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Good rates punctuate summer trucking season

The summer transportation season was active with good, strong rates at numbers allowing truckers to make a decent living. At least that was the view of a couple of New York truck brokers surveyed on the subject in mid-August.

“May, June and July were super busy,” said Lance Dichter of LD Logistics, based in the Bronx, NY. “August has fallen off a bit but we had a good strong summer.”

Paul Kazan, president of Target Interstate Systems Inc., also headquartered on the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, agreed.

“We scratched the ceiling at $ 10,000 in May, which was too high,” he said. “All summer the rate has been hovering between $ 7,000 and $ 8,000. It has been good business. Everybody seems to be within $ 100 to $ 200 of each other so no one getting a big competitive advantage and truckers are able to make a living.”

Both men had just read an article in the New York Times a few days earlier lamenting the shortage of truck drivers. Both agreed it could be a long-term problem as the economy heats up and truckers have other options.

“It’s a tough way to make a living,” said Kazan. “It’s not a 9-5 job. When rates are low, these guys are better off slinging hamburgers at McDonald’s. But the rates this summer have been pretty good.”

Dichter said it does take a certain type of individual willing to be away from his family for so many days in a row. He said cross-country trucking is difficult and is susceptible to driver shortage situations. “But from Florida (to destinations up the Eastern Seaboard) you are only away for a day or two and you can make a pretty good living.”

The New York Times article said driver pay has not kept up with inflation and many workers are finding jobs elsewhere. However, the article said fleet operators are starting to pay better wages and even $ 2,000 signing bonuses to attract new drivers. The article suggested that truck driving may be one profession where blue collar workers can gain the upper hand in negotiating for better rates because of a lack of drivers. Most blue collar and unionized workers have seen their wages fall, adjusted for inflation, over the past seven or eight years.

The article focused on fleets and didn’t specifically discuss independent owner-operators of refrigerated trailers that form the backbone of the fresh produce industry. Both Dichter and Kazan indicated that the produce transportation industry still operates largely under the watchful eye of the tried and true economic model of supply and demand. If the supply is down and the demand is up, rates soar.

And that is exactly what happened in May. While Kazan saw rates hit the five-figure level on his longest routes, Dichter never saw anything quite that high but he did see some hauls at $ 9,500 for the lanes he arranges transportation for.

The slow-down in cross-country August business can partly be explained by the many local deals across the country. August is the month of the backyard farmer and the one and two acre guys who sell their goods at farmers’ markets. In the aggregate in a normal year that does lead to fewer cross-country loads.

But Dichter is expecting a September bounce back. “August has been real quiet but I expect it to pick back up in September.”

Even during the lull time in August, he said perishable truck rates hung around the $ 7,000 to $ 7,100 level, which indicates that drivers and fleets operating in the fresh produce space are doing much better than those chronicled in the New York Times article, where less than $ 50,000 per year is the average wage.

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Changes in agriculture increase high river flow rates

Just as a leaky roof can make a house cooler and wetter when it’s raining as well as hotter and dryer when it’s sunny, changes in land use can affect river flow in both rainy and dry times, say two University of Iowa researchers.

While it may be obvious that changes in river water discharge across the U.S. Midwest can be related to changes in rainfall and agricultural land use, it is important to learn how these two factors interact in order to get a better understanding of what the future may look like, says Gabriele Villarini, UI assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, assistant research engineer at IIHR — Hydroscience & Engineering and lead author of a published research paper on the subject.

“We wanted to know what the relative impacts of precipitation and agricultural practices played in shaping the discharge record that we see today,” he says. “Is it an either/or answer or a much more nuanced one?

“By understanding our past we are better positioned in making meaningful statements about our future,” he says.

The potential benefits of understanding river flow are especially great in the central United States, particularly Iowa, where spring and summer floods have hit the area in 1993, 2008, 2013 and 2014, interrupted by the drought of 2012. Large economic damage and even loss of life have resulted, says co-author Aaron Strong, UI assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and with the Environmental Policy Program at the UI Public Policy Center.

“What is interesting to note,” says Strong, “is that the impacts, in terms of flooding, have been exacerbated. At the same time, the impacts of drought, for in-stream flow, have been mitigated with the changes in land use composition that we have seen over the last century.”

In order to study the effect of changes in agricultural practices on Midwest river discharge, the researchers focused on Iowa’s Raccoon River at Van Meter, Iowa. The 9,000-square-kilometer watershed has the advantage of having had its water discharge levels measured and recorded daily for most of the 20th century right on up to the present day. (The study focused on the period 1927-2012). During that period, the number of acres used for corn and soybean production greatly increased, roughly doubling over the course of the 20th century.

