The Rocke family announced it has reacquired RMH Foods LLC from Smithfield Foods Inc. RMH Foods, a leading manufacturer of fully cooked refrigerated entrees including Milano's Italian Grille entrees, was founded in 1937 by the Jesse Rocke family. It was acquired in 2001 by Smithfield.

“We are grateful and excited to reacquire RMH Foods,” stated Jonathan Rocke, president and CEO of the new RMH Foods. “Our relationship with Smithfield over the past eight years was beneficial, but ultimately we believe we can be most successful for our customers and our ownership as an independent, innovative, family-led food company. We're convinced that making great food that is convenient and offers value is even more important to today's consumers, and we are committed to partnering with our customers to deliver relevant products that meet those needs.”

From the company's founding as a local custom processor through its evolution to a manufacturer of fully cooked foods the Rocke family has built a reputation for high-quality products and lasting customer and industry relationships. Today RMH Foods provides co-packed, private label and branded fully cooked refrigerated entrees to the retail market. The family said in a statement that under the new operational structure it looks forward to bringing the same focus of innovation and excellence to fully cooked foodservice and deli segments of the industry.

Source: RMH Foods LLC

U.S., Russia plan mid-January talks over poultry import ban

After announcing a ban on all chlorine-treated poultry imports from the United States effective January 1, Russia said it was optimistic about mid-January talks with the U.S. to resolve the dispute. A top Russian official said that the stance of the U.S. administration was inspiring optimism.

Russia's requirements restrict the use of chlorine in poultry plants to 0.5 parts per million, which is 10 times lower than the standard chlorine content in U.S. municipal drinking water, according to Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.

"The U.S. industry will be unable to comply with Russia's requirements," Sumner said.

Russia's chief sanitary official Gennady Onishchenko said he hoped a compromise would be found at talks in Moscow, which he agreed to hold after telephone talks with James Miller, the USDA's undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services.

"A one-hour-and-a-half conversation with Mr. Miller has inspired me with emotional optimism,” he said, according to the New York Times. "We have tried to find common points during this hour and a half. It is a special thing of today's U.S. administration. Before it was just 'No' and full stop.”

The U.S. supplies more than one-sixth of Russian poultry imports, or 600,000 metric tons. The talks will also cover the approximately 30,000 tons of poultry already en route to Russia.

Sources: Reuters, New York Times

Batistas in, Pilgrims out of Pilgrim's Pride management

After emerging from bankruptcy, Pilgrim's pride has made several changes to its management team, removing Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim as chairman, his son, Lonnie Ken Pilgrim as vice president and Richard Cogdill as chief financial officer. The elder Pilgrim, who will remain on the company's board, was replaced as chairman by Wesley Batista, president and CEO of JBS USA. Members of the board also include Joesley Batista, CEO of JBS SA, the parent company of JBS USA, and Jose Basista Jr., director of JBS SA and JBS USA.

The company also agreed to pay a $4.5 million fine, ending a U.S. investigation into the alleged hiring of undocumented workers. In 2008, 338 Pilgrim's workers were arrested across the country. The company admitted no wrongdoing, but both sides agreed that federal investigators had reason to believe that the company's plants had hired a “substantial” number of illegal immigrants.

Sources: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Pilgrim's Pride

Meat associations defend safety record after negative articles

In the wake of recent meat recalls and a New York Times article calling into question the safety standards of BPI Inc.'s processes, two meat trade groups have issued statements about the safety of the U.S. meat supply.

The National Meat Association responded to the Times article, which focused on BPI's use of ammonia in its process. The NMA noted that BPI is a long-time member of the association and that the company's president, Eldon Roth, has developed technology to improve the safety of beef, and beef trimmings, applying technology using ammonia, the basic refrigerant used in all major cold storage establishments in the food industry worldwide.

“The NYT story is a very limited, one-sided view of the technology,” reads a statement from the organization. “The innovative technology developed by BPI is fully set forth on the company’s Web site and has been hugely effective in improving the safety of meat and meat trimmings. It has also been effective at reducing any pathogens that may be present to non-detectable levels by adjusting the alkalinity of the product. Pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella do not survive in an alkaline pH environment.

“Mr. Roth and his team are to be commended for their very substantial contributions to ensuring the safety of meat. They have done so openly, presented their research and technology for scrutiny by the USDA and other scientists, and have demonstrated through their back-up testing that the technology is working.

“Dr. David Theno, who was quoted in the NYT, notes that the story failed to mention Mr. Roth’s unwavering support for food safety initiatives, and that he has held his team at BPI to the highest standards possible for food safety.”

Rosemary Mucklow, director emeritus of the NMA, said, “Eldon Roth has been a strong leader in finding new innovative ways to ensure meat safety. The technology he developed 30 years ago revolutionized the safety of raw materials with the effective application of refrigeration. He has never ceased to try to improve food safety, and he has done so with developmental genius and transparency. He is to be highly commended for his commitment.”

The American Meat Institute also issued a statement about the meat industry, following questions about the meat in public schools and the safety of mechanically tenderized meat products.

“The U.S. meat industry supply is the most regulated and inspected industry in America and U.S. meat products have an excellent food safety record that reflects food safety progress,” it said, pointing out several factors about the industry:
* “Nearly 8,000 federal inspectors oversee 6,200 meat plants nationwide. Plants that process live animals have inspectors on-site during every minute of operation. Large plants may have two dozen inspectors on-site in a day and they are fully empowered to take actions to stop production or prevent meat from entering commerce if they have concerns.
* “Since 2000, E. coli O157:H7 prevalence has decreased by 45 percent in ground beef to less than one half of one percent, according to USDA ground beef sampling data.
* “Salmonella prevalence in ground beef has declined more than 50 percent since 2000 according to USDA's Salmonella performance data.
* “Since 2000, E. coli O157:H7 infections in humans have declined by 44 percent according to Centers for Disease Control data.
* “Recalls due to E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks are down over the last two years according to USDA data.
* “Meat products carry federally mandated safe handling labels that recommend thorough cooking. Cooking destroys any bacteria that remain on fresh products.

“The U.S. beef industry benefits by producing beef products that are as safe as we can make them,” said the AMI. “Food safety data show that we take our responsibility seriously. We proudly and confidently feed our families the same meat products we sell to customers in the U.S. and around the world.”

Sources: AMI, NMA