Superior Farms, a national lamb packer headquartered in Davis, California, announced that it has entered an agreement to purchase Iowa Lamb Corporation to help increase efficiencies in the sheep industry.

Spence Rule, an owner of Iowa Lamb Corporation said, “We’re excited about this. It’s an opportunity to go back to doing what we’ve done for years, and that’s feeding. We were feeders long before we were packers and this will help us get back to concentrating on the feeding business.” He, along with his brother, sister and father have owned the packing house since 1983.

While only approximately 1% of all fresh meat sales, the sheep industry contributes $1.4 billion annually to the U.S. economy with $768 million contributed to the sale of lamb and lamb products. Lamb farms and ranches in every state total 82,000. However, according to the American Sheep Industry Association, demand for lamb was down 10% in 2009 as livestock costs and subsequent retail prices increased. Supply is currently a concern. In 1990, U.S. ranchers had 11.1 million head of sheep. In January this year it had dropped to 5.6 million. Supply, along with grain and feed pricing, has caused prices for the protein to steadily increase.

Superior Farms’ CEO Ed Jenks said, “For quite some time, our feeling has been that there are a lot of packing houses that are trying to operate with minimal schedules in the US for lamb production. We saw a definite cultural match between Iowa Lamb and Superior. Ultimately it means that the packing side of the business will be more efficient and it is our sincere hope that we create operational economies of scale that allow us to keep our plant costs down and continue to encourage a consumer demand at affordable prices.”

Iowa Lamb Corporation’s consumer brand, Summit Creek, and foodservice brand, Grove Meats, will be integrated into the Superior Farms divisions. Jenks says that other than switching logos, there are no immediate plans to change anything operationally with the company. “From a producer’s prospective, this gives the entire industry better assurance that they will have packing houses that they can rely on to trade their lambs with,” he said.

Larry Rule began his career in 1950 in the livestock business. What was once a beef plant constructed in 1963, the Rule family purchased to extend its feeding and lamb processing business in 1983. They then renovated the facility in 2006.

Superior Farms was founded in Ellensburg, WA in 1963. With four facilities in the U.S., it is employee-owned and recently won the 2011 ESOP California/Western States Chapter Company of the Year.

“This transition is a win-win-win,” said Jenks, “for the great tradition that was Iowa Lamb, Superior Farms and for the whole industry.”

Source: Superior Farms

FDA calls for increased focus on retail-level food safety

The Food and Drug Administration called today for stepped up efforts to improve food safety practices in retail food establishments, specifically pointing to the need for the presence of certified food safety managers to oversee safety practices. FDA pledged to work closely with state and local governments and operators of restaurants, grocery stores and other food service establishments to prevent illness from contaminated food.

FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael R. Taylor cited the retail food industry's recent progress in key areas as well as room for improvement, based on the findings released today from FDA's 10-year study tracking the retail industry's efforts to reduce five key risk factors.

"In looking at the data, it is quite clear that having a certified food protection manager on the job makes a difference," Taylor said. "Some states and localities require certified food protection managers already, and many in the retail industry employ them voluntarily as a matter of good practice. We think it should become common practice."

A component of the 10-year study, the 2009 retail food report, found that the presence of a certified food protection manager in four facility types was correlated with statistically significant higher compliance levels with food safety practices and behaviors than in facilities lacking a certified manager. For instance, compliance in full service restaurants was 70 percent with a manager, versus 58 percent without a manager. In delicatessens, compliance was 79 percent with a manager, versus 64 percent without. For seafood markets, compliance with a manager was 88 percent, versus 82 percent without. And in produce markets, compliance was 86 percent with a manager, versus 79 percent without.

In addition to calling for certified food protection managers to be common practice, Taylor said the FDA initiative will include:
* Increased efforts to encourage widespread, uniform and complete adoption of the FDA Model Food Code by state, local and tribal regulatory agencies that are responsible for retail food safety standard setting and inspection. The Food Code recommends standards for management and personnel, food operations and equipment and facilities;
* Increased efforts for adoption of FDA's National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards by state, local and tribal agencies that enforce the Food Code and other measures to create an enhanced local regulatory environment for retail food operations.

