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food processing

May 21, 2020 - 8:15am

Statement from Mindy Brashears, Ph.D., USDA undersecretary for Food Safety, and Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the COVID-19 pandemic response continues, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been working around the clock on many fronts to support the U.S. food and agriculture sector so that Americans continue to have access to a safe and robust food supply.

As a next step in carrying out Executive Order 13917, the USDA and FDA today announced Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to help prevent interruptions at FDA-regulated food facilities, including fruit and vegetable processing.

This is an important preparedness effort as we are approaching peak harvesting seasons, when many fruits and vegetables grown across the U.S. are sent to be frozen or canned. The MOU creates a process for the two agencies to make determinations about circumstances in which the USDA could exercise its authority under the Defense Production Act (DPA) with regard to certain domestic food resource facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold foods, as well as to those that grow or harvest food that fall within the FDA’s jurisdiction.

While the FDA will continue to work with state and local regulators in a collaborative manner, further action under the DPA may be taken, should it be needed, to ensure the continuity of our food supply. As needed, the FDA will work in consultation with state, local, tribal and territorial regulatory and public health partners; industry or commodity sector; and other relevant stakeholders (e.g. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to chart a path toward resuming and/or maintaining operations while keeping employees safe.

We are extremely grateful to essential workers for everything they do every day to keep our pantries, refrigerators and freezers stocked. All of the food and agriculture sector -- whether it is regulated by the USDA or FDA -- are considered critical infrastructure, and it is vital for the public health that they continue to operate in accordance with guidelines from the CDC and OSHA regarding worker health and safety. As we work to get through the current challenge together, we remain committed to workers’ safety, as well as ensuring the availability of foods, and that our food remains among the safest in the world.

Additional Information

On April 28, 2020, President Donald J. Trump signed Executive Order 13917, Delegating Authority Under the Defense Production Act with Respect to the Food Supply Chain Resources During the National Emergency Caused by the Outbreak of COVID-19, delegating the powers of the President under the DPA to the Secretary of Agriculture to ensure continuity of operations for our nation’s food supply chain.

The Executive Order gave the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to use the DPA if needed to require the fulfillment of contracts at food processing facilities. The MOU makes clear that the FDA will work with stakeholders to monitor the food supply for food resources not under the USDA’s exclusive jurisdiction in order to prevent interruptions at FDA-regulated food facilities.

This action is another in a series of proactive steps the USDA and FDA have taken to maximize food availability following unprecedented disruptions the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to food supply chains that have been established and refined for decades.

Supporting Industry and Protecting Frontline Workers

Our nation’s food and agriculture facilities and workers play an integral role in the continuity of our food supply chain.

The USDA and FDA have been working to ensure that frontline workers in food facilities and retailers that have remained on the job during this crisis have the information and resources they need for business continuity and to continue working safely, which includes mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19. We continue to provide information and update frequently asked questions on both the FDA and USDA’s websites.

We will continue to work with facilities and farms, CDC, OSHA, and state, tribal, and local officials to ensure facilities and farms are implementing practices consistent with federal worker safety guidelines to keep employees safe and continue operations.

We are working with our federal partners who have the authority and expertise over worker safety to develop information on protecting worker health. We are also working with other federal partners to assist the food and agriculture industry in addressing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), cloth face coverings, disinfectants and sanitation supplies.

Monitoring and Securing Human and Animal Food Supply Chains 24/7

Throughout the pandemic, the USDA and FDA have been closely monitoring the food supply chain for shortages in collaboration with industry and our federal and state partners. We are in regular contact with food manufacturers and grocery stores.

We have issued guidances to ensure regulatory flexibility to safely reroute food that typically would be bought in bulk by food facilities and restaurants, like eggs and flour, directly to consumer.

Food Safety Reminders for Every American

As we continue to respond to COVID-19, we want to remind consumers that there is no evidence that COVID-19 has been transmitted by food or food packaging, as well as the importance of taking precautionary food safety steps to protect against foodborne illness pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli.

With respect to the safety of food across the U.S., both the USDA and FDA continue to use their respective authorities, including conducting inspections, as appropriate. The agencies also continue to monitor foods for hazards, work with industry on any potential or reported issues in their facilities, and conduct food recalls when appropriate. This applies to both domestically produced food and food that is imported from other countries.

Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, foodborne exposure is not known to be a route of transmission for SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

With respect to foodborne pathogens, the CDC, FDA and FSIS continue to work with state and local partners to investigate foodborne illness and outbreaks. During this coronavirus outbreak, we will continue to operate to prepare for, coordinate and carry out response activities to incidents of foodborne illness in both human and animal food.

