Inside this Food Report
It’s that time of year again when companies involved in all areas of the frozen food industry travel to the American Frozen Food Institute Convention, affectionately known as “The Western” by many of us who have been in this industry for most of our working careers! This year the convention date is February 27 through March 2nd and takes us to beautiful San Diego, California.
It’s hard to believe that this city, founded in 1602 by Sebastian Vizaino and named after the Spanish Catholic saint San Diego de Alcala, is actually the second largest city in California… and is named by Forbes magazine as the fifth wealthiest city in the United States! It is the place where Charles Lindbergh took off in 1927 in his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, headed for New York and then non-stop to Paris and into history!! Home to the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Balboa Park and 70 miles of exquisite coastline including Coronado Beach, San Diego is a visitors paradise!
Unfortunately, we’re going there to work…but it’s a great place and opportunity to meet new business partners as well as reconnect with old acquaintances… and there always seems to be some kind of important industry information or ‘gossip’ that circulates like wildfire…something or someone that is always the “talk of the convention”. Hmm…wonder what or who it will be this year??
Gossip aside, this convention is really a very important “information sharing” venue for us as we convey our buyer’s concerns and wishes to the growers, packers, and quality control people we meet and learn the same from their perspective as well. It’s about continuing to maintain and nurture the relationships we have had with many people for almost 40 years!
See you in San Diego!
Lily and Betty
United States: United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack officially declared 60 Florida counties natural disaster areas at the end of January due to losses from record cold weather. However a USDA freeze damage assessment completed late February found minimal freeze damage. The USDA report points out, “For all citrus varieties the majority of samples fell into the “no damage apparent category.” However the cold did affect fruit size which has resulted in frozen concentrated orange juice volume projections of 1.56 gallons per box down from 1.6 gallons per box in January. Generally over 90% of the Florida orange crop goes to juice concentrate processors.
Mexico: Several light freezes occurred in parts of the Bajio Valley, a major growing region for many Mexican agricultural products such as broccoli, cauliflower, water melon, and tomatoes, however only minor damage was reported. In addition to colder than usual temperatures, 8 inches of rain fell during the first weeks of February. However, rain and cold from the beginning of the year are not expected to greatly impact broccoli production in 2010. One supplier noted that broccoli seemed to be doing very well, although there was some concern that seedling broccoli which had been underwater for a few days would produce lower than average yields later in the year. Cauliflower was slightly affected by rain and cold with some green color being observed due to excess water.
Guatemala: Currently broccoli, sugar snap peas, snow peas, okra, green zucchini and melon are being harvested. Broccoli production will continue through April with broccoli harvest commencing again in July. Weather is favorable and no adverse issues have been reported.
New Zealand: Hail damaged some of the pea and grain crops around Canterbury, New Zealand in December of 2009, however yields in February have been reported to be good. Recent assessments of damage point out that although damage was severe in some places it was limited to small areas. Apart from the hail it has been a good season for peas and yields were higher than normal due to generally favorable growing conditions. The pea crop losses in Canterbury were compensated by higher yielding pea crops in other areas.
China: Record freezing temperatures negatively affected crops in January and the effects of the freeze are being felt on the domestic produce pricing. Green beans in particular have seen major differences between the price of frozen and the price of fresh beans. Frozen green beans are now half the price of fresh green beans. Consumers in China are currently favoring frozen green beans due to the significant price difference. Green bean processors are able to offer their product at more reasonable prices than fresh as the raw material was purchased before the freezing temperatures took hold of China in January, however frozen suppliers are expected to run out of product if the demand continues.
Broccoli and Cauliflower production in Central Eastern Coast of China is now finished. The weather has turned warm (on average 28 degrees C) and it has been reported that higher than average worm counts are being noticed in the broccoli. Broccoli and Cauliflower from China will be in tight supply. It has been reported by some that prices will be 30%–50% higher than the last broccoli crop.
Mushroom season will begin in April, and to date mushrooms should not be affected by the January freeze.
*Crop status is subject to sudden and unexpected change due to the unpredictable nature of weather and growing conditions.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington DC based nonprofit consumer advocacy group, published its top ten riskiest foods list in late October 2009. Data was compiled from Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported food borne illness outbreak database from 1990 – 2006. Outbreak is defined as two or more people who have consumed the same contaminated food and are affected by the same illness.
Top Ten Riskiest Foods Regulated by the FDA*
Looking at the CDC reported outbreak numbers over a seventeen year period in comparison to the United States population gives a less dire perspective than that asserted by the CSPI “riskiest foods” report about the state of food safety in America. Total reported illnesses over a seventeen-year period are 48,206. This comes to 2,835 average reported cases of illness per year from 1990 to 2006 in a current United States population of over 300 million.
