnesses began before the largest delegation arrived. By the time the California delegates arrived, quarantines were underway to keep those stricken advance team members away from them.

RNC-2016-logoThe resort hotel where the Californians are staying is in Erie County, OH, where Health Commissioner Peter Schade is charged with investigating the outbreak.

Shade says the Erie County Health Department has isolated the 11 who are ill and has taken steps to prevent the spread of norovirus to rest of the California delegation. Tests are underway to confirm norovirus as the cause of the illnesses.

The first to become ill was an advance team member, who then infected her husband. The resort hotel where the delegation is staying has a large indoor waterpark, which is seen as a favorable environment for norovirus.

The California delegation received emails early in the morning of the first day of the convention with instructions on precautions to take. The hotel set up hand sanitizing stations throughout the property.

Norovirus can be spread by food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. Symptoms including both diarrhea and vomiting along with stomach pain and nausea, typically beginning in 12 to 48 hours after exposure. Most people recover in one to three days. The advance team members are being asked to wait 24 hours after they are feeling better before getting back buses to Cleveland.

The convention ends Thursday night when Donald Trump is scheduled to accept the GOP nomination for President of the United States.

The United States experiences 19 to 21 million cases of norovirus annually, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

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Food Safety News

U.S.: Oneonta pear harvest to kick off in August

Wenatchee, Washington-based Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers (OSRG) expects to soon be shipping “exceptional” fruit with a new crop of pears around the corner. PEars - Oneonta

In a release, OSRG marketing director Scott Marboe said the Bartlett harvest would start in the first week of August with the first loads going out on the week of August 8.

“The Bartletts are beautiful this year,” Marboe said.

“They’re clean, with great size, and we have lots of 90 and larger fruit. Also, our Starkrimson will start close to the same harvest window, giving consumers a great selection of snack-perfect pears.”

In addition to the earlier varieties, Marboe said the Anjous were exceptionally clean this year.

“We did have a drop during the spring heat, so volume will be down in the Hood River area,” he said.

“However, the great size and clean crop will make up for that,” he said, adding the Bosc crop which was expected to start shipping in September and looked great so far.

“Comice are down in volume, but the fruit look to have excellent size, and they will start August 29.”

Red and Green Anjous will start Sept. 12, followed by Seckels and Forelles on Sept. 19. For the Seckel variety, a new 2-pound pouch bag is being offered this year.

“A number of people were asking for additional varieties in pouch bags to add to displays,” Marboe said.

“[The] Pouch is proving to be a great impulse buy in the pear category, and many of our top retail customers are seeing added sales and category increases when displayed.

“We’re looking forward to a great pear season, and we have some exciting promotions lined up for this fall.”

US Foods announces changes to board of directors

US Foods Holding Corp. announced that Timothy R. McLevish has resigned effective immediately from his position on the board of directors after it was announced that he will become the executive chairman of Lamb Weston Holdings Inc. upon the completion of its planned spinoff. Because Lamb Weston is a significant supplier to US Foods, McLevish would no longer qualify as an independent director.

The company also announced the election of two new members of the board of directors

David Tehle retired in 2015 as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Dollar General Corp., a role he had held since 2004. Prior to Dollar General, he was chief financial officer of Haggar Corp. He is currently on the board of directors for Genesco and serves on the board of directors of Jack in the Box as an audit committee member and finance committee chair. Tehle will serve as the new chairman of the audit committee for US Foods.

Court Carruthers spent 13 years in senior leadership roles at W. W. Grainger Inc., most recently as group president, Americas, where he was responsible for the company’s operations in the Americas, as well as eCommerce and technology innovation globally. He is currently a director and audit committee member of Ryerson Holding Corp. and serves on the board of multiple private companies, including Follett Corp. Carruthers is a CPA, CMA (Canada).

“We wish Tim all of the best in his new endeavor,” Pietro Satriano, president and chief executive officer of US Foods, said in a press release. “I’m pleased to welcome David and Court to the Board. Both bring public company and audit experience, as well as a wealth of business and finance expertise.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Sprouts Farmers Market staying ahead of food-waste regulations

Sprouts Farmers Market is expanding the food waste diversion services it receives from Quest Resource Holding Corp. Quest designed and deployed a comprehensive organics recycling program at all California stores, ahead of new mandatory commercial organics recycling regulations.

