Food Safety: Protecting Consumers, Protecting Brands

The Acheson Group Lends Commodity Groups Food Safety-Based Brand Protection 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

David_Acheson
Dr. David Acheson, Founder and CEO of The Acheson Group

With the overall importance of food safety, it’s important that growers remain diligent in the enforcement of their food safety protocols. Dr. David Acheson is the Founder and CEO of The Acheson Group; a consulting firm for food and beverage companies as well as those who provide technical support to the food industry.

He noted that part of risk management is taking the particular commodity into account. Things like leafy greens and cilantro are examples of some of the more high-risk crops. One method of mitigating the risks involved is through the adoption of good agricultural practices. “That gets back to everything from controlling the quality of water that you’re using to irrigate, especially if its spray irrigation,” said Acheson.

Some other ways of lowering risk include making sure the equipment that’s being used is properly sanitized, checking for animal encroachment, as well as being mindful of the time it takes to get the product refrigerated after its been harvested. Acheson noted that, “as soon as you chop it out of the ground, you’ve got exposed surfaces and you’ve got pathogens where bugs can grow.”

Another area of vulnerability is making sure employees follow the established food safety protocols. Acheson said that when his firm is assessing the risk of an operation, “We’re always looking for, not only are you talking the talk, but are you walking the walk.” Safety means relying on people to follow procedure, “Most companies have good policies and procedures written but do they translate in the fields? To the way the workers are operating?” Acheson said.

Ensuring that all of the safety measures come together in a coherent and effective way is the cornerstone to a successful agricultural operation. Acheson noted that, “The good operations, they’re going to walk the fields just before they harvest to look for any evidence of obvious animal encroachment and are continuing to watch as they move down through the field harvesting the product.”

(Food_Safety)_Flags_in_the_field_mean_stop_harvest_here
Flags in the field mean “Stop Harvest Here”

One way the USDA has tried to limit the risk involved in one particular crop was through the adoption of the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement. “I think it was a great step forward,” said Acheson. “I mean, really what it was doing was codifying good agricultural practices in California.”

The agreement has been so successful; it was used as a template for the FDA’s Produce Safety rule. By codifying good agricultural practices through the leafy green agreement, the FDA has taken it a step further with their increased area of jurisdiction. The “FDA has got global jurisdiction over leafy greens and produce that’s grown anywhere in the world that’s coming into commerce in the US,” said Acheson. “If you’re growing spinach in Salinas, or you’re growing spinach in Mexico, or anywhere in the world and you’re bringing it into the US to go into interstate commerce, you are required to follow the produce rule.”

Food safety is of great importance to farming operations of all sizes. “To me, no food company is too small to pay attention to food safety, they can’t.” said Acheson. He also noted that enforcement of safe handling practices is what sets some operations apart from others.

Acheson said, “That’s where you start to see the difference between the good ones and the not so good ones. Because the good ones will say, ‘this is a priority, we need to stop harvesting the rest of this field. It’s maybe 10 acres, but we’ve got to plow it under because we’ve got risks that we can’t control.’” Acheson continued, “That’s where you differentiate from the ones who will say, “well there’s ten acres, maybe we can use 9 of those acres and we’ll just plow under one acre of it.”

It all comes down to being diligent in the adherence to food safety directives. While it can sometimes be challenging for growers to always strictly abide by healthy agricultural practices, the alternative of being lax in enforcement could create dire consequences for not just an individual grower, but an entire commodity group.

California Exports: The Future of the Agriculture Industry

In 2013, California’s agriculture exports totaled to approximately $19.5 billion dollars. Those exports not only helped to boost farm prices and income, it also supported the existence of approximately 147,700 jobs both on and off the farm.

“Every one billion dollars in agricultural exports generates another 1.2 dollars in economic activity outside the agriculture sector,” said USDA Foreign Agriculture Service Associate Administrator Janet Nuzum. “When we help promote agricultural exports – it’s not just agriculture that benefits.”

According the USDA, U.S. agriculture producers rely heavily on foreign markets to sell their products. Approximately 70% of nuts, 75% of cotton and 40% of grapes are exported internationally, and California agriculture greatly contributes to those statistics.

Ninety-five percent of the world’s food consumers live outside of the United States, and only 1% of U.S. companies actually export.