In many cases it was not the raw product itself that was contaminated with food borne illness, but rather improper preparation and handling that were the real culprits. The report indicated that for leafy greens, eggs, tuna, oyster, and tomatoes, over half of all reported outbreaks occurred in restaurants making preparation contamination likely. For potatoes it was not the potato that was contaminated because potatoes are always cooked before consumption. Rather it was the ingredients potatoes were mixed with in dishes such as potato salad that actually caused illness.
In the interest of public safety, it might be more helpful for the CSPI to define proper preparation and handling techniques for the products it lists as “unsafe food” rather than generalize the problem as having occurred in a specific commodity.
Even the CSPI with its vast industry, academic, and government resources could not give consumers consistent advice as to what is safe and what is unsafe to eat. In a CSPI document from 2010 titled “10 Super Foods for Better Health”, sweet potatoes, grape tomatoes, spinach, and kale, are all touted as extremely healthy super foods. However, the CSPI had encouraged the American population to avoid all four of those products only a few months previously in their “riskiest foods” report.
It is obvious that the information is conflicting and can confuse consumers and we hope in the future the CSPI will be able to develop a report that is more beneficial and useful for consumers.
HACCP is an acronym for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point and is a systematic prevention approach to food safety. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables during processing are subject to scientifically based critical control points which significantly reduce the risk of food borne illness. However, it is much harder to control pathogens in fresh produce. While fresh produce processors and growers may employ expensive and expansive food safety programs, in the end it is up to the individual consumer to ensure the safety of their fresh produce.
One way to do this is for the consumer to create their own mini HACCP program in the kitchen by thinking of their kitchen in terms of critical control points in food preparation. Obviously this is not an actual HACCP system but here are some of the critical control points for the consumer to consider when selecting, storing and preparing food.
“Critical Control Point” 1: Selection
Consumers should be particular when selecting supermarket produce for home consumption. Whether conventionally or organically grown, good produce at the supermarket should not be bruised or blemished and freshly cut produce should always be refrigerated at the place of purchase. Segregating your shopping cart into different sections for meat and produce is another way that consumers can cut down on cross contamination.
“Critical Control Point” 2: Storage
Once produce has been selected at the supermarket, proper storage at home is also essential. Just like separating meat and produce in the shopping cart is important, the same separation should be observed in refrigerators. Areas of the refrigerator where meat is stored are considered higher risk areas and as such should be disinfected and washed every time new meat is stored there. A good way to clean any food contact surface is to use a solution of one teaspoon bleach to 1 quart of water follow by a rinse of clean water. It is also important to keep sensitive produce, such as lettuce and strawberries , at the recommended temperature of 40 degrees F or below.
“Critical Control Point” 3: Preparation
By following the above guidelines you can create your own home kitchen HACCP program and significantly increase the safety of the fresh produce you consume!
Acreage, production, and export data taken from the United States Highbush Blueberry Council’s annual World Blueberry Acreage & Production Report, the Agricultural Ministry of Chile, and a 2008/2009 report on Chilean blueberry production from an Argentine marketing firm, indicate that Chilean planted blueberry acreage has increased from 22,700 acres to nearly 27,000 acres from 2007 to 2008. This 16% percent increase in Chilean blueberry acreage can be largely attributed to increased demand caused by opposite harvesting seasons from northern hemisphere countries. Chile is the largest supplier of fresh and frozen blueberries on the South American continent.
In the 2008/2009 season, Chile exported approximately 41,196 metric tons of fresh and frozen blueberries abroad. During this time North America remained the most important market for Chilean blueberries taking approximately 80% of exported volume. Due to increased supply caused by the nearly doubled amount of planted blueberry acres worldwide (from estimated 82,299 acres in 2003 to an estimated 163,065 acres in 2008), Chilean producers continue to look for new markets for their blueberries as well as ways to cut costs and increase sales.
Despite the current surplus inventory of blueberries on the world market and depressed pricing, frozen blueberry production in the Southern Hemisphere continues to increase with Chile producing 19.4 of the 23 million pounds of frozen blueberries produced in South America. Frozen production volume is expected to increase in the 2009/2010 season but exact numbers are not yet available. This will only add to the current oversupply situation.
South American exporters continue to try to increase global sales but they are not without competition from their counterparts in North America who are also endeavoring to increase sales of fresh and frozen blueberries in overseas markets. North American growers are not only looking to increase exports to current markets, but are actively seeking new opportunities in burgeoning economies such as India and China.
Noon International would like to thank the Washington State Blueberry Commission and its Director, Alan Schreiber, for the below contribution.
Fruit for Thought...
Blueberries are one of nature’s most potent antioxidants and brain food! Studies from Tuffs University show that daily consumption of blueberries can slow impairment in memory. How many pounds of frozen blueberries were produced in Chile in 2008/2009? If you’ve forgotten that number already it might be time to start eating more blueberries…
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