Cilantro may be culprit in cyclospora outbreak totaling 358 illnesses

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is reporting that, as of July 30, there are 358 people confirmed with cyclosporiasis across 26 states in an outbreak that may be tied to fresh cilantro.

Most of the illnesses began around May 1, and health officials have been investigating clusters of illnesses in Texas, Wisconsin and Georgia.

“Cluster investigations in Wisconsin and Texas have preliminarily identified cilantro as a suspect vehicle,” CDC said.

FDA, along with Texas and Wisconsin officials, found that cilantro from the state of Puebla, Mexico, was supplied to restaurants where some of the victims ate, and tainted cilantro from the region has been suspected in previous outbreaks.

“The investigations are ongoing, and a conclusive vehicle for the contamination has not been identified,” FDA cautioned.

However, FDA and Mexican officials are “enhancing the safety of fresh cilantro with produce-safety controls on both sides of the border,” FDA said.  Mexican officials are instituting export controls for cilantro from Puebla, and FDA issued on July 27 an import alert that detains shipments from April through August each year, unless they’re on a Green List of approved companies.

“Shipments of fresh cilantro from other states in Mexico will be allowed to enter and to be released into the United States if sufficient documentation is submitted with at entry demonstrating that the cilantro was harvested and packed outside of Puebla,” FDA said.

Signaling growing concern about the latest development, the United Fresh Produce Association, Produce Marketing Association, Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and the Texas International Produce Association scheduled a briefing July 31 with FDA officials on the effect of the import alert.

Pacific Northwest to harvest fourth-largest pear crop

The Pacific Northwest is expecting to harvest its fourth-largest pear crop during the 2015-16 season. “The first estimates for the fresh pear crop show it coming in at just over 20 million standard box equivalents,” said Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer of the Pear Bureau Northwest. “While this is 2 percent below last year, it is 2 percent above a five-year average and would make it our fourth largest crop historically. Last year was our second-highest pear crop on record, so with similar acres in production, a decrease is a fairly natural thing with tree fruit.”Pear-CropOVPear growers in the Pacific Northwest experienced successive days of temperatures over 90 degrees. As a result, pear sizes are expected to be smaller this season. According to the Pear Bureau Northwest, consumers actively purchase the smaller-sized fruit. (Photo courtesy of the Pear Bureau Northwest)

The preliminary estimate was released in late May, and Moffitt said the numbers will be revised in mid- to late August.

“Our estimates are based on early fruit development observed in the fields,” he continued. “Most recently, the growing regions experienced successive dates over 90 degrees F which has impacted the size of our fruit. When the temperatures are in the 80s, we will see the size of the fruit increase. But over 90 degrees, the grower is working to keep the trees irrigated. The tree slows the fruit growth and at harvest time, the pears are often smaller than with more moderate temperatures. In recent years, we have seen some jumbo fruit — 70 to 80 pears per box.”

Although pear sizing may be smaller, Moffitt said this isn't necessarily bad news. “The good news is that consumers love the moderate-sized pear — 90 to 100 pears per box — and our shippers and packers will be able to meet the buyers' needs,” he said.

Initial feedback about quality is high. “Reports of fruit in the orchard are excellent,” Moffitt continued. “Our growers worked aggressively during the high heat periods to maintain the orchards. During the high heat, sunburn can damage fruit. But we are not hearing concerns about damage.”

Although there were no reports of orchard losses due to recent wildfires, Moffitt said some tree fruit storage facilities were lost. “There were some losses of stored pears, but with our collaborative tree fruit industry, other regional storage will be found to support those with a warehouse loss,” he said.

The total Northwest summer-fall pear volume is anticipated to be approximately 4.789 million boxes, down 6 percent from 2014. A breakdown by variety, approximate volume and decrease from 2014 revealed the following: Green Bartlett/4.373 million boxes, down 7 percent; Red Bartlett and other summer-fall pears/84,000 boxes, down 24 percent; and Starkrimson/331,500 boxes, up 5 percent.

The total Northwest winter pear volume is anticipated to be approximately 15.597 million boxes, unchanged from 2014. A breakdown by variety, approximate volume and increase/decrease from 2014 is as follows: Anjou/1 million boxes, down 4 percent; Bosc/3 million boxes, up 5 percent; Red Anjou/1 million boxes, down 8 percent; Comice/246,700 boxes, up 5 percent; Seckel/50,300 boxes, down 5 percent; Concorde/41,020 boxes, down 31 percent; Forelle/62,500 boxes, down 20 percent; and other winter pear varieties/36,850 boxes, down 23 percent.

Organic fresh pear volumes are included in the above estimates. Total organic pear production for summer-fall pear volume is 350,000 boxes. A total of 624,115 boxes of winter pears are expected to be produced. According to the report, the following volumes of organic fruit are expected to be produced this season: Green Bartlett/301,150 boxes; Red Bartlett and other summer-fall pears/27,000 boxes; Starkrimson/21,500 boxes; Anjou/377,000 boxes; Bosc/182,500 boxes; Comice/1,700 boxes; Red Anjou/48,500 boxes; Concorde/14,020 boxes; Taylors Gold/45 boxes; and Seckel/350 boxes.

