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  • Archive for March 2010

    Welcoming Johnna Hepner

    Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

    Julia Stewart:
    Hi, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob” with PMA’s Chief Science and Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. Bob, we’ve got fantastic guest with us today as we welcome PMA’s new Director of Food Safety and Technology, Johnna Hepner.

    Bob:
    That’s right Julia, we’re really pleased to have her join our team. Johnna joins PMA from Markon Cooperative in Salinas, where she was food safety director. Previously she served as producer buyer and quality assurance manager for Markon from 1993 to 2003, and before that as quality assurance manager for National Pre-Cut Produce in Salinas from 1991 to 1993. You can see that Johnna has a great deal of practical experience that we can draw on to benefit our members.

    We brought Johnna on board to reflect PMA’s ongoing commitment to the area of food safety and technology. Right now there is a tremendous amount of activity around food safety, and we want to ensure we have the right staffing to meet our members needs. We are indeed fortunate to be able to add Johnna and add her depth and breadth of experience. Welcome to our team, Johnna.

    Johnna:
    Thank you, Bob. I’m excited to join PMA and to be able work with you and our key members in the areas of food safety and technology. I’m looking forward to using my real-world experience to benefit the members of PMA and the industry as a whole.

    Bob:
    Johnna’s responsibilities will include monitoring, evaluating and collaborating on produce-specific food safety guidance and standards development, as well as legislation and regulation. She will also represent the association to our members, commodity groups and allied industry organizations, as well as with external groups including federal regulators and legislators. We especially want to leverage Johnna’s extensive experience with small and medium sized growers andprocessors to help them better implement food safety programs in an efficient and cost effective manner. 

    Julia:
    Johnna, what does your past experience allow you to bring to PMA and our members?

    Johnna:
    I have a diverse background including quality assurance, processing, and food science, as well as food safety – that gives me a well-rounded approach to many of the issues, and will provide depth for our members to draw from. My strong buyer perspective in working directly with grower/shippers in the U.S. and abroad has enabled me to effectively communicate the issues our members deal with on a daily basis. All this, combined with your experience, Bob, really gives us a comprehensive approach.

    Bob:
    Another thing you bring to PMA, is a valuable balance between practical working knowledge of production and processing, and knowledge of food safety. It benefits our members to have that kind of real-world perspective. You’re someone who has been in the field and the processing plants…you’ve seen these programs at work and have firsthand understanding of how they fit.

    Julia:
    Bob, how will our members directly benefit from having Johnna join our team?

    Bob:
    Julia, it’s so important that we can reach out to all our members. There are so many activities going on now on the policy front, program implementation, and our educational efforts with members. Having Johnna on board gives us the ability to be even more actively engaged with our members. We see a lot of value in being able to increase our outreach to member groups around the country.

    As we’ve already said, she brings a very well rounded approach to food safety and technology, and is very familiar with both sides of the equation, buyer and supplier. She has a background in quality assurance and food science as well, and perhaps most importantly, she brings a passion for doing things right when it comes to food safety and technology.

    Johnna:
    I like that word, passion. I do have a passion for food safety, and I hope to be able to relay that to our members.

    Julia:
    Thank you, Bob and Johnna. We’ll look forward to hearing more from both of you in the future.

    For more information on Johnna or our food safety activities, please go to our website www.pma.com.

    Thank you, listeners, for joining us.

    FDA Docket on Food Safety Standards

    Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob”. PMA’s Chief Science and Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker is with me again today. Bob, we currently have a very unique opportunity to shape the future of the food safety regulations that will govern us. Can you explain to our listeners what is happening and what it has to do with them?

    Bob:
    Sure, Julia. As our listeners may recall, I have spoken about President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group and their focus on upgrading U.S. food safety laws, fostering coordination of food safety efforts throughout the various Government agencies that have responsibility for food safety, and ensuring laws are being adequately enforced. We also discussed the resulting Commodity Specific Guidance which was developed for certain commodities in our industry late last year and how FDA would be looking to expand it in the future.

    Well, now we’re at that point!  FDA has announced they are working on a proposed produce Food Safety Rule with an expected release date of this October.  So, we have a tremendous opportunity for input right at the beginning of the process! FDA has announced the opening of a docket to obtain information about current production and packing practices for fresh produce. They are establishing this docket so that interested parties can provide information and share views to help in the development of safety standards for fresh produce, as well as strategies and cooperative efforts to ensure compliance. FDA will use these comments to develop the proposed rule. It’s great to have the chance to get our comments and input in now while the ideas are still being formulated, as opposed to being re-active once the rule is drafted. 

    Julia:
    What exactly are they looking for, do we know?

    Bob:
    Yes, FDA is inviting comments on a number of critical food safety issues, many of which occupy much of our food safety conversations today. They are seeking input on product testing, food safety auditing, the role the agency should play in produce safety, and the intersection of food safety practices and environmental sustainability among other important issues. FDA is also trying to gather industry’s thoughts on how FDA should measure compliance. You know, it’s one thing to comment on setting standards, but it’s a different prospect altogether to have input into how to feasibly implement and enforce those standards. 

    Julia:
    Bob, do you think the agency pays attention to the comments they receive? We invest a lot of time in developing comments.

    Bob:
    I can tell you, one of the key eye-openers I’ve had in my first 2 years with PMA, is to see how FDA really pays attention to these comments, and how writing them has opened up a dialogue between ourselves and FDA. 

