A joint public meeting focused on improving the system for tracing of food products and ingredients that are causing illness outbreaks or presenting other risks to the health of consumers was announced today by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The meeting will be held Dec. 9 and 10 in Washington at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s South Building in the Jefferson Auditorium, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C., 20250.

Recognizing the need to increase the speed and accuracy of traceback investigations and traceforward operations, both agencies are building on existing efforts by seeking public input that would help identify elements of effective food product tracing systems, identify current gaps in food product tracing, and suggest specific mechanisms for improvements.

The meeting is also intended to improve the ability of FDA and FSIS to use the information in such systems to respond to outbreaks more quickly by rapidly identifying the source of contamination during outbreaks of foodborne illness, and improving the ability of all persons in the supply chain to more quickly identify food that is (or potentially is) contaminated and remove it from the market during traceforward operations.

“This public meeting provides an opportunity for FDA to collaborate more closely with FSIS as well as with members of the food industry, many of whom have been making important innovations in food safety practices and technology, and all of whom bear primary responsibility for producing and marketing safe food,” said Michael R. Taylor, senior advisor to FDA’s Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D.

“The Food Safety and Inspection Service is eager to work with FDA, public health officials, consumer advocates, and the food industry to improve our ability to trace products that may cause illness outbreaks,” said Jerold R. Mande, USDA’s deputy under secretary for food safety. “The public can provide valuable input to strengthen our prevention, surveillance and response and recovery efforts, as outlined by the Administration’s Food Safety Working Group.” In March 2009, President Obama announced the formation of the Food Safety Working Group, and in July, President Obama released Key Findings, which highlight steps that FSIS, FDA, and other Federal Agencies are taking to improve food safety.

Food can become contaminated at many different steps in the supply chain. Experience in conducting foodborne disease outbreak investigations suggests that improved product tracing abilities could help identify products associated with disease more quickly, get risky products off the market faster, and reduce the number of sicknesses associated with foodborne illness outbreaks.

The FDA and FSIS share authority for helping to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply. Each agency investigates foodborne illness outbreaks and other foodborne risks associated with the products they regulate. These investigations, conducted in close cooperation with the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health and agriculture departments, often involve tracing backward or forward in the supply chain the distribution of food products and ingredients associated with risk to consumer health.

A traceback investigation is an investigation to determine and document the distribution and production chain, and the source(s), of contaminated (and potentially contaminated) food, often in the context of an outbreak of foodborne illness. A traceforward operation is an operation to determine the distribution of contaminated (and potentially contaminated) food.

Those interested in attending the public meeting can pre-register online at:  http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Meetings_&_Events/index.asp. Online pre-registration is preferred, but pre-registration can also be done by faxing registration information (including name, title, firm name, address, telephone number, e-mail address and fax number) to 1-877-366-3322 by Dec. 2. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged for all persons who wish to attend the meeting, regardless of whether they also wish to request an opportunity to make oral comments at the meeting on issues and questions described in the Federal Register notice.

Source: FDA

Tyson guilty of violating Fair Labor Standards Act

Tyson Foods Inc., one of the nation's largest poultry producers, has been found in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act at its Blountsville, Ala., facility. The jury's verdict in federal court in Birmingham resulted from a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor against the company. Tyson was ordered to pay back $250,000 in wages, according to Dow Jones.

"We are very pleased that the jury in Birmingham has vindicated our position that employers must pay their workers for the time that they are required to work," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "This is a victory for workers, and the result of years of dedicated efforts to protecting the rights of working Americans on the part of attorneys, investigators and others within the Labor Department."

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson noted that the $250,000 was about 3 percent of what the Department requested. The DOL has requested about $8 million in compensation for unpaid pre- and post-shift and meal period activities, including donning and doffing sanitary and protective clothing.

"We very much appreciate the jury's service in this complex case. We will now evaluate the implications of the verdict and determine what our next steps will be," he said.

The Department of Labor's lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The federal department alleged that Tyson Foods did not keep accurate records and failed to pay production line employees for the time they spend donning and doffing safety and sanitary gear, and performing other related work activities. The violations cover the period from the year 2000 to the present and affect approximately 3,000 current and former workers at the plant.

The initial investigation began in April 2000 as part of the department's Wage and Hour Division's poultry enforcement initiative. The Labor Department filed the district court complaint in May 2002 following the company's failure to comply with the law and to pay back wages. The first jury trial, which began in February 2009, ended in a mistrial. The Labor Department chose to pursue a second trial in August 2009 to secure a ruling that Tyson was failing to compensate its employees lawfully.

