(Nov. 26) Department of Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt, appointed by President Bush to head a commission on the safety of imported food, paid a visit to Chicago’s International Produce Market as a precursor to a December trip to China for talks on product safety.

At the market on Nov. 20, Leavitt visited Strube Celery & Vegetable Co., Atom Banana Inc. and Coosemans Chicago Inc. He spoke about the need to uphold stringent food safety standards and addressed the trip to China, said David Watson, president and chief operating officer of Strube Celery & Vegetable.

“Secretary Leavitt visited the Strube warehouse, as well as a couple other stops, to see how produce was being handled and distributed in Midwest,” Watson said. “His main desires are to spread the word that it’s a new world out there, and because everything’s globalized, we need to meet certain standards to provide good healthy products that the consumer can feel safe about.”

The trip came two weeks after the commission, the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety, delivered its action plan to Bush. The plan calls for the Food and Drug Administration to have mandatory recall authority on food products, a stronger certification process, third-party inspections and reinforced penalties.

Leavitt visited Strube Celery & Vegetable because he was impressed by the wholesaler’s aggressive food-safety practices, which include Primus certification, good agricultural practices compliance and an established traceability system, a rarity among wholesalers, Watson said.

“We were happy we were chosen because it’s testimony that we have voluntarily chosen to really try to set the standard in our industry,” Watson said.

Leavitt stresses importance of food safety
Sue Hunter (from left), human resources and food safety director for Strube Celery & Vegetable Co.; Tim Fleming, Strube executive vice president; Mike Leavitt, Department of Health and Human Services secretary; and Dave Watson, Strube president and chief executive officer, address the crowd on Nov. 20 at Chicago’s International Produce Market.