    You know, when I first started at PMA I had several opportunities to comment on various FDA initiatives and guidelines.  To provide substantive – and hopefully helpful – comments takes some thought, and most importantly, time.  I found myself wondering if the time commitment was worth it; I mean was FDA really reading what we were submitting? 

    Well, last summer I had the good fortune to participate in a tour the Center for Produce Safety, set up for FDA officials in California.  The tour was designed to help the FDA folks gain a better understanding of agricultural production and what the industry was doing to improve their food safety practices – but it turned out to be informative for me.  During one of our long bus rides down through the Central Valley, I was speaking with a senior FDA scientist about a number of food safety topics only to have her start reciting back to me some of what I had commented on a few months earlier. This led into a very positive discussion on those comments and an opportunity to expand upon them.  In truth, I think she had a better grasp of what I wrote than what I had!  I became a convert right then and there and I truly believe that FDA does indeed review and consider all the comments they receive. 

    Julia:
    Bob, when is it appropriate for our members to comment?

    Bob:
    Our listeners should check out the Federal Register notice, Volume 75, number 35 posted on February 23, 2010 on page 8086.  Provide comments on those questions or topics where you have experience or a point of view that can give FDA some valuable, constructive input. You can find a link to the Federal Register notice at our food safety page on www.pma.com   

    PMA will be submitting written comments as well, and as always, we appreciate any input you might have for us. Just email me at askdrbob@pma.com.  I’d also like to take this chance to thank those who have offered helpful comments in the past. I greatly value the interaction I have in talking with people around the industry.

    Julia:
    Thank you, Bob, for giving us more background on this important public comment opportunity – and to hear your personal experience that we are in fact being heard.
    Listeners, we do encourage all of you to take a look at the FDA docket and seriously consider submitting some constructive comments that will help them in their process of writing the Proposed Produce Food Safety Rule. Again, for more information on this, go to www.pma.com and look for the food safety page under the Issues tab.

    Thanks to our listeners, and please join us next time!

    CEO Symposium

    Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” PMA’s Chief Science and Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker and Lorna Christie, PMA’s Executive Vice President and COO, are with us today to share news on some exciting food safety events coming up later this year. The next Food Safety Symposium will be held in May in Ellensburg, Washington, and others are planned for later in the year.

    Bob, Lorna, what is the CEO Food Safety Symposium and why is it different from other events?

    Bob:
    Thank you, Julia.  We’re looking forward to our first Food Safety Symposium of 2010.

    This special CEO series that we started just last year, is geared toward the high-level decision-makers in each company because, as I’ve said previously, in order to really have effective food safety programs you have to change your business culture. The persons ultimately responsible for a business’ culture – food safety or otherwise – are the top decision-makers, the CEOs or presidents. They also have the best view of the risk if there isn’t a good food safety program — consequences like the loss of brand equity or even loss of the entire company. This symposium is geared toward this C-level position, rather than the food safety scientists. It focuses on the business aspect of food safety.

    Lorna: 
    That’s right, Bob. This symposium is different from other food safety conferences because it changes the dialogue around food safety. It takes it out of the quality assurance department and makes it the responsibility of  everyone in the company — from the CEO to the guy who packs product on the trucks at the other end of the building. This symposium is unique because it doesn’t focus on the science or technical aspects of food safety; instead it focuses on how to change your business model.

    Bob: 
    I think that is an important point, Lorna!  We don’t talk about the science at all.  And, the symposium format includes some very interactive, real-world breakout sessions where the participants can discuss some of the points we make during our presentations, and explore how some of these ideas might be incorporated into their own businesses.

    We start off with a status check, having an honest conversation with attendees about their food safety programs, the types of elements such programs should have, and how basic business functions relate to food safety. Then we hear from a lawyer whose firm specializes in prosecuting food safety cases. He lays out the stark realities of food safety, pointing out that if you don’t have a thorough food safety program, he’s going to sue you – and win! He really drives home the consequences of not having a comprehensive program.

    Lorna:
    Then we have one of my favorite parts which we like to call the “oh shit moment”. In breakout sessions, attendees discuss what they heard that really gave them pause, and how it could relate to their company. This illustrates the unique difference in the format of this symposium from other events out there. It looks at the impact of failure that goes beyond business losses.

    We also incorporate applied knowledge — we present a scenario and discuss what they would do. People get to think outside their traditional box and look at applying what we’ve talked about in a very different way. We’ve had great feedback from all our symposiums.

    Bob:
    Attendees at last summer’s  Monterey event really appreciated the legal perspective – for example, they thought the insight we offered into how post-outbreak investigations and lawsuits expose weaknesses in food safety programs was particularly beneficial. They also recognized the benefit of having fellow colleagues in the room, networking, and sharing ideas with produce and food safety executives… and understanding some of the similarities of this issue throughout the produce industry.

    Lorna:
    And, attendees at our Austin symposium last year especially regarded the outlook on what to do if you have a food safety event and the news media come knocking on your door. In Rochester last fall, attendees noted the value of getting a better understanding of how to prepare for a food safety issue, beyond just your protocol for recalling product. In all cases, participants touted the benefit of looking at real world situations and examples of how to handle them in our business

    Julia:
    Thank you, Bob and Lorna. We look forward to this unique event and to hearing back from our listeners who attend it.

    For more information about the Symposium or to register, go to www.pmafoodsafety.com. Thanks for joining us, everyone…Until next time

     
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