“Export opportunities for those involved with agriculture are immense,” said California Center for International Trade Development Director Alicia Rios. “Most growers don’t realize that there are many programs out there to help them learn about the industry and can help them to market their product to international food buyers.”

At an Agricultural Trade Roundtable event, Nuzum met with and discussed the implications of international trade with key agribusiness representatives from California’s Central Valley. Nuzum noted that American producers actually benefit from trade agreements. The goal is to have them eliminate foreign tarrifs, unscientific regulatory barriers and bureaucratic administrative procedures that are designed to block trade.

With the world’s population growing, and with income fluctuations in developing countries, there are many opportunities for the U.S. ag industry to market its products.

“2015 is going to be a key year in setting the stage on the future conditions that the U.S. agriculture industry will face,” said Nuzum. “If we don’t take advantage of international opportunities, somebody else will.”

For more information about export programs, click on the links below.

http://www.fas.usda.gov

http://fresnocitd.org

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year!Hang the red lanterns, gather your citrus fruits, and cook your noodles. It’s time to welcome the lunar Year of the Sheep!

Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year) is the most important traditional Chinese holiday, and is celebrated around the world. The celebration starts on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which is on January 31 this year, and goes on for 15 days. During this time, also known as the Spring Festival, those who celebrate visit temples to pay respect to their ancestors and pray for good fortune in the coming year. Small red envelopes of money are given to children as a token of good luck and prosperity. And, like most any family-centered holiday, everyone gathers around for a family feast, making Chinese New Year one of the biggest food holidays of the year.

Food is definitely a focus of Chinese New Year celebration, but it’s more than just nourishment. In Chinese traditions, foods served during the festival have auspicious meanings. Chinese traditions are rich with wordplay and symbolism. Some of the dishes and ingredients have names that sound similar to words and phrases referring to good wishes.

For example, “Kumquat” literally means “golden orange.” Symbolizing wealth and prosperity, the little citrus fruits, and sometimes the tree saplings, are given as gifts during Chinese New Year. Other “wealthy” fruits include Oranges and Tangerines. The larger citrus like Pummelos and Grapefruits symbolize abundance, prosperity, and family unity.

Happy Chinese New Year!
Happy Chinese New Year!

Another item that represents good fortune is Daikon or Asian Radish. In one Chinese dialect, the word for radish is a homophone for “good fortune.” This is why the savory radish cake is traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year celebration. But Daikon is more versatile than that. It can be added to soups and stews, steamed, or eaten fresh, chopped up or thinly shaved into salads.

Daikon could be a part of the mixed vegetable dish that represents family unity. This typical stir-fry is made with a touch of oyster sauce for business success and a mix of vegetables like Baby Bok Choy for close family ties, and Woodear and Shiitake Mushrooms for longevity.

The ultimate longevity blessing, however, comes from the noodles. Long and uncut, they symbolize long life. While Chow Mein is a traditional choice, other Asian noodles like Yakisoba are used for pan-fries and stir-fries, and Udons are used in soups. Shrimp may be added for liveliness and pork for abundance of blessings.

One of the many Chinese New Year wishes translates to “May your happiness be without limit.” With good eating like this, it definitely is the beginning of a very happy year!

Kung Hei Fat Choy! (Happy New Year and be prosperous!)

The Holiday Guide to Staying Healthy

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Communications Manager 

With cookies, pastries and elaborate meals surrounding you this holiday season, it’s extremely easy to indulge in unhealthy meals. Thanks the American Heart Association, however, there are few ways to indulge in your favorite holiday dishes while staying on track. Here’s how:

Keep an eye out for sodium:

  • Look at the labels! Believe it or not, your favorite breads and canned soup may contain high levels of sodium, so make sure to look at the food labels before making a purchase.
  • Find substitutes: Instead of adding salt to your meal, try using spices and herbs such as rosemary and cloves.
  • Add veggies: Fresh vegetables are sure to add flavor to your meal without having to add salt!

Defeat the turkey:

  • Choose the white meat: White meat has less fat and less calories than dark meat!
  • Remove the skin: Although tasty, the skin contains a large amount of fat
  • Limit the gravy: Gravy can be the culprit when watching your calories, be sure to limit the amount you put on your meal.

