For those of you waking up in Florida or Southern California, I envy you today. The chill map in the U.S.  tells a story of bitterly cold temperatures throughout the Midwest, with wind chills in the single digits in Kansas and -20 below and colder in the northern plains.

I wonder if anyone has ever done any research on how produce consumption is affected by swings in temperature. A quick Google search reveals no such endeavor, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that a polar vortex does not help sell more fresh fruits and vegetables.

As the new year begins, a few short shots...

 

  • The FDA has created a page to track the listeria foodborne disease outbreak linked to caramel apples

 

From the FDA’s page:

On December 22, 2014, the FDA briefed Bidart Bros. on the status of the investigation.

On December 22, 2014, Bidart Bros. issued a recall of Granny Smith apples it sold in 2014 to those customers known to produce caramel apples. Then, on December 24, 2014, Bidart Bros. notified all customers receiving Granny Smith apples in 2014 to recall those apples if they had been used to make caramel apples.

The FDA is continuing its investigation into whether there are common sources of caramel, caramel ingredients, sticks, or packaging to these caramel apple makers. Additionally, FDA and state investigators are working to identify the source of the contamination and determine what products may be contaminated. New information will be provided as it becomes available.

 

 

  •  I am still wondering when the genetically- modified Arctic apple will be approved for nonregulated status by the USDA. I’m surprised it hasn’t occurred yet.
  • I’m off to the Potato Expo in Orlando on Wednesday. I’m hoping Orlando will be warmer than K.C.
  • Continued buzz about the challenges fruit and vegetable advocates will have in keeping the gains made in school lunches, particularly the requirement that schools serve half a cup of fruits or vegetables for each reimbursable meal.
  • The Long Beach Press Telegram adds its voice to a chorus of those asking for federal mediation for the West Coast port strike . From the well-reasoned editorial:

 

 The two should go to the table in front of a federal mediator and argue their cases. Let an objective third party handle the sticky labor issues of pensions, work rules and jurisdiction.

One area that neither has spoken loudly about recently, but is looming over this like the elephant in the room, is automation.Dockworkers, who the PMA says earn on average more than $147,000, hold a prized place. They are the gold standard of high-earning, blue-collar workers. But they, like so many other Americans, fear their jobs will be replaced by machines.

The union knows that, but it’s tricky territory determining that line between work that a human must do and work a machine could do.

In recent years, the union has said that it knows it can’t hold off the future, but worries there are real safety issues at stake.

Employers introduced automation some years ago, but it appears as if the transition has not always been easy to implement.

And, of course, the big concern is jobs. How many of the 20,000 dockworkers will be left if machines are allowed to pick up more and more work?

 

 

  •  The USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service has released its annual report on China’s fresh deciduous crops. The report struck a very positive tone for U.S. exports to China:

 

From the report:

 China is the world’s dominant producer of apples, pears, and table grapes, comprising roughly 50%, 75%, and 47% of total output, respectively. Post forecasts China’s apple production at 37.8 MMT in MY 2014/15, down 5 percent from the previous year because of cold, wet weather in the major growing regions. Pear production is expected to recover by 7 percent to 18.5 MMT in MY 2014/15, while grape production is forecast to increase 11 percent to 9 MMT. U.S. apples exports are expected to grow dramatically over the next few years due to China’s October 2014 decision to lift the ban on Red and Golden Delicious apples from Washington State.

 

 

 

To date, the produce safety rule has attracted nearly 40,000 comments and the preventive controls rule has drawn nearly 71,000 comments.  Staff at national and regional produce associations are earning their keep with their comments on these two rules alone.

Follow me on Twitter at @tckarst.