(Sept. 10) Al Finch and his colleague, Justin Martin, figure they missed two of the hijackers by an hour.

The two salesmen for Lake Hamilton, Fla.-based Diversified Citrus Marketing were in Boston on Sept. 10, 2001, picking up a rental car to visit a retail customer. About the same time, at the same rental car agency, two of the men who would help carry out the terrorist hijackings the next morning were turning in a van they’d driven across the Canadian border.

In a flash, the world grew small a year ago, and the story of Finch and Martin is just one anecdote.

There were many others. Those in the produce industry reacted like everyone else — on an emotional, personal level.

Business concerns took a backseat, but for many it soon became apparent that business would indeed be affected for some time. Many had travel plans scuttled in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. Finch and Martin, for example, were forced to drive their rental car back to Florida, passing the damaged Pentagon in Washington, D.C., along the way.

Growers, shippers, wholesalers, jobbers, brokers, retailers ... the entire industry responded to the attacks on America in predictable fashion: After getting over the initial shock, after flooding relief efforts with donations, it was time to get back to work.

“We showed we can be terrorized, but we’re not going to be terrified,” Produce Marketing Association president Bryan Silbermann said at Fresh Summit 2001, where more than 14,000 attendees met at the convention in Philadelphia just seven weeks after the attacks.

A year later, the produce industry still grapples with fallout from Sept. 11. Business was down sharply in the foodservice sector for months, and in many regions it continues its sluggish recovery.

Perhaps the most far-reaching effects, however, are yet to come on the food security front. By Dec. 12, the Food and Drug Administration should announce proposed regulations stemming from the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, enacted in May.

Orlando, Fla. — with its local economy dependent on restaurants, hotels and theme parks serving tourists from around the world — took a substantial blow from Sept. 11., much like other tourism-dependent markets. Ernest Harvill, president of foodservice distributor Harvill’s Produce Co., Orlando, said business still hasn’t fully recovered.

“It’s not normal, but it’s not far off,” Harvill said. “Right after 9/11, it was off a good, solid 25% or more. Now it’s probably off 5% or 10%. You still have some people who aren’t flying and some who won’t ever fly again.”

The terrorist attacks, coupled with the weak economy, generally has companies “hesitant to go out on a limb” with expansion projects, Harvill said. And the lighter tourism trade around Orlando is showing up pretty much across the board in weaker produce sales to restaurants and hotels, he said.

“People just still haven’t got their confidence back,” Harvill said. “Some people are leery it’s going to happen again. I guess that’s what terrorism is.”

Wholesalers at the huge Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, just a few miles from the World Trade Center, took a gut punch from the terrorist attacks. Employees climbed onto the roof of the terminal and saw the twin towers burn and then fall.

The daily routines at the market have returned to normal, but things won’t ever be quite the same.

“In crunching the numbers and moving product, the lasting effect is the loss of business from the Ground Zero area, the kitchens or commissaries in the large office buildings,” said Matthew D’Arrigo, vice president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc. “You won’t see that come back, but it probably went somewhere else. As far as overall produce consumption, it’s had a very small impact.”

Still, the attacks swiftly put some of the market’s smaller foodservice jobbers on the brink of insolvency. Surprisingly, D’Arrigo said, they’ve bounced back.

But a more lasting result, for D’Arrigo, shows up when he travels to other parts of the country.

“It comes up a lot from people asking me, as a New Yorker, where I was when it happened,” he said. “I was traveling in California last week and I had that question asked distinctly at least three times.”

Security concerns came up immediately at Hunts Point, where about 10,000 people visit daily. But D’Arrigo said only a few tweaks of the measures already in place were required.

“This market is a transfer station,” he said. “Basically all the stuff goes in and out without being opened.”

In late August, the Alexandria, Va.-based United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Assoc-iation provided recommendations to the FDA regarding the bioterrorism act. Proposed regulations will be out by the end of the year, and following a comment period the final policies will take effect by December 2003.

Donna Garren, United’s vice president for scientific and technical affairs, said the act’s broad implications may be most pressing for imports.

“We want to focus on food security, but based on the perishability of our products, we want to make sure we don’t give in to terrorism and let it affect our marketplace,” Garren said.

The bioterrorism act mandates many things, such as that importers provide the FDA with prior notice of shipments; “one up and one down” food traceability in the supply chain, with the record keeping to make that possible; and administrative detention of food the FDA has credible evidence might pose a serious health risk.

Whether the final regulations ultimately will prove burdensome to the fresh produce industry remains a “wait-and-see kind of thing,” Garren said. “Once we see some more meat on the bones, we’ll have a better idea.”

Outside the legislative arena, food security has emerged as a top concern among many retailers, foodservice buyers and suppliers. Some growers have installed security cameras at their coolers. Others have retooled their hiring practices or re-evaluated their facilities’ perimeter security.

Large buyers, meanwhile, have been asking questions of those who supply them with fruits and vegetables. Bruce Peterson, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of perishables for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said his company views the issue as a collective challenge for Wal-Mart and all its vendors.

“We’ve been looking at these issues with strategic and tactical strategies for quite some time, but Sept. 11 certainly heightened the focus,” Peterson said. “I think we’re taking a look at the entire food chain. When you have many, many suppliers of fruits and vegetables, how that product flows from the grower to the grocery store is very complex.”

Peterson said the industry can advance food security by capitalizing on what it already has done in the realm of food safety.

“The interesting thing is that even though it’s a separate issue, it works in concert with food safety,” he said. “The two work hand in hand.”