SEPC meet covers safety, kids’ marketing issues

02/28/2008 12:00:00 AM
John Chadwell


Joe Caldwell, vice president of the Watsonville, Calif.-based Monterey Mushrooms Inc. (left), discusses portabella production with Steve Pinkston, regional buying team leader for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc at Monterey’s Zellwood, Fla., mushroom growing and packing operation. Retail and foodservice buyers toured the facility as well as Taylor Farms’ Orlando, Fla., fresh-cut operation during the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure convention Feb. 22 in Orlando.

(Feb. 28, 11:30 a.m.) ORLANDO, Fla. — Supermarket and foodservice buyers at the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure 2008 convention heard how increasing food safety audits are crippling growers.

They also learned at the retail and foodservice conference and expo what the industry can do to encourage children to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

The fifth year of the convention, held Feb. 21-23 at the Caribe Royale Resort & Conference Center, drew the highest turnout ever, said Terry Vorhees, the council’s executive director.

“From the feedback we received … this show was without question the best we have had to date, not only in the attendance but also with all the functions, the receptions, the educational workshops and the field tours,” he said.

Nearly 900 grower-shippers and buyers from supermarket chains and foodservice purveyors and distributors attended the show, up from last year’s previous record of 700 participants.

Edith Garrett, president of Edith Garrett & Associates, Asheville, N.C., and former president of the International Fresh-cut Produce Association, moderated an educational session that addressed produce food safety risk and prevention.

One of the presenters, Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Exchange, expressed grower-shippers’ frustrations with “audit fatigue.”

“The one thing that is driving the producer community absolutely stark-raving mad is that we’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars doing multiple audits, looking at the same thing for different customers who want different audits,” Brown said. “The questions are the same and we’re not making food any safer. But we are continuing to bury the grower with costs.”

Brown recommended the industry wrap its arms around escalating auditing costs by developing universal auditing standards.


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