The program reduces food waste by diverting produce, dairy, bakery, bulk, deli and juice bar items that cannot be sold or donated. The retailer now recycles food waste that cannot be donated at 125 stores.

“Responsible retailing is part of Sprouts’ DNA, and we are proud of what we’ve achieved in the past two years working with Quest,” Carlos Rojas, senior counsel for Sprouts Farmers Market, said in a press release. “Our organics recycling program not only benefits the environment, but improves store operations by minimizing waste. We also are pleased to be well ahead of the CalRecycle regulations compliance date.”

California Assembly Bill 1826 (AB-1826 Solid waste: organic waste) requires businesses that generate organic waste to implement organic waste recycling programs in phases depending on the amount of waste generated per week. Quest is helping the retailer stay ahead of the regulation requiring the retailer to recycle food waste by Jan. 1, 2017.

“Quest is delighted to expand its relationship with Sprouts, one of the fastest growing retailers in the country, and continue to help them reach their sustainability goals in California and across the country,” Ray Hatch, Quest’s chief executive officer, said in the release.

Quest’s organics recycling program converts food waste into nutritional animal feed additives or compost, helping to prevent greenhouse gas emissions and reduce waste in landfills. Quest developed custom online and in-store training to help educate and engage store associates to ensure program is successful.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Russia destroys 20MT of U.S.-grown almonds

Russia’s food safety watchdog has intercepted and destroyed a large load of U.S. almonds allegedly smuggled into the country by a Kazakh citizen.

The U.S. is one of several countries that have faced countersanctions on foodstuff exports to Russia since August, 2014.

In an announcement yesterday, the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor) said the seizure was made on July 17 following a tip-off border guards in conjunction with the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The seizure took place near the village of Mashtakov in the district of Pervomaisky in the Orenburg region, with 880 unlabeled bags full of almonds found inside a truck.

Authorities accompanied the vehicle to a landfill in Buzuluk, where the almonds were destroyed as part of a decree aimed at deterring traders from skirting the import ban.

If the same volume of 20 metric tons (MT) were to be sold at current prices listed at Costco Wholesale in the U.S., they would have been worth US$ 543,800.


Second restaurant worker confirmed in Hep A outbreak

An employee of a Taco Bell on Oahu has been confirmed as the second foodservice worker included among the 52 victims of a Hepatitis A outbreak that Hawaii’s health officials expect to grow.

Map of Oahu

As of July 15, employees of two restaurants in central Oahu (rough area outlined in green) were confirmed as being among the victims of a Hepatitis A outbreak.

The Taco Bell restaurant in Waipio at 94-790 Ukee St. where the infected employee works is less than a mile and a half from the Baskin-Robbins ice cream store at the Waikele Outlet Center. An employee at the Baskin-Robbins was announced last week as the first confirmed foodservice worker case in the outbreak that is believed to have begun June 16.

“It is important to note that neither the Waikele Baskin-Robbins nor the Waipio Taco Bell have been identified as the source of infection for this outbreak,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park in a news release.

“These are merely places where the victims were employed. The likelihood that patrons of these food establishments will become infected is very low, but to prevent possible additional cases, we are notifying the public so they may seek advice and help from their healthcare providers.

“Additional food service establishments may be affected as the number of cases continues to grow. Individuals, including food service employees, exhibiting symptoms of Hepatitis A should stay home and contact their healthcare provider.”

The health department is advising people who consumed any food or beverages at the Taco Bell recently that they may have been exposed to Hepatitis A and should therefore ask their doctors if they should consider receiving a shot of vaccine or immune globulin. The specific dates in question for Taco Bell customers are June 16, 17, 20, 21, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, and July 1, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 11.

“Unvaccinated individuals should contact their healthcare providers about the possibility of receiving hepatitis A vaccine or immune globulin, which may provide some protection against the disease if administered within the first two weeks after exposure,” according to the health department, which issued a similar notice last week after the Baskin-Robbins employee was confirmed as part of the outbreak.

Possible exposure dates for customers of the Baskin-Robbins store are June 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 25, 27, 30, and July 1 and 3.

Updated numbers on confirmed cases are scheduled to be posted Wednesday, following weekly on Wednesdays until further notice, a spokeswoman at the state’s health department said Monday morning.

When the health department announced the outbreak on July 1, there were 12 cases, with six having required hospitalization. As of last week’s update, there were 52 confirmed cases. All confirmed cases are on Oahu and involve adults. Sixteen have had symptoms so severe that they required hospitalization.