Not surprisingly, they found that variability in rainfall is responsible for most of the changes in water discharge volumes.

However, the water discharge rates also varied with changes in agricultural practices, as defined by soybean and corn harvested acreage in the Raccoon River watershed. In times of flood and in times of drought, water flow rates were exacerbated by more or less agriculture, respectively. The authors suggest that although flood conditions may be exacerbated by increases in agricultural production, this concern “must all be balanced by the private concerns of increased revenue from agricultural production through increased cultivation.”

“Our results suggest that changes in agricultural practices over this watershed — with increasing acreage planted in corn and soybeans over time — translated into a seven-fold increase in rainfall contribution to the average annual maximum discharge when we compare the present to the 1930s,” Villarini says.

The UI research paper, “Roles of climate and agricultural practices in discharge changes in an agricultural watershed in Iowa,” can be found in the April 15 online edition of Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Iowa. The original article was written by Gary Galluzzo. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

FoodNet Report: Pathogen Infection Rates Still ‘Well Above’ Government Targets

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its latest report card on the trends in foodborne illnesses on Thursday, and, in general, not much has changed from previous years.

According to the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), there were a total of 19,056 infections, 4,200 hospitalizations and 80 deaths reported in 2013.

FoodNet is a collaboration between CDC, 10 state health departments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration that tracks incidents of Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157, STEC non-O157, Vibrio, Yersinia, Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora.

As Food Safety News reported earlier this month, the number of laboratory-confirmed illnesses falls far below the actual number of people sickened by foodborne pathogens each year. CDC estimates that 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths are linked to foodborne illness annually.

One of the purposes of FoodNet is to help create a foundation for these estimates, as well as to identify areas of concern for subsequent policy and prevention efforts.

In 2013, the most common reports of infection were from Salmonella and Campylobacter. The incidence rate per 100,000 people was 15.19 for Salmonella and 13.82 for Campylobacter. They, along with STEC O157 and Vibrio, have rates “well above” their respective Healthy People 2020 targets, the report states.

In the short term, the rate of Salmonella dropped about 9 percent from the previous three years, but it was still at the same baseline levels of 2006-2008, continuing to remain above the government’s target of 11.4 per 100,000 people. FoodNet also suggested that the large Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak linked to eggs in 2010 might account for the incidence spike in 2010-2012.

One point drawing a lot of notice in the report is the increase in Vibrio infections, which are often linked to consuming raw shellfish. Although the pathogen accounted for only 1.3 percent of the reported infections in 2013, its incidence increased 32 percent from 2010-2012.

Robert Tauxe, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, noted that the number of Vibrio cases has increased 75 percent since 2006-2008 and 168 percent since 1996-1998.

“We’re at the highest level observed since our tracking began in 1996,” he said. “However, the rates of infection caused by Vibrio vulnificus, which is the most severe strain, have not increased particularly in recent years.”

The report also noted that, in the summers of 2012 and 2013, many of the Vibrio parahaemolyticus infections of a strain previously traced only to the Pacific Northwest were associated with consump­tion of oysters and other shellfish from several Atlantic coast harvest areas.

“E. coli infections continue to inch up and the progress that had been noted since 2006-2008 in past years has stalled,” Tauxe said.

The report also notes a “continued decrease” in incidents of HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome), possibly due to unrecognized changes in surveillance, improvements in management of STEC O157, or a decrease in infections from the most virulent strains.

“Continued surveillance is needed to determine if this pattern holds,” the report concludes.

As for the other foodborne infections tracked, rates of infection compared to the 2010-2012 rates “haven’t changed much,” Tauxe said.

Relative rates of culture-confirmed infections with Campylobacter, STEC O157, Listeria, Salmonella, and Vibrio compared with 2006–2008 rates

Culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs) are increasingly being used to diagnose bacterial enteric infections – mostly for Campylobacter and STEC. Any of these positive tests that were confirmed by culture were included in FoodNet’s statistic of 19,056 infections.

But FoodNet has also identified an additional 1,487 reports of positive CIDTs that were not confirmed by culture, either because the specimen was not cultured or because a culture did not yield the pathogen.

FoodNet decided to start tracking these tests in 2013 to better understand their uptake, calling them “a trend that will chal­lenge the ability to identify cases, monitor trends, detect out­breaks, and characterize pathogens.”

There are currently no national guidelines for sending positive CIDTs for culture confirmation, but Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that she wants CDC to develop a plan to address their increased use.