Sources: Department of Labor, Dow Jones Newswire

Sara Lee has strong growth in Q1

Sara Lee Corp. reported significant operating income growth of nearly 11 percent for the first quarter of fiscal 2010, primarily driven by strong performance in the North American business segments and lower corporate expenses. Net sales fell as a result of unfavorable foreign currency exchange rates, volume declines and strategic business exits. Cash from operations was very strong, driven by higher operating income, favorable working capital and lower pension contributions.

“I’m very pleased with our first quarter performance, which demonstrates substantial bottom-line improvement,” said Sara Lee Corp. chairman and chief executive officer Brenda C. Barnes. “A number of factors contributed to our results, including lower input costs, Project Accelerate cost savings and pricing discipline. At the same time, we’re increasing or maintaining our market share positions in many of our key categories behind important new products such as Hillshire Farm Family Size lunchmeat tubs, Jimmy Dean D-Lights breakfast sandwiches and various new Senseo coffee pods in our international markets.”

Sara Lee reported operating income from continuing operations of $325 million for the first quarter, up $32 million, or 10.7 percent, compared to the prior year period. Net sales from continuing operations for the first quarter of fiscal 2010, ending Sept. 26, 2009, were $2.6 billion, a 7.4 percent decrease over the comparable period last year. The decline in net sales was primarily driven by unfavorable foreign currency exchange rates, the impact of divestitures and planned business exits made during the past year and lower unit volumes.

Operating segment income for the North American Retail market was $80 million in the first quarter, compared to $55 million in the year-ago period. Adjusted operating segment income was $83 million in the first quarter, compared to $54 million in the prior year period. The increase was primarily the result of lower input costs, favorable sales mix, significant growth for the Jimmy Dean brand, improvement in supply chain performance and continuous improvement savings, which was partially offset by higher spending behind new campaigns for the Jimmy Dean and Hillshire Farm brands.

The retail business performed well during the important summer grilling season driven by new products such as Ball Park Bun Size and Lower Fat – Full Taste Angus Beef franks and Hillshire Farm Miller High Life beer brats. Ball Park hot dogs increased its market share by 0.8 points versus last year, strengthening its number-one market position to 23.2%, while Hillshire Farm smoked sausage increased its market share by 1.3 points to 28.6%, according to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) share data, 12 weeks ending September 20, 2009. These positive factors were offset by unit volume declines resulting in a net sales decrease of 3.2% to $659 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2010. The volume declines were largely due to the phasing out of non-core commodity meats and the exit of the kosher meats business, which accounted for 5.2 points of the reported 7.6% decline in units.

Source: Sara Lee Corp.

Kosher Valley Poultry wins award at Kosherfest New Products Competition

Kosher Valley, a new line of certified kosher antibiotic-free, vegetarian fed and humanely raised all-natural chicken and turkey products was named a 2009 Kosherfest New Products Competition Winner in the "Best New Meat, Seafood or Poultry" category for its Kosher Valley chicken breast cutlets. Kosherfest is the leading kosher food and beverage show in the country and took place on October 27-28 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J.

Kosher Valley is joint venture between Pegasus Capital Advisors, L.P. and The Hain Celestial Group Inc.

"We are honored to be judged the best in our category and believe this confirms the superiority of our turkeys and chickens," said Harry Geedey, vice president, marketing of Kosher Valley. "We believe that customers appreciate the unwavering quality we can offer, because of our sole commitment to antibiotic-free certified kosher, rather than offering ABF as a sideline," he added.

Kosher Valley turkeys and chickens are fed a diet of pure corn and soybeans that is free of animal by-products. They are humanely raised with room to roam and ready access to vegetarian feed and fresh water at all times. All Kosher Valley products are certified by Rabbi Yechiel Babad and the Orthodox Union and produced in Plainville, N.Y.

Kosherfest used a professional judging panel of restaurateurs, grocers, and cookbook authors who sampled hundreds of new food kosher food entries to select the winners. One of the five judges was Chef Jeff Nathan, an award winning chef, author and TV personality, who specializes in kosher cuisine. When asked about his judging criteria, he said, "It's a pleasure to have kosher poultry free of antibiotics and hormones. The flavor is just where you want it to be, delicious, tender and moist. I feel fortunate that I'm using the Kosher Valley poultry exclusively at my restaurant Abigael's. This is a terrific product for the at home consumer, too. I like that it's sold in stores close to home."

Source: Kosher Valley