“Symptoms of Hepatitis A infection include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, dark urine, diarrhea and yellow skin and eyes, and typically last several weeks to as long as two months,” according to the health department.

“Treatment of Hepatitis A is supportive, and most people will recover without complications. While vaccination provides the best protection, frequent hand washing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper and before preparing food can help prevent the spread of Hepatitis A. Appropriately cooking foods can also help prevent infection.”

For a list of vaccinating pharmacies, call the Aloha United Way information and referral line at 2-1-1 or visit

Additional information about Hepatitis A can be found on the Hawaii Department of Health website.

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Food Safety News

FDA warning letters: Drug residues in dairy cows

Two dairy operations were recently sent warning letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and both referred to unacceptably high drug residues in the tissues of slaughtered cows.

In a June 30, 2016, warning letter, FDA’s Denver District Office told Morwai Dairy LLC of Fort Lupton, CO, that violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) were found during a four-day investigation of the operation in April.

Specifically, the agency stated that a dairy cow sold for slaughter as food on or about Jan. 20, 2016, was later found to have 2.04 parts per million (ppm) of defuroylceftiofur (an antibiotic) in the kidney tissue and 0.673 ppm of flunixin (an anti-inflammatory drug) in the liver tissue.

Dairy cowsHowever, FDA has established a tolerance in cattle of 0.4 ppm for residues of desfuroylceftiofur in kidney tissue and 0.125 ppm for flunixin in liver tissue …,” the letter pointed out. The presence of these drugs at those levels causes the food to be adulterated, FDA added.

The warning letter also mentioned that the Morwai Dairy had failed to maintain written treatment records for a specific cow and that a signed affidavit had indicated that fresh pen treatment logs were being discarded after a certain period.

“Food from animals held under such conditions is adulterated …” under the FD&C Act, the agency noted.

FDA’s Detroit Office sent a warning letter dated June 28, 2016, to Robin Martin of Snover, MI, regarding FD&C Act violations inspectors had identified after visiting his dairy operation on April 26, 28 and May 4, 2016.

A culled dairy cow sold for slaughter as food on or about July 28, 2015, was found to have desfuroylceftiofur (a marker residue for ceftiofur) at 5.48 ppm in the kidney tissue, the letter stated, although the FDA tolerance level for residues of that drug in cattle kidney tissue is 0.4 ppm.

Further, the agency stated that the dairy failed to maintain treatment records and that expired animal drugs were found on-site. Food from animals held under such conditions is considered adulterated under federal regulations, FDA noted.

A written response from the dairy dated May 23, 2016, detailed several operational changes that were being implemented in response to the agency’s observations from the inspection. However, FDA found the response inadequate “due to the lack of documentation illustrating the inclusion of indications for use, dosage given, and route of administration into your record keeping practices.”

Recipients of FDA warning letters have 15 working days from receipt to respond with details of the procedures they have taken, or will take, to correct the current violations and prevent them from recurring.

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Strikes delay Mexican avocado season

While the grower strike is largely resolved, the setback will affect supply and prices over the coming weeks. 

Avocado prices have been fairly high for the opening of the 2016-17 Mexican harvest due to a producer strike, but the issue appears to be resolved and prices are expected to start stabilizing. reported growers in Michoacan did not harvest for the week of July 4-11, protesting outside the offices of the Mexican Avocado Grower and Packer Exporter Association (APEAM) calling for fixed dollar payments on exports.

In the domestic Mexican market prices reached MXN65 (US$ 3.50) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) last week, compared with an average price of MXN15 (US$ 0.81) for the previous season.

APEAM representative for the municipality to Tancítaro, Javier Mora, told the publication negotiations had been in pesos for exports, so even if the value of the dollar rose the price received would be the same.

The story reported that after the strike that affected 90% of the state’s municipalities, growers reached a deal to be paid in pesos but with a dollar equivalency.

In an avocado market update, U.S. company Mission Produce said effects would be continue to be felt even though the situation was getting back to normal in Mexico and industry volume was up slightly last week due to higher Californian production.

“Basically the numbers don’t look as bad as the reality, but the combination of severely curtailed production will have repercussions for the next several weeks; until more fruit is available for the market,” Mission said in the update.

