National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

  One of the top ranked fresh produce stories this morning on Google refers to supermodel Heidi Klum's  Facebook declaration "2013... more fruits and vegetables." Another example of the great PR that fresh produce gets without even trying. Imagine what could be accomplished if the industry actually funded celebrity endorsements!

Among the news items for retailers on Google is a story about the opening of a new convenience store by United Supermarket in Texas. The "fresh to go" concept is being emphasized, with offerings of fresh fruit among the new shopper attractions.

One troubling report I stumbled upon is a study about reuseable shopping bags and a link to foodborne illness. Turns out bans on plastic bags can have a negative health effect on the community.

Among federal rules issued today are these:

Increase in assessment rate for South Texas orange and grapefruit

U.S. notice on pest risk assessment for Israeli dates

Assessment rate increase for California desert grapes

Although my Klout score is bigger than the Perishable Pundit, he is the commentator that carries the most weight relating to Fresh & Easy analysis. Check out his thoughtful, if long-winded, take here.

Highlights from the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group this morning...

On a scale of 1 to 10, how optimistic are you about the fresh produce business in the next year?

The group continues to grow, and the "introduce yourself" discussion thread now has an impressive 195 comments.

I asked "What is the main drawback of the FDA's proposed food safety rules?" There is no rush to judgment; 75% say it is too early to say.

Look for more industry  reaction in Packer coverage today and tomorrow. One news release I received yesterday framed the discussion in a way that sought to validate some parts of the industry are already doing. From the release:

While the Obama Administration was finalizing the specific rules under FSMA, the U.S. produce industry has continued to move forward with efforts to protect public health by improving food safety.  These efforts include science based research initiatives and the implementation of programs that require government oversight of food safety compliance.  

“Our producers are accustomed to operating under a system where food is produced with mandatory government oversight to provide a safe product for consumers,” said Scott Horsfall, President and CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA).   “As we review the specifics of the FSMA food safety rule, we’re confident programs like ours can provide a mechanism to immediately implement this law.”

In California, leafy greens, tomatoes and cantaloupe producers implemented programs that require government inspectors to audit farms and packing facilities to ensure compliance with science-based food safety practices.  Producers of Florida tomatoes and Arizona leafy greens have implemented similar programs.  Leafy greens and tomato producers began these mandatory programs about five years ago.  The California cantaloupe program was launched in 2012.  

“One of the key benefits of these programs is that they are public/private partnerships,” says Reggie Brown, Manager of the Florida Tomato Exchange.  “The government handles the inspections and ensures compliance with food safety standards and the industry taxes itself to pay for mandatory government inspections.  It is a unique model that works quite well especially in these times of state and federal government budget constraints,” Brown says.  Florida tomato farmers were the first in the nation to establish a government inspection program that is mandatory for all producers.  

So it appears to me the model put forward in progressive fashion by the  LGMA and the Florida Tomato Exchange would meld with the FDA approach. Questions remain about funding of inspections/compliance and the role of third party auditors.