SAVANNAH, Ga. — Talk of the importance of the Produce Traceability Initiative dominated discussions at this year’s Southeast Produce Council fall conference.

The Sept. 23-25 conference also enjoyed record participation as the organization welcomed new leadership.

Southeast Produce Council meeting focuses on PTI

Doug Ohlemeier

Smoot Langston (from left), co-owner of Georgia National Produce LLC, talks with Jack Salamon, senior category manager for Shaw's Supermarkets Inc., and president of the New England Produce Council, and Linda Cunningham, director of sales national accounts for Alliance International, at a reception during the Southeast Produce Council’s fall conference.

At the group’s biggest-attended fall conference, 275 retailers, foodservice distributors, grower-shippers and others converged on the historic coastal city’s riverfront convention center to network and hear the latest on important food safety issues.

In a Sept. 24 educational session, a panel consisting of representatives of leading retail and foodservice companies, growers and a food traceability expert focused on the Produce Traceability Initiative.

Teri Miller, category manager for Food Lion LLC, Salisbury, N.C., discussed how the chain is working internally and with grower-shippers and suppliers to become PTI compliant.

“Food Lion is committed to those suppliers that have made the investment in this and committed to growers working for this,” said Teri Miller, category manager for Food Lion. “I get questions repeatedly from what will you do if that case comes in a nickel cheaper because he’s not doing PTI? I am not doing business with them. I am doing business with you. This is about partnership, not the cost of goods."

“The cost of goods will be much higher if that million-dollar recall occurs or when there is a death or sickness,” she said. “Food Lion is not so short in its thinking to save a nickel a case. This is what we will not do: we will not abandon a supplier who is PTI compliant for a supplier who is cheaper and not PTI compliant.”

Anthony Salerni, program quality manager of regional produce programs for Sysco Corp., Houston, reviewed produce industry experiences with food safety scares that led to development of PTI.

He said PTI will bring growers, shippers and repackers increased operating costs but should bring a positive outcome in the end.

“Maybe 20 years ago, people in produce wanted to know why we needed a HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point) plan,” Salerni said. “What is HACCP? But today, everyone has implemented a HACCP plan in their operations. The biggest challenge is that it must be implemented by the entire food industry, not just a few segments.”

The council also honored outgoing president Tom Page, East Coast procurement manager for the Lakeland, Fla. of-fice of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Supervalu Inc., for his 2008-10 organization leadership.

“When I decided to put the council together, the first person I talked to was Tom Page,” said Terry Vorhees, executive director. “He said he would help it grow and stay with it.”

Page said he plans to remain involved with the organization.

In his State of the Council address, Page reviewed council achievements and said a recent audit shows the council remains in a strong financial state.

He said the 2010 Southern Exposure conference in Tampa, Fla., sold 191 booths out of 200, with 39 vendors on a waiting list.“It was a supply-and-demand issue, a great problem to have,” Page said.

Page welcomed incoming president, John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, who the council promoted from vice president.

Other council appointees are:

  • Andrew Scott, sales and procurement manager for General Produce Inc., Forest Park, first vice president;
  • David Sherrod, Augusta, Ga.-based southeast regional business manager for Apio Inc., Guadalupe, Calif., second vice president, a newly created position;
  • Mark Daniels, senior buyer of the Savannah division of Military Produce Group, Norfolk, Va., secretary; and
  • Steve Williams, director of produce and floral for Sweetbay Supermarkets, Tampa, Fla., a division of the Brussels-based Delhaize Group, became treasurer.
  • Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing for J&J Produce Inc., Loxahatchee, Fla., and Faye Westfall, sales manager of DiMare Fresh-Tampa Inc., Riverview, Fla., joined the 17 member board.