WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pledged Tuesday that the government will do a better job alerting schools across the nation when it suspects that food for school lunches might be contaminated.

"We understand and appreciate that there has been a … gap in communication, which results in school districts not getting information on a timely basis," Vilsack told lawmakers during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on child nutrition programs.

Vilsack's comments came during questioning by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who asked about a USA TODAY investigation published Tuesday. The newspaper reported that schools know almost nothing about where the food they serve comes from, even when government regulators are aware it may be contaminated.

Vilsack said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding a "rapid alert system" to notify states and school districts of recalls that involve products served in school lunches.

For more background on this story, read Tuesday’s USA TODAY story here.

To read the rest of Vilsack’s response, read today’s USA TODAY story here.


Tigerhawk Proteins acquires Vande Rose Farms brand

Oskaloosa, Iowa — Tigerhawk Proteins, LLC, a niche marketing and distribution company, announced today that it has purchased the Premium brand Vande Rose Farms from Source Verified Foods, LLC. The purchase gives the Vande Rose Farms brand the resources to focus on providing Premium Duroc Pork and Premium Hereford Beef to high-end restaurants, resorts, country clubs and retailers.

According to the President and CEO of Tigerhawk, Nate Weaton, “The purchase of the Vande Rose Farms brand is a positive step in the right direction. We are extremely excited about being the premier provider of Premium Duroc Pork and Premium Hereford Beef to our distributors and consumers. Our core focus is to continue to enhance our reputation with existing and new customer relationships. We have a deep appreciation to those who have helped elevate the brand to this point, and look forward to the future.”

Founding family member, Ken Van Gilst states, “Source Verified Foods was established with the intention of becoming a broad supplier of premium food products to the distributor and consumer industries. Raising enough capital to develop this concept proved to be difficult. Our families believe that the sale provides an opportunity to alleviate pressure, and more importantly allows us to look to the future of our family farms.”

Weaton adds, “We will continue a solid partnership with the family farms. They are sustainable, and are dedicated to using technology responsibly so that the animals are treated with care and a truly superior product is produced. These farming principles are the foundation of what differentiates our premium brand and products in the industry.”

Tigerhawk Proteins strives to service the patrons of its customers with a memorable dining experience paired with exceptional customer service. Weaton states, “Our commitment to the breed specific proteins, Duroc Pork and Hereford Beef, is the foundation of Vande Rose Farms looking to the future.”

Source: Vande Rose Farms

USDA survey: Processing improves raw chicken microbiological profile

Poultry processing, including immersion in cold water and the use of antimicrobial interventions, greatly improves the microbiological profile of raw chickens, sharply reducing the presence of Salmonella and other microorganisms, according to a large-scale survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We observed a substantial reduction in the number of samples positive for Salmonella . . . and Campylobacter, suggesting that the anti-microbial interventions had an effect,” USDA scientists wrote in their report on a nationwide data collection program.

Only five percent of the raw chickens in the survey had Salmonella after chilling, and only 11 percent had Campylobacter, the survey showed, down from 41 percent and 71 percent, respectively, before evisceration. The actual number of bacteria on each raw chicken was also greatly reduced, by about 99 percent on average with respect to Campylobacter and 66 percent on average for Salmonella, the survey data show.

“The USDA survey shows that the industry is doing an excellent job of reducing the presence of potentially disease-causing bacteria on raw chicken,” said Steve Pretanik, director of science and technology for the National Chicken Council. “The investments made by the industry in improved technology and bacteria-fighting interventions have paid off in terms of a safer product for consumers.” He added that bacteria remaining on the raw product are destroyed by the heat of normal cooking.

The survey was conducted by USDA from July 2007 to June 2008 at 182 broiler slaughter plants. A total of 6,550 samples were collected, divided equally between samples taken at the rehang station (before evisceration) and after the chiller. As raw chickens went through processing, they encountered the antimicrobial measures in use in those plants, which typically include the use of chlorinated water in processing and in the chiller. The chiller itself uses ice-cold water to reduce the temperature of the eviscerated chicken to no more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to prevent the growth of most organisms.

After the chiller, the vast majority of chickens had very few Salmonella or Campylobacter cells on them, according to standard measurements of microbial presence. Some 97 percent of chickens had three or fewer Salmonella cells per milliliter of rinse solution, the data show, and 99 percent had 100 colony-forming units of Campylobacter or fewer per milliliter of rinse solution. These are considered very low levels, Pretanik said.

“The tests are very sensitive and detect very low levels of bacteria,” Pretanik said. “A processed raw chicken can have extremely low levels of these organisms present and still be counted as a positive sample.”

Results of the survey were published by the Office of Public Health Science in the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce and process chickens. Member companies of NCC account for approximately 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.