February 12, 2016 - 2:21pm
posted by Billie Owens in announcement, education, food processing, GCC.

Press release:

The Food Processing Technology Program at Genesee Community College recently put 12 new pieces of diagnostic laboratory equipment into action for the first time after a substantial purchase was made with support from a grant through the Educational Credit Management Corporation Foundation (ECMC) in collaboration with the Genesee County Economic Development Center.

GCC's currently running FPT 205 class that meets at the Batavia campus every Monday and Wednesday was the first group to use the new equipment, which includes a new milk analyzer, water activity meter, moisture analyzer, thermometers and micrometers.

"We are very excited to put our new equipment to use," Greg Sharpe, GCC's instructor of Food Processing Technology said. "We now have all the lab equipment here that was purchased through the grant and our students are actively engaged in laboratory assignments that closely relates to real-world food manufacturing. We are very thankful to the ECMC Foundation."

The ECMC Foundation strives to inspire and facilitate improvements that affect educational outcomes, especially among underserved populations, through evidence-based innovation. Its goal is to improve academic achievement among underserved students as they prepare themselves for higher education and careers. GCC was awarded approximately $40,000 for its new equipment from ECMC, which grants funding based on its values of college readiness, college retention, research and reform in teacher training and career readiness.

The exact equipment purchased through the grant includes:

• Lacticheck Milk Analyzer -- Analysis of milk for protein, fat and water content

• Bostwick Consistometer -- Analysis of foods for thickness and viscosity

• Blended Stomacher -- A blender that mimicks the action of a stomach

• Water Activity Meter – Analysis water content

• Refractometer – To analyze sugar content in foods and beverages

• Ebulliometer – Tests the percentage of alcohol in wines

• Moisture analyzer -- Tests moisture content in foods

• Brookfield viscometer -- Analysis of foods for viscosity

• Salt Auto-titrator -- Salt testing in foods

• Total Acid Auto-titrator -- Assesses the pH and acid content in foods and beverages

• Sieve screens – Tests particle size in food products

• Thermometers – Measure temperature

• Can tear-down equipment – Helps ensure seams on cans are properly sealed

The Food Processing Technology program at GCC launched in the Fall of 2014 and is the only one of its kind offered at any of SUNY's 30 community colleges. Through the College's strong partnerships with other educational institutions such as Cornell University, Rochester Institute of Technology and Cornell Cooperative Extension, the program has been designed to give students the knowledge, skills and experience necessary for career success at hundreds of food manufacturing facilities across Upstate New York.

August 20, 2015 - 4:48pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, food processing, business, batavia, GCEDC.

Press release:

Genesee County has once again been recognized as one of the fastest growing “food processing employment leaders” by "Business Facilities," a national site selection publication.

Business Facilities provides annual rankings of metro and global areas in various categories, including food processing and job growth, among others. Genesee County ranked at number seven in a list of top 10 mid-sized metro areas for food-processing growth, making this year the fifth time in 10 years that Genesee County has earned national ranking in this category.

The agricultural, food and beverage sectors in Genesee County employ approximately 1,500 people. The region’s employment numbers continue to increase as economic development focused on agri-business remains a top priority of the Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) Board of Directors.

“The growth of the food processing sector in our region reflects the positive economic climate here which has been significantly enhanced through the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park, the first agri-business site of its kind in New York State,” said Steve Hyde, president and CEO of the GCEDC. “We are very pleased to be once again recognized by 'Business Facilities' as a leader in food processing employment and plan to continue expanding our efforts in this critically important economic sector.” 

The Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park encompasses 211 shovel ready, pre-permitted acres strategically located between Western New York and the Finger Lakes Region in Batavia, NY. 

The site provides access to a short and main line rail access to move products, and large capacity municipal sewer and water. Through the support of National Grid and National Fuel the site has an enhanced utility infrastructure.

Alpina Foods, LLC, a leading dairy producing company in Colombia and South America, opened its first specialty yogurt manufacturing plant at the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park in 2013. In 2013, PepsiCo, in a joint venture with German dairy company Theo Müller, opened a $206-million yogurt manufacturing facility, Muller Quaker Dairy.

Other key food processing and related companies in Genesee County include O-AT-KA Milk Products and Bonduelle USA, Inc.

For more information about the ranking in Business Facilities, please visit  http://businessfacilities.com/2015/07/metro-and-global-rankings/.

September 17, 2014 - 2:24pm
posted by Billie Owens in business, GCC, food processing.

Press release:