Will Daniels, senior vice president of San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm, gave the keynote speech during last year’s Food Safety Summit, outlining how the company responded to the 2006 spinach crisis that sickened more than 200 people and killed three.

Daniels talked about how the company worked with the FDA, FBI, state agencies and others and also talked about changes the company made to prevent a recurrence of such outbreaks. One of the things that really grabbed the attention of Food Safety Summit planners was when Daniels talked about the support from the company’s upper management to Earthbound Farm staff dealing with the situation.

When the Food Safety Summit’s Education Advisory Board — professionals from regulatory agencies, academia, retail, foodservice, produce and other related industries — met to discuss plans for the 2014 Summit, Daniels’ speech was still fresh in their minds.

“When we met, that’s what they kept hearing — that CEO buy-in is vital,” said Amy Riemer, the Food Safety Summit’s education director.

So Riemer asked her board if any of their CEOs would be willing to talk about food safety during the April 8-10 Food Safety Summit in Baltimore. The result is that Ed Lonegran, CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based Chiquita Brands International and Don Zietlow, CEO of La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip, will deliver the April 9 keynote together.

“We have had sessions in the past that address what resonates with CEOs,” said Scott Wolters, director of trade shows and conferences for BNP Media, which organizes the event. “This is culmination of that concept, actually having CEOs from big companies talking about why food safety is important, how it affects branding and how to implement it from the top down.”

Wolters said it sometimes can be difficult for food safety and quality assurance managers to convince their organizations of the importance of food safety and secure the appropriate budget and resources needed to prevent crisis situations.

“When there’s and outbreak or a recall, it’s the most important thing in the world,” he said. “Food safety managers want to prevent that. To do that, you have to have buy-in from the CEO level.”

Wolters said Lonegran and Zietlow are expected to talk about the value of food safety, what it means to their operations and how various departments work together to make food safety a priority.

Lonegran and Zietlow won’t be the only individuals from their respective companies playing prominent roles in the conference. After the keynote, Courtney Parker, Chiquita’s vice president of food safety and quality, and Jay Ellingson, Kwik Trip’s corporate director of food safety and quality, will lead a session that addresses how to work effectively with senior management.

Another highlight of the conference will be an April 10 town hall meeting that will feature Mike Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods; Brian Ronholm, USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety; and Joseph Corby, executive director of the Association of Food and Drug Officials.

Riemer said audience participation and questions will be encouraged during the 90-minute session.

The conference also will offer four half-day workshops, including one devoted to the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Wolters said the summit typically draws about 1,500 attendees from all sectors of the food industry. Last year’s event drew a record crowd of 1,600.

This year’s event also is expected to draw 160 to 175 exhibitors, who will fill roughly 25,000 square feet of exhibit space.