U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry announced the confirmation of Dr. Elizabeth Hagen as USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety. Hagan was confirmed at a business meeting held by the Senate Agriculture Committee. Four additional nominations were also confirmed at the meeting.

“Maintaining the safety of our commercial food supply is one of the most important missions of USDA. Keeping the public’s faith in the integrity of our food systems will require increased coordination with all relevant agencies and I am pleased to know Dr. Hagen shares my commitment to keeping our nation’s food supply safe,” said Lincoln.

In addition to Hagen, the Committee confirmed Dr. Catherine Woteki as the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education and Economics. Also the committee confirmed Dr. Sara L. Faivre-Davis, Mr. Lowell Junkins and Dr. Myles Watts to the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation Board of Directors.

Source: U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry

USDA finalizes ground beef standards for school lunch and nutrition programs

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA has finalized tougher new standards for ground beef purchased by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) for Federal food and nutrition assistance programs including the National School Lunch Program.

"It is one of my highest priorities to ensure that food provided to the National School Lunch Program and other nutrition programs is as safe and nutritious as possible," Vilsack said. "The new standards guarantee our purchases are in line with major private-sector buyers of ground beef. We will continue to apply the best scientific knowledge to increase the safety across the board of our nutritional programs."

Vilsack announced a series of initiatives in February to improve the safety of food purchased for nutrition assistance programs. The final standards are the result of a detailed, ongoing review by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

The new requirements will be applicable to AMS ground beef contracts awarded on or after July 1, 2010. The AMS released a draft of the plan in May with a request for comments. Based upon comments and data submitted by the Department of Agriculture's FSIS and ARS and members of the general public, revisions were made to the final specification that will be used for purchases beginning in July 2010.

In addition to continuing a zero tolerance for E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, the new AMS standards: (1) tighten microbiological testing protocols; (2) tighten the microbiological upper specification and critical limits; (3) increase microbiological sampling frequency for finished products to every 15 minutes; and, (4) institute additional rejection criteria for source trimmings used to manufacture AMS purchased ground beef. AMS will also consider any vendor classified by FSIS as having a long term poor safety record as an ineligible vendor until a complete cause-and-effect analysis is completed.

The new purchasing requirements can be found in their entirety at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5085021.

Source: USDA

CKE shareholders approve merger

CKE Restaurants Inc., the operator of Hardee's and Carl's Jr. restaurants, announced that its shareholders have unanimously voted for its merger with Columbia Lake Acquisition Holdings Inc., an affiliate of Apollo Management VII, L.P.

Stockholders will receive $12.55 in cash for each share, reports Yahoo! Finance. The transaction is valued at approximately $1 billion, including refinancing of the company's debt. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the second quarter of fiscal 2011. Once completed, CKE will become a private company, wholly owned by an affiliate of Apollo Global Management.

Source: Yahoo! Finance, Zacks Equity Research

Foster Farms turkey franks make Hall of Fame

Foster Farms Turkey Franks were ranked #1 by a distinguished panel of San Francisco Bay Area foodies (including renowned restaurateurs), and were inducted into theSan Francisco Chronicle's Taster's Choice Hall of Fame. Tasters noted that Foster Farms Turkey Franks could "double as a classic hot dog" because they have an "excellent flavor," "good texture" and are "nicely spiced." All panelists said they would buy this hot dog.

"Backyard grillers can trim 50 calories and four grams of fat by going with a Foster Farms turkey frank instead of a beef frank. You get the traditional hot dog taste you remember--but it's easier on the waistline," said Ira Brill, director of marketing and advertising for Foster Farms. "Our turkey franks are fun, fast and delicious anytime. They're perfect for quick meals, picnics, cookouts, camping and more."

Source: Foster Farms

Hormel CEO added to Toro board of directors

The Toro Company announced that it has elected Jeffrey M. Ettinger, chairman, president and CEO of Hormel Foods Corp., to its Board of Directors, effective immediately. The addition of Ettinger brings the Toro board to 10 members.

"Jeff is a seasoned executive with strong business acumen and a proven track record of driving growth through innovation and strategic acquisitions," said Michael J. Hoffman, Toro's chairman and CEO. "His perspectives and experience will be invaluable, and we’re very pleased to have him join our board."

Toro, headquartered in Bloomington, Minn., is a leader in turf and landscape maintenance equipment, and precision irrigation systems.

Source: Toro