Desserts, desserts, desserts:

  • Share the goodness: Instead of indulging in one full serving of cake or pie, split it with a friend or family member. You’ll thank yourself at the end of the day.
  • Sample: Take a bite of a cookie, and eat the corner of piece of cake. The small bites you take will have less fat and calories than one full serving of something else.

For information on how to stay healthy this holiday season, click on the link below.

http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@fc/documents/downloadable/ucm_455757.pdf

World Food Prize Awarded to Prestigious Wheat Scientist

By: Laurie Greene; California Ag Today Editor 
Last week, Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, a wheat breeder, was awarded The World Food Prize among an international audience at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. Rajaram has spent his life developing more than 480 varieties of the staple crop and has significantly contributed to an increase in world wheat production.
“This award honors the resilience and innovative spirit of farmers in the developing world and the national agricultural systems,” Dr. Rajaram said. “Without their contributions my research would not have been possible. The mission was – and the mission remains –  to serve them.”
The World Food Prize is the foremost international award; recognizing — without regard to race, religion, nationality, or political beliefs — the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.
The Prize recognizes contributions in any field involved in the world food supply — food and agriculture science and technology, manufacturing, marketing, nutrition, economics, poverty alleviation, political leadership and the social sciences.
The World Food Prize emphasizes the importance of a nutritious and sustainable food supply for all people. By honoring those who have worked successfully toward this goal, The Prize calls attention to what has been done to improve global food security and to what can be accomplished in the future.

Water Finally Reaching Growers in Fresno Irrigation District

In a normal year, farmers would see water delivered for six months in the Fresno Irrigation District. This year, they’re getting a fraction of that but that still beats the zero allocation some growers are getting.

The almonds are developing nicely in Mitch Sangha‘s Fresno County orchard. He has been putting his old well to the test since winter — pumping groundwater because the drought has severely reduced water deliveries. But this past weekend, the water finally flowed as the Fresno Irrigation District began a six-week-long delivery.

“It’s going to help us a lot. Hopefully it will recharge the underground and hopefully we can shut our pumps off and let the water table build back up,” said Sangha.

“It’s a large district. Its 245,000 acres,” said Fresno Irrigation District General Manager Gary Serrato

He says 4,000 growers now have access to the much needed water.

“The thought is that by starting up in June because there are wells going dry and groundwater tables are dropping that it buys them time as well,” said Serrato.

Sangha says he’ll take whatever water he can get. The constant groundwater pumping impacts homes which rely on the same underground aquifer.

“Our domestic pump on this rental house is only 60 feet so when I turn this pump on that runs out of water,” said Sangha.

“There’s been a lot of pressure on our groundwater this year, and we’ve seen historical drops like we’ve never seen before,” said Serrato.

Sangha says the delivery will help bring his almonds into production and will help raisin growers get through a critical period. Still, some farmers rely solely on the water deliveries and don’t have underground wells to pump groundwater.

Serrato says this is the third driest year on record. Only the droughts of 1976-77 and 1932-33 were worse.

Food Assistance Available In Counties Hit By California Drought

Source: CBS Sacramento

Families in areas hardest hit by California’s drought are getting some much-needed help as part of the state’s $687 million drought relief bill.

Yolo County is able to put some of that money to use by feeding families in need.

“Most of us here in town, they work on the fields, and they depend on the season,” said Claudia Covorrubias.

But she says this season, the drought is taking its toll, and her husband is out of his usual farm work. It’s a familiar story in Yolo County.

“We need the water,” she said. “If there’s no water, there’s no planting. So if there’s no planting, there’s no food.”

The need was seen by state leaders who set aside $25 million in the recent drought bill to help feed families like hers. The money is being spent on boxes going to food banks from 24 of the hardest hit counties where unemployment and agricultural work is higher than the state average.

COUNTIES AFFECTED: Amado, Butte, Colusa, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Merced, Modoc, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Sierra, Siskiyou, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Yolo, Yuba

The Yolo County Food Bank began handing out more than 5,600 boxes of donations at two locations on Monday.

The boxes include nonperishable, nutritionally balanced food that can last four or five days for a family of four.

Families qualify if the drought has caused them to be unemployed. “It’s all on an honor system,” said Stephanie Sanchez. “We’re really trying to just help out families in need. If they can’t prove it, we don’t want to have to turn them away.”

Emmanuella Eliadiazzamora has a daughter and is expecting another child in less than a month. For her, the help is huge.