C. Larry Pope, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods Inc,., told his employees that the company has run further tests on animals at its Veracruz, Mexico, pig herd, near the home of the boy believed to be “Patient Zero” in the outbreak of the H1N1 flu.

The letter reads, in part: “Earlier this week, when news of the virus first became public, we reported that we had found no evidence of the presence of the influenza virus in any of our pig herds or our employees at any of our worldwide operations, including those in the United States. Yesterday, we also announced that because so much attention was being given to the joint operation we run with a Mexican company in Veracruz (and it was believed by some that the initial outbreak of H1N1 flu originated with a little boy in La Gloria, a town not far from a farm that our joint venture partner operates in Mexico), we ran additional tests of pigs at that facility. The results of these independent laboratory tests should be available in a few days and we will, of course, announce the results. As you probably also have learned, Mexican health authorities, working with U.S. and health officials from other countries, have also inspected our farms in Veracruz and found no evidence of H1N1 flu at all.”

The company routinely vaccinates its swine herds against flu and checks monthly for flu, Pope said.

Sources: Smithfield Foods Inc., Associated Press

Homeland Security to target employers who hire illegal workers

Updated worksite enforcement guidance instructing agents to take aim at employers and supervisors who knowingly hire illegal workers is expected to be issued today by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Under these guidelines, agents are instructed to target employers and supervisors for prosecution “through the use of carefully planned criminal investigations.”

According to Department officials, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will continue to arrest and process for removal any illegal workers who are found in the course of these worksite enforcement actions in a manner consistent with immigration law and DHS priorities.

Among the most significant of the new guidelines is one in which agents are instructed to “obtain indictments, criminal arrest or search warrants, or a commitment from a U.S. attorney’s office to prosecute the targeted employer, before arresting employees for civil immigration violations at a work site.”

To view the DHS Fact Sheet on the new enforcement strategies, go to www.meatami.com/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/49290

Source: American Meat Institute

Restaurant Performance Index shows signs of economic improvement

The outlook for the restaurant industry improved in March, as the National Restaurant Association’s comprehensive index of restaurant activity rose for the third consecutive month. The Association’s Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) – a monthly composite index that tracks the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry – stood at 97.7 in March, up 0.2 percent from February and 1.3 percent during the last three months.

“Although the RPI remained below 100 for the 17th consecutive month, which signals contraction, there are clear signs of improvement,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of Research and Information Services for the Association. “Restaurant operators reported a positive six-month economic outlook for the first time in 18 months, and capital spending plans rose to a 9-month high.”

The RPI is based on the responses to the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Industry Tracking Survey, which is fielded monthly among restaurant operators nationwide on a variety of indicators including sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditures.

The Current Situation Index, which measures current trends in four industry indicators (same-store sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditures), stood at 96.1 in March – down 0.4 percent from February and the first decline in three months. In addition, March represented the 19th consecutive month below 100, which signifies contraction in the current situation indicators.

Due in part to Easter falling in April rather than March this year, restaurant operators reported negative same-store sales for the tenth consecutive month in March. Twenty-four percent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between March 2008 and March 2009, down from 29 percent who reported a sales gain in February. Sixty-three percent of operators reported a same-store sales decline in March.

Restaurant operators also reported negative customer traffic levels for the 19th consecutive month in March. Twenty percent of restaurant operators reported an increase in customer traffic between March 2008 and March 2009, compared to 22 percent who reported similarly in February. Sixty-three percent of operators reported a traffic decline in March, up from 59 percent who reported similarly in February.

Capital spending activity in the restaurant industry held relatively steady in recent months. Thirty-five percent of operators said they made a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling during the last three months.

The Expectations Index, which measures restaurant operators’ six-month outlook for four industry indicators (same-store sales, employees, capital expenditures and business conditions), stood at 99.4 in March – up a solid 0.9 percent from February and its fourth consecutive monthly gain. Although the Expectations Index remained below 100 for the 17th consecutive month, it rose to its strongest level in 14 months.

The growth in the Expectations Index was buoyed by restaurant operators’ outlook for the economy. In fact, for the first time in 18 months, a higher proportion of restaurant operators said they expect the economy to improve in six months, as compared to the percent who expect economic conditions to worsen. Thirty percent of restaurant operators said they expect economic conditions to improve in six months, up from 22 percent who reported similarly last month and the highest level in 21 months. In comparison, only 21 percent of operators expect economic conditions to worsen in six months, down sharply from 36 percent last month.

Although their economic outlook improved, restaurant operators remain somewhat uncertain about sales growth in coming months. Thirty percent of restaurant operators expect to have higher sales in six months (compared to the same period in the previous year), up from 25 percent who reported similarly last month. Thirty-eight percent of restaurant operators expect their sales volume in six months to be lower than it was during the same period in the previous year, down slightly from 41 percent who reported similarly last month.

As the outlook for the economy improved, so too did operators’ plans for capital expenditure activity in the months ahead. Forty-four percent of restaurant operators plan to make a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, the highest level since July 2008.

Source: National Restaurant Association

Canadian company expands recall over Listeria concerns

Piller Sausages and Delicatessens Ltd. is voluntarily recalling three ham products because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The products affected in the recall are "Taste Better Than Bacon" - Maple Flavoured Smoked Ham - "Taste Better Than Bacon" - Hickory Smoked Turkey Bacon and Lean 'N' Tasty Maple Flavoured Smoked Ham Style Bacon.

Piller's and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency first announced a recall on April 27, involving 375-gram (approximately 13.25 ounce) packages of “Taste Better Than Bacon” Maple Flavoured Smoked Ham and Hickory Smoked Turkey Bacon. A second alert went out two days later with different “Best Before” dates for the ham and also included the Lean & Tasty bacon.

On April 29, Piller's issued a statement noting confusion over product names and “Best Before” dates. “Due to the small quantity of product involved Piller’s has decided to eliminate the confusion and voluntarily recall all products listed above regardless of the best before dates up to and including 09 JN 08,” the company stated.

There have been no illnesses associated with the recall. According to the Canadian Press, Piller's said it had traced the source of the contamination to an area deep inside a slicing machine.

Sources: Piller Sausages & Delicatessens Ltd., The Canadian Press, Canadian Food Inspection Agency