"The key to food safety is prevention at every step from farm to table. Food retail managers, like growers and processors, have a responsibility to reduce the risk of foodborne illness," Taylor said. "We want to build on past progress through continued collaboration with the retail industry and strengthened partnerships with state, local and tribal agencies in their standard-setting and compliance efforts."

The 10-year study looked at more than 800 retail food establishments in 1998, 2003 and 2008 and five risk factors: Food from unsafe sources, poor personal hygiene, inadequate cooking, improper holding of food (time and temperature), and contaminated food surfaces and equipment.

FDA found that overall compliance improved in all nine categories of establishments. The improvements were statistically significant in elementary schools, fast food restaurants, full-service restaurants, meat and poultry markets and departments, and produce markets and departments. Improvements, although not statistically significant, were seen in hospitals, nursing homes, deli departments/stores and seafood markets and departments.

However, according to FDA, continued improvements are needed across the board, in regard to three risk factors: Poor personal hygiene, improper holding of food, and contaminated food surfaces and equipment.

Source: FDA

Klement Sausage recalls beef sticks

Klement Sausage Company, Inc., a Milwaukee, Wisc., establishment, is recalling approximately 2,740 pounds of beef stick products that may contain foreign materials, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced.

The products subject to recall include 8-ounce packages of "Market Pantry Beef Sticks, Original." Each package is vacuum packaged and has a "Use By" date of March 1, 2012. The packages bear the establishment number "2426B" inside the USDA mark of inspection and indicate "Refrigerate After Opening" on the label. Each shipping carton weighs 10 pounds and bears the code "03293." The beef stick products were produced on August 31, 2010, packaged on September 1, 2010, and shipped to distribution centers and retail stores nationwide.

The problem was discovered after a retail chain reported consumer complaints about finding hard plastic and/or pieces of glass in the product. FSIS has not received any consumer complaints or reports of injury at this time.

Source: FSIS

FSIS issues guidance on requesting waiver for use of new technology

The Food Safety and Inspection Service has issued a Guidance on Requesting a Waiver of Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Regulatory Requirements informing meat and poultry establishments, egg product plants, companies that manufacture and sell technology to official establishments and other interested persons of the procedure for obtaining a regulatory waiver for a limited period of time to test their new technology.

When the in-plant trial requires a waiver of any provision of FSIS’ regulations, an establishment official or a representative of the company that intends to conduct the trial needs to submit to the Risk & Innovations Management Division (RIMD) a written request for a waiver with data that demonstrate that the in-plant trial is scientifically sound; that the new procedure, equipment, or processing technique will facilitate definite improvements; or that there is a public health emergency; and that issuing the waiver will not conflict with the provisions of the relevant Act. Data that would justify a waiver would include: 1) validated laboratory results; 2) peer-reviewed journal articles; or 3) prototype production results.

When the RIMD completes its review, if it determines that the submitted data support the waiver, and that issuing the waiver will not conflict with the provisions of the Acts, the Administrator may issue a letter waiving provisions of the regulations for a limited period of time for the in-plant trial. The in-plant trial may not begin until the submitter has received the letter. If the waiver is granted, FSIS will review the data that is developed in the trial to determine whether they indicate that the purpose of the waiver is being met.

To view this guidance document in its entirety, go to

Source: AMI

North Dakota Beef Co. cuts hours, not workers

A company official says Fargo-based North Dakota Natural Beef LLC has cut back hours after losing a large customer but is not laying off workers. President and CEO Dieter Pape told Agweek that he expects to replace the customer soon. He also says the company is financially strong enough to pay the four cattle producers who experienced late payments.

State Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring recently alerted ranchers about a federal Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration public meeting on Wednesday in Fargo. He says the meeting is to inform ranchers who have done business with North Dakota Natural Beef about their rights.

Goehring says the company voluntarily stopped buying cattle for slaughter at its New Rockford plant on Oct. 11 because of financial woes.

Sources: AP,