“Otherwise the trend of declining reporting of outbreaks may continue — not because fewer people are getting sick, but because state health departments and CDC cannot track the outbreaks,” she said.

During a press conference about the report, David Goldman, Assistant Administrator for the FSIS Office of Public Health Science, and Stephen Ostroff, FDA’s Acting Chief Scientist, laid out how their agencies hope to address the lack of progress in decreasing contamination.

For FSIS, Goldman referenced the proposed modernized poultry inspection rule, Salmonella performance standards for chicken parts and ground poultry (which are expected this fall), and education and outreach.

“While Salmonella-positive samples in young chickens have dropped over 75 percent since 2006, unfortunately this has not translated into domestic changes in Salmonellosis,” he said. “While we hope that all of these steps just outlined are headed in the right direction, this report reminds us that there is more work to be done.”

For FDA, implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is at the top of the to-do list. Ostroff also cited progress made under the shell egg safety rule and work with partners to understand what circumstances are most associated with Vibrio illnesses.

“The findings, taken as a whole, reinforce the importance of moving forward with preventive measures that will help ensure food safety of every stage of production from the farm to the consumer,” Ostroff said.

Surveillance data from the annual reports FoodNet publishes help agencies know where to target prevention efforts. And, like consumer advocates calling for finalized policies and new regulatory approaches, this latest report states, “More can be done.”

Food Safety News

Fitch rates Kroger notes

Fitch Ratings, New York, said Thursday it has assigned a BBB rating to Kroger’s Co.’s issuance of $ 500 million worth of 10-year senior unsecured notes, with a stable outlook.


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According to Fitch, Kroger plans to use proceeds from the notes to refinance notes that matured on Jan. 15, as well as for general corporate purposes. As of Nov. 9, 2013, Fitch said Kroger had $ 8.3 billion of debt outstanding, including capital leases.

“Kroger’s ratings are supported by its industry-leading sales growth and market-share gains, balanced against ongoing share repurchase activity and intense price competition that will continue to pressure gross margins,” the agency said, noting that the ratings also take into account Kroger’s merger with Harris Teeter.

Fitch said it views the addition of Harris Teeter as neutral to moderately positive from a business perspective and believes the risks associated with integrating the chain into Kroger’s network are manageable.

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Stable transportation rates predicted through spring

The typical heavy Christmas pull for fruits and vegetables combined with the weather issues and reluctance of some drivers to hit the road over the holidays caused freight rates to spike a bit through December. And while there was some lingering effect with $ 7,000 cross country rates still being quoted in early January, industry experts were expecting adequate supplies and a small drop in rates during the late winter/early spring period.

“There were some $ 7,000 raters, or slightly under, into New York this week,” said Lance Dichter, general manager of LD Logistics LLC, in Bronx, NY, on Tuesday, Jan. 14. “But I expect them to take a dip over the next few days and remain fairly steady through February and March.”

He said with the higher volume from the West Coast as May approaches rates will probably get higher but it is far too early to predict just how high they will go. “There are always shortages in the summer and the rates will go higher, but at this point I can’t tell you how high they will go.”

Dichter reviewed some potential impacts and didn’t note any overly alarming situations. Fuel rates have been steady or dropping for the past several months and the forecast is for rate stability throughout 2014. There have also been worries that as the economy heats up, there will be a shortage of drivers as the transportation and construction industries pull from the same labor market. “When supplies are heavy there is a shortage of trucks, but I can’t say that’s because of the economy getting better. Maybe, but it happens every year.”

He did say that the new hours of service for drivers that went into effect in July of 2013 have had an impact, especially on loads originating on the West Coast on Wednesdays. “It used to be that you could load on Wednesday and get into the Bronx (Hunts Point) on Sunday morning pretty easily. That’s no longer the case unless you have team driving.”

Dichter said solo drivers loading on Wednesday can’t get into the Bronx until Sunday night, which doesn’t fit the needs of some operations. Consequently on Wednesdays everyone wants a truck driven by a team, which puts a premium on that haul. “If everyone wants a team situation and only half the trucks are driven by teams, you can see the problem.”

But Dichter said another shortage-causing situation — California’s stricter emission standards — no longer appears to be causing a problem. He said truckers have either adapted their engines and refrigeration units to comply with California law or they avoid the state. Initially, truckers were either reluctant to comply or didn’t know the regulations. But newer trucks are basically in compliance by their nature and older trucks have either already been retrofitted or they are working other corridors.