Source: The National Chicken Council

ConAgra, Sandra Lee team up to celebrate efforts to end child hunger

OMAHA, Neb. -- The ConAgra Foods Foundation and Sandra Lee, home and food expert, in partnership with Share Our Strength®, are launching the Champions Against Child Hunger contest to recognize those who are doing great work to help end child hunger in communities across the country while raising funds for Share Our Strength®. Sandra Lee, who is the National Ambassador of Share Our Strength’s Operation Frontline® program, announced the contest on Good Morning America on Nov. 16.

“I personally understand what a difference one person can have in helping to end child hunger,” said Sandra Lee. “Often times these efforts go unnoticed, but the ConAgra Foods Foundation is providing an opportunity to recognize those individuals committed to fighting child hunger.”

“Nearly 17 million kids in America struggle with hunger1, and there are remarkable individuals all over the country who regularly give their time and effort to end child hunger in their own neighborhoods,” said Kori Reed, executive director, ConAgra Foods Foundation. “It takes more than food to fight hunger, it takes a champion. The Champions Against Child Hunger Contest is our way of recognizing those giving their time and inspiring others to make a difference.”

Beginning today, individuals may submit nominations at ChampionsAgainstChildHunger.org. Contest entries require a short essay focusing on why the nominee is a Champion Against Child Hunger, recognizing his or her efforts to help end child hunger in his or her community or about how the nominee personally overcame child hunger. Prizes will be awarded to the top five nominees and a grand prize winner, to be chosen by visitors who will vote online. ConAgra Foods Foundation has committed an incremental donation of up to $100,000 to Share Our Strength based on the number of entries to the contest and votes cast to select the Champion.

“Engaging communities to work on a local level is crucial to ending child hunger,” said Patricia Nicklin, managing director at Share Our Strength. “The Champions Against Child Hunger contest will give recognition where it is deserved and also serve as an inspiration to others to join the fight against hunger in their own neighborhoods and towns.”

To learn more about the contest, please visit ChampionsAgainstChildHunger.org.

About the Champions Against Child Hunger Contest

The contest kicks off on Nov. 18, 2009 and nominations will be accepted through Jan. 22, 2010. Applicants can submit a short essay, nomination information, and photo and will have the opportunity to either nominate themselves or nominate another individual deserving recognition. Nominees and others may also submit a video telling their story at www.YouTube.com/ConAgraFoundation. The videos are optional and not required for contest nominations.

From the pool of submissions, the top five stories will be selected and featured on ChampionsAgainstChildHunger.org for consumers to vote for their favorite story. The story with the most votes will be awarded the grand prize and named as the Champion Against Child Hunger. Each of the top five finalists will receive a small cash prize of $500 as a reward for their advocacy and passion for ending child hunger, and a matching donation of $500 to Share Our Strength or their Feeding America food bank of choice. The grand prize winner will receive a trip to New York City and a cash prize of $1,500, as well as a donation of $5,000 to Share Our Strength or their Feeding America food bank of choice.

ConAgra Foods Foundation is committing an incremental donation to Share Our Strength, up to $100,000. The incremental donation includes $10 for each submission received (up to $20,000 through Jan. 22), and $1 per vote cast for the finalists (up to $80,000 through March 19).

The grand prize winner will be announced on March 25, 2010.

Source: ConAgra Foods

Chicago's McCormick Place loses another big trade show

The loss of a second trade show that meant big business for Chicago is putting quick and powerful pressure on McCormick Place, the city's showcase convention center, to combat the impression that the Second City costs too much to visit.

The plastics industry trade show on Tuesday said it is moving to Orlando, Fla., for 2012 and 2015 after nearly four decades in Chicago. The announcement follows a decision by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society last week to move its 2012 annual meeting to Las Vegas. Both shows cited the high cost of doing business in Chicago.

The plastic show's decision to leave is "a very serious loss," Mayor Richard Daley said, calling on unions and others working at the convention center to change fee structures and onerous work rules so Chicago can better compete for major shows.

"I think they have to go back, everybody involved, and say 'This is a serious situation. It's a serious situation for hotels, retail, (the media), everything,' " Daley said. "Because if the shows keep dwindling down, there will be less and less activity at McCormick Place, and that will have a deep effect on the state, county and city governments, the revenue."

A lot is riding in the balance. Some 45.6 million visitors spent an estimated $11.8 billion in Chicago last year, generating $656 million in tax revenue, according to the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. Business and convention visitors contributed close to half that spending.

"We will take a look at this very important economic engine, because our engine is in need of a major tuneup," said Juan Ochoa, chief executive of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, or McPier, which owns and operates McCormick Place.

A task force of officials from McPier, the convention bureau, the unions that work at McCormick Place, the restaurant industry and the city's hotels will convene Wednesday to attempt to devise ways to make Chicago more competitive.

And McPier will continue to seek a restructuring of its debt in Springfield as a way to ease its financial squeeze, a crunch that has hampered its efforts to match deals offered by competitors, Ochoa said. The agency also may seek a subsidy for its operations, he said, but only if the economic climate improves. To read more background on this story, click here to be taken to the Chicago Tribune story.

Source: Chicago Tribune