Although he's been instrumental in the long road to bring back consumer confidence in the California leafy greens industry, Joe Pezzini remains humble.

"I may have been in a certain place at a certain time," said Pezzini, accepting The Packer's Produce Man of the Year award, May 6, at the United Fresh Marketplace kickoff banquet in Chicago.

Pezzini, vice president of operations for Ocean Mist Farms in Castroville, Calif., was the chairman of the Salinas, Calif.-based Grower Shipper Association of Central California when an E. coli outbreak was linked to spinach in mid-September, and he remains in that role.

In recent months, he's worked on enhancing food safety standards as chairman of the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement. He also is a member of the Western Growers Association in Irvine, Calif.

"I did what all of you would have done. It's quite an honor and a pleasure," said Pezzini, who has worked for Ocean Mist since he graduated college, when he joined as ranch manager.

In announcing the award, The Packer's editor, Lance Jungmeyer, spoke of Pezzini's dedication to the industry and his commitment to upholding its integrity in the wake of last fall's outbreak.

"Pragmatic and diplomatic from the start, these traits he continues to exhibit today," Jungmeyer says. "And now he is needed more than ever as an industry leader providing governance in this difficult food safety crisis."

Pezzini was an early advocate of iceless packs and a proponent of cold chain management at the shipper level in 2001, demonstrating an early understanding of the necessity of food safety and quality control, Jungmeyer says.

Community also is important to Pezzini, as evidenced by his position as chairman of the Ag Against Hunger Foundation in Salinas, Calif., which distributes fresh produce to food banks primarily in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties, Jungmeyer says.

It's now time to move forward as an industry and continue looking out for the safety and well being of the consumer, Pezzini says.

"I believe on Sept. 14 we, as an industry, passed through a threshold," he says. "We closed a door and are never looking back."

The Packer is a sister publication of The Grower.