Kroger exec to retire after 18 years with the company

Kroger announced that Lynn Marmer, group vice president of corporate affairs and president of The Kroger Foundation, will retire in early 2016, after 18 years with the company. The company said her replacement will be named at a later date.

"Lynn has always appreciated the power of our industry to connect with people's everyday lives," Rodney McMullen, Kroger's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a press release. "Her leadership has helped advance Kroger as a leader in community engagement — especially through our partnership with local food banks — and in sustainability, customer relations and always connecting our external relations efforts to our customer-first business strategy. Lynn has been a trusted counselor and advisor to three CEOs during a period of significant change in food retail. We wish her and her family all the best in retirement."

Marmer joined Kroger in 1997 as a senior attorney in the legal department. When appointed to her current position in 1998, she became Kroger's first female corporate officer.

She focuses on reputation management and leveraging and protecting Kroger's brand. Marmer leads external communications and brand public relations; media; government and regulatory affairs; corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability; community relations and customer service centers; crisis management; cause-marketing and corporate philanthropy.

Marmer is responsible for growing Kroger's supplier diversity program to $1 billion annually, creating a national program of fresh food rescue that donates 200 million meals annually to food banks across the United States, and creating four award-winning cause marketing campaigns that contribute millions of dollars to Kroger's signature community programs. In 2011, Forbes magazine named Kroger the most generous company in America.

In addition to her industry leadership, Marmer has been deeply involved in nonprofit boards and civic problem-solving groups. She currently is a member of the boards of the Cincinnati Zoo, Interact for Health, CRBC (Cincinnati Regional Business Committee), the Cincinnati Business Committee Education Task Force, Leadership Scholars, Carpe Diem (charter school), the Finance Committee of the Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), and is chair of the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati.

She earned a bachelor's degree in education, her master's degree in Urban Planning; and J.D. from the University of Cincinnati. She also completed The University of Cambridge programme for sustainable leadership.

Josie’s Organics receives Best rating from Whole Foods

Braga Fresh Family Farms' Josie’s Organics line of fresh vegetables has earned a Best rating under Whole Foods Market’s Responsibly Grown rating system for fresh produce and flowers, thanks to the line’s top performance in pest management and environmental protection, water and energy conservation, protection of air, soil, water and human health.braga

For nearly 20 years, Braga Fresh Family Farms has expanded its certified organic program, and in 2013 it launched Josie’s Organics, a brand that pays homage to the family’s grandmother, Josie Braga, who began farming with husband, Sebastian, on the same fertile soil the Braga family grows their line of more than 25 varieties of premium, USDA-certified organic vegetables on today.

“We’re excited to receive the highest recognition from Whole Foods Market for Josie’s Organics’ sustainability practices and commitment to providing great-tasting, organic, fresh vegetables grown with care of the land and conservation in mind,” Roger Zardo, director of sales at Braga Fresh Family Farms, said in a press release.

Responsibly Grown is a result of Whole Foods Market’s collaboration with suppliers, scientists and industry experts to hone in on important issues in food safety and sustainability, while providing more transparency in the industry for supplier accountability and consumer benefit.

“With Josie’s Organics, we demonstrate the Braga family’s long commitment to growing sustainably in all aspects, as this is the food we’re feeding our own families, too,” said Zardo.

Whole Foods Market’s Responsibly Grown rating system acknowledges exceptional performance in numerous areas of sustainable farming. To earn a Best rating, farms must participate in 16 practices to protect air, soil, water and human health; use no Whole Foods Market-prohibited pesticides and have GMO transparency; employ no biosolids or irradiation; make substantial efforts in water and energy conservation; have advanced soil health; protect rivers, lakes and oceans; make farmworker health and safety a priority; protect bees and butterflies; and demonstrate industry leadership of pest management and environmental protection.

Piazza Produce to host the Taste of Piazza 2015

The Taste of Piazza 2015 will be held Aug. 25 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The event is presented every other year by Piazza Produce Inc. The first show was held in 2009, making this the fourth such Taste of Piazza.

Michelle Agresta, sales and marketing assistant for Piazza, indicated that 130 of Piazza’s produce and specialty food vendors will be exhibiting on the fieldhouse concourse, which is the home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.taste-of-piazza-logo

Between 800 and 1,000 customers and potential customers will attend the event, which runs from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The 2015 Taste of Piazza theme is "Our Ingredients … Your Creation." Certain Piazza vendors are pairing to demonstrate product uses. For example, an Indiana cabbage supplier is working with a spring roll supplier to demonstrate how to use cabbage in preparing spring rolls, Agresta said.

Such exhibits will show Piazza’s customers “this is what you can do,” with the products, she noted. Students from The Chefs Academy in Indianapolis are cooperating in developing some of the recipes.

Adding variety to the Taste of Piazza 2015 is the participation of a local brewery, which is serving its beers and is cross-merchandising with local producers of cheeses and other items. Four local Indiana wineries are also involved in the show.

“'Local’ is so big and we are such a powerful player in local foods in Indiana” that the show and its special participants are a successful mix, Agresta said.

Piazza serves customers within a 250-mile radius. This includes Chicago, parts of Michigan, Kentucky and Illinois, as well as Indiana.