Paul Kazan, founder of the Bronx, NY-based Target Interstate Systems Inc., and the head of its produce division, said the new hours of service have “absolutely” had an impact on produce transportation. He believes the government-mandated shorter service hours were designed to make trucks a bit less attractive in comparison to railroads. He believes the government is trying to move more freight via the rails and these service hours close the gap on arrival times for some commodities in some markets. While Kazan believes that the vast majority of fresh produce will continue to be hauled over the road, he said the railroads can now make a case for some of the hardier items, with only one day difference in service.

He said shippers and receivers aren’t always aware of the impact delays have on a truckers ability to drive. “If he is waiting at the dock for a couple of hours to load, that counts as service time. And the same thing happens at the other end if he has to wait to unload.”

In principle, Kazan agrees that for highway safety you don’t want a driver on the road for an extended period of time without rest. But he argues that the rules are black and white and don’t take in some of the nuances of hauling freight across country. For example, sitting in your cab resting while you are waiting to load isn’t the same as driving on the open road, yet it can be treated the same.

Both Kazans said they are expecting normal transportation shortages this summer but nothing out of the ordinary. Paul said the improved economy has created more shipments of all types of products which means there will be times when trucks are tight and thus they will cost more. But he does believe fuel rates will remain steady throughout 2014 and may even drop.

Evan said there probably will be a shortage of drivers this summer as there seems to be every summer. He does not necessarily believe the stronger economy will create that situation as he said the driver shortage occurred even during the height of the most recent recession. Paul Kazan said driving a truck cross country is a difficult job that requires many hours away from the family, and so there are always truckers coming in and out of the business as their individual situations dictate. “Turnover among drivers has always been very high and I’m sure that will continue,” he said.

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

Food Testing: Labs Test for Pathogens at Different Rates in the U.S. and Europe

Microbial testing can be a helpful way to identify pathogen risks for fresh produce, but it’s not a guarantee of safety. That’s why this one option in the toolbox is used differently by Americans and Europeans.

Testing in the U.S. varies somewhat from company to company, but it follows similar procedures that were standardized in 2007 with the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, says Trevor Suslow, food-safety specialist at the University of California, Davis. It involves sampling from a field before or after harvest to assess the risk of a lot.

“It’s submitted to a lab, the lab takes a random sub-sample from that tissue … they subject it to different types of enrichment, and then you use one of the rapid real-time PCR-type of test to ask the question, ‘Do we have detectable levels of pathogens in the sample or not?’” Suslow says. The result can then qualify a field for harvest or perhaps prompt further evaluation. Some companies go further and even uniformly test finished processed goods.

But the situation is different in Europe. While European labs do test for pathogens, it’s not their main concern, says Keith Warriner, a professor of food science at the University of Guelph and program director of the school’s food safety and quality assurance program.

“We just look for E. coli and Salmonella, whereas the Europeans are a bit more risk-based,” he says.

Mieke Uyttendaele, director of Belgium’s University of Gent Laboratory for Food Microbiology and Food Preservation, believes that less pathogen testing is done in Europe than the U.S.

“End-product testing is not assumed to be very effective in safeguarding the fresh produce supply chain,” she says. “So there is more effort put into a preventive approach – from farm to fork – which is also the basis of the EU General Food Law and EU food safety legislation, putting stress on ‘good agricultural practices.’”

Europe’s system focuses more on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles, taking into account chemical and physical hazards as well as microbial ones and bringing in controls to address those risks.

North America doesn’t really have fully HACCP-based systems for produce, Warriner says, because the existing systems mainly address just microbial contamination and traceability.

“They believe that those production practices provide a high degree of protection and therefore also limit the value of pathogen testing as a way to qualify or disqualify a product for safety,” Suslow says.

There’s a low level of confidence in the statistics of sampling to detect pathogens, so testing is often targeted at hygiene indicators such as generic E. coli rather than pathogens themselves, Uyttendaele says. If the E. coli numbers are unacceptable, it’s probably followed up with pathogen testing or auditing of the farmer’s operations.

“The objective of testing is not the key issue for ‘safety assessment’ or ‘batch release’ but rather to pick up major breakages in good agricultural or good manufacturing practices,” Uyttendaele says.

Suslow and Warriner both say it’s very difficult to judge whether one system is better than the other since, after all, they are based on very different structures.

Europe’s agricultural system consists of a lot of smaller farms and, Suslow says, “The smaller the company, the harder it is economically to factor in the cost of pathogen-testing materials into your program.”

But in North America’s favor is “a much better surveillance system,” Warriner says. “And so when outbreaks happen, we’re really on to it.”

Food Safety News