“Mexican shipments to the U.S. were about 16 million pounds, down from 22 million the prior week. The grower embargo is essentially resolved at this point, but the slowdown will have a lingering effect for several weeks as the pipeline refills.

“Production estimates for the next three weeks are 18, 22 and 25 million pounds, signaling that the Flor Loca harvest is ramping up.”

The update highlighted volume from California would decline in the coming weeks, but Mexico should rebound to fill the void.

“Market pricing should remain high until supply and demand are more in balance.”

Despite the news of protests, Mexican Agriculture Minister Jose Calzada Rovirosa attributed the higher prices to a “cyclical” situation for the crop in the local press.

“This has to do with cyclical processes. The harvest finished in June and the new harvest started on July 10 and here prices will surely start dropping substantially,” he was quoted as saying.

“In terms of time, I don’t know, but I want to comment that around 2.5 million [metric] tons of avocados are produced and Mexico produces 1.3 million.”


McDonald’s cuts tomatoes from burgers in parts of India

Even though tomato prices have risen in India, the company said the decision was prompted by quality issues. 

McDonald’s customers in northern and eastern India will have to make do without sliced tomatoes for the time being, the Times of India reported. McAloo Tikki

The story reported a notice was displayed on McDonald’s outlets by operator Connaught Plaza Restaurants, notifying temporary unavailability meant it was unable to include the standard vegetable.

The notice said unpredictable condition had affected the crop, quality and supply, the story reported.

“We are working towards resolving this issue,” a spokesperson for McDonald’s India (North & East) was quoted as saying.

“We are making do with lettuce and onions. We are waiting for supplies to resume,” an executive at a McDonald’s outlet in central Delhi told the publication.

The story reported wholesale market tomato prices rose 17% year-on-year in June, while a similar trend had been seen in retail.

Organic Produce Summit has tremendous debut

MONTEREY, CA — The inaugural Organic Produce Summit, held here July 13-14, was a resounding success with a sold-out trade show and attendance roster, standing-room only seminars, thought-provoking featured speakers and a trade show floor buzzing with activity.

“Have you ever seen a trade show with more excitement,” asked Dave Moore of Earthbound Farms, the San Juan Bautista, CA-based company that was a pioneer in organic produce production. “It reminds me of a party in high school where everyone hangs in the kitchen.”

Moore was speaking of the crowded aisles, which did seem to have a party atmosphere, and didn’t bother anybody, especially the exhibitors like Earthbound.

Tonya Antle, another organic produce pioneer who is now a principal at Salinas, CA-based Tanimura & Antle, served as mistress of ceremonies during the two-hour keynote session that featured four diverse speakers. Antle beamed as she remembered the early days of organic produce and surveyed the packed room that gathered to hear these speakers.

After Chad Hagen, a noted organic industry devotee, made his presentation, Antle said she felt like a “proud mother” as she gave the speaker his start in the business about 25 years ago.

And after listening to Organic Trade Association Chief Executive Officer Laura Batcha wax poetic about the value of the organic shopper, Antle noted that it was great to have statistics backing up what the early pioneers seemed to know intrinsically — that buyers of organic produce buy more produce than the average shopper.

The summit, which began with a reception on Wednesday, July 13, and continued through a morning of seminars and an afternoon trade show the following day, did have a buzz as it is hard to deny that this segment of the industry is amazingly passionate about the organic sector. Antle revealed that the trade show had 75 different companies exhibiting and that there were more than 800 attendees, representing 100 buying groups and 50,000 grocery stores.

The main keynote speaker was noted author Mark Bittman, a well-known advocate of the consumption of “real food.” Bittman opened his remarks by opining that he was speaking to the “good guys.” Perhaps capturing an unannounced underlying theme of the show, Bittman focused on the “real food” nature of organic produce as its main advantage, rather than the fact that it is organic. He noted that “organic” junk food is still junk food, and is not good for you, while saying that fruits and vegetables — conventional or organic — should be the basis of every diet. He called organic produce a subset of the bigger category of real food, which he is on a mission to promote.

Batcha of the OTA touted a similar theme in her speech. An unabashed advocate for organic produce and food in general, Batcha ticked off a litany of statistics proving that the organic category is being driven by organic produce (about one-third of all organic food sales). She noted that 50 percent of organic produce buyers are millennial parents, and 51 percent of all households do purchase organic produce during a year.

“Retailers who sell more organic produce, sell more produce overall,” she said.

But she also said that the majority of organic buyers will choose an alternative produce item if the product they are shopping for is not available in an organic SKU.

While there is a small number of passionate organic produce shoppers who won’t buy conventional produce, Batcha said the vast majority (98 percent) are crossovers. The OTA’s advice to retailers is that a positive message touting organic produce is much more effective than a negative messaging denigrating conventional produce.

The show seemed to have the same vibe as the majority of exhibitors and attendees appeared to be from the mainstream produce industry, buying and selling both organic and conventional produce.

However, seminars earlier in the day were clearly devoted to specific organic produce topics. A trio of retailers discussed the best way to merchandise organic produce, while a trio of shippers talked about many of the challenges in attempting to fill the growing demand for organic produce. There is real concern about how supply can keep up with demand.

Another session was devoted to trends in organic consumption, while a final session dealt with the role organic produce plays in e-commerce retail produce sales.

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What’s big in the organic produce sector?

While the booming $ 13 billion organic fresh produce marketplace continues to attract attention from consumers and traders alike, certain products have performed more strongly than others. Organic Produce Summit held in Monterey, California this week, Organic Trade Association (OTA) CEO Laura Batcha gave the lowdown on some key trends to watch.

The OTA had previously revealed the strong growth rates seen for organic produce in its industry survey released in May, but in Monterey Batcha drew attention to more revealing insights.

She said more than half of all households in the United States now purchase organic produce, and findings from Nielsen show today’s organic produce shopper tends to be more kid-focused than the average produce shopper.

Additionally, the vast majority of these enthusiastic organic produce buyers, at 77%, are going to their favorite grocery store or supermarket chain to buy their organic fruits and vegetables.

Within organic produce there are some very strong categories in their own right, particularly organic bananas which grew 33% year-on-year to US$ 165 million, and organic value-added veggies grew 54% to almost US$ 150 million.

She added high growth rates had also been seen in organic blackberries (+61%), organic salad greens and baby carrots (+11%) and organic Pink Lady apples (+96%).

“The organic produce market is growing and strong, and it is driving trends in produce innovation across the board,” Batcha said.

The U.S. organic industry saw its largest dollar gain ever in 2015, adding US$ 4.2 billion in sales, with organic produce sales accounting for 36% of the US$ 39.7 billion U.S. organic food market.

Almost 13 percent of all the produce sold in the United States now is organic.

“We are excited to be sharing these numbers and findings on the rapidly growing organic produce sector.

“The more we know about the market and what consumers want, the better the organic produce grower, distributor and retailer can respond to meet the needs of today’s food buyer. Understanding the organic produce consumer will drive the future growth of the sector.”

Batcha said the findings bear important insights for retailers looking to draw more shoppers to the fresh produce section, as the booming demand for organic produce will spill over into purchases of conventional produce.

“Data show that the organic shopper is an extremely health-conscious consumer who is completely dedicated to eating fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said.

“Organic is a top choice because of the confidence in organic as the choice to avoid foods grown with toxic and persistent pesticides.

“Because of this health-driven commitment retailers should not be afraid to differentiate organic produce on their store shelves.

“Shoppers recognize the USDA Organic seal and respond to positive messaging about what organic delivers, but at the end of the day they want to fill their carts with farm fresh foods — benefiting the entire produce section of the store.”

K-State researcher gets $2M grant to develop E. coli vaccines

Weiping Zhang, professor of microbiology and a researcher with Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has received a five-year, $ 2.1-million grant from the National Institutes of Health to further his work on developing vaccines for E. coli-associated diarrhea in both humans and animals.

Dr. Zhang and K-State research team

Weiping Zhang (center) and his team are developing E. coli-related vaccines. They are, from left, Carolina Garcia, master’s student in biomedical science; Jiachen Huan, master’s student in biomedical science; Zhang, professor of microbiology; Qiangde Duan, postdoctoral fellow in diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, and Ti Lu, doctoral student in pathobiology. (Not pictured are former postdoctoral fellows Rahul Nandre, Xiaosai Ruan and Mei Liu.) (Photo courtesy of Kansas State University)

The grant is Zhang’s third he’s received in three years in the quest for effective vaccines for E. coli-related diarrhea, according to a K-State news releasee.

Since 2003, Zhang has been studying ways to fight E. coli with vaccines because diarrhea is a leading cause of death in children younger than five. Also, enterotoxigenic E. coli, or ETEC, is one of the most common bacterial causes of diarrhea in children, he noted. It can be transmitted by food, water or other beverages.

“Currently, there are no available vaccines against this type of diarrhea,” Zhang said in a news release. “Whole-cell vaccine candidates have been under development but require further improvements because they provide inadequate protection and produce unwanted adverse effects.”

In a September 2015 article published in Clinical and Vaccine Immunology, Zhang laid out the current progress in developing E. coli vaccines. He wrote that while it is “theoretically possible to control or prevent ETEC-associated diarrhea through the installation of effective sanitation systems and country-wide access to clean drinking water,” the likelihood of accomplishing that in the coming decades is not good for low-income countries in South Asia, South America and sub-Saharan Africa because of political and economic factors.

“Consequently, vaccination is currently considered the most effective and practical approach to reducing the impact of ETEC diarrhea,” Zhang wrote. “Developing effective ETEC vaccines has become a top priority for the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and other public health institutions.”

Most recently, Zhang’s work has focused on multi-epitope fusion antigens, known as MEFA, for the development of broadly protective ETEC vaccines.

“Different ETEC strains produce immunologically heterogeneous bacterial adhesins that attach to host cells and colonize in small intestines, initiating ETEC diarrheal disease,” Zhang said. “With the inclusion of an adhesin multi-epitope fusion antigen, in addition to a toxoid fusion antigen, a subunit vaccine is potentially able to induce antibodies against both toxins and up to 15 prevalent ETEC adhesins, effectively protecting against ETEC diarrhea. This grant will allow us to continue our research and study the effectiveness of this approach.”

His multi-epitope fusion antigens technology has attracted attention from funding sources such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and was featured in a recent VASE, or Vaccines against Shigella and ETEC, meeting in Washington, D.C. Zhang’s lab team is working on ETEC vaccine projects funded by PATH Vaccine Solution/Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Food Safety News

Grocers Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform

For too many years Congress failed to address the issue of comprehensive immigration reform and by doing so ignored the status of the now estimated 11 million undocumented immigrations currently living and working in the United States. Subsequently, businesses have been left to grapple with what has become a matrix of state and local immigration laws passed to fill the void left by Congress. 

As grocers we open ours doors each and every day to serve our local communities. More and more of our customers and our associates are impacted by the failure of our immigration system, either directly or indirectly. Some grocers have even been subjected to intrusive and costly actions by federal and state local law enforcement in search of potential undocumented workers or other violations. Inaction is no longer an option. The time is come for our nation to address the immigration issue head on.  

In February 2013 the National Grocers Association’s Board of Directors appointed a committee to study the immigration issue and ultimately make a policy recommendation for NGA to adopt.  In April a position recommendation was made and subsequently approved unanimously by the Board of Directors, leading NGA to take the bold step of endorsing comprehensive immigration reform. 

NGA’s position calls for comprehensive reform that preempts state and local laws and includes four major provisions:

  • Secure borders and respect for the rule of law.
  • Mandatory E-Verify at no cost to employers for new hires only with a strong safe harbor that protects employers acting in good faith.
  • Support for an expanded guest worker program that includes trades such as bakers, butchers, and cooks.
  • A path to legal status for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants so that they can come out of the shadows, while keeping families together.

Embracing comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the real challenges facing our nation today, while ensuring strong protections for employers acting in good faith, is a step in the right direction. Independent grocers are willing to be part of the solution as long as employers are provided with appropriate safe harbors to ensure their ability to comply without fear of criminal or civil reprisals. We know that we are asking our members subject themselves to new administrative burdens through E-Verify and we don’t take that mandate lightly; however immigration reform is coming and with it will be a mandatory employment verification component. By working with Congress and other stakeholders we can be part of the solution and enact comprehensive reform that works for grocers and the communities we serve.

It’s time for Congress to do the right thing and pass comprehensive immigration reform that supports the principles supported by NGA’s Board. The Senate recently took the important step in passing their bill and now the focus shifts to the House where the Judiciary Committee has been holding hearings and considering proposals. NGA will continue to be part of that process and support common sense efforts that strengthen employer protections.

The immigration debate is one that we all have a stake in and should support Congress working in a bi-partisan manner to pass a comprehensive bill that works for all. It’s the right thing to do for our country and the right thing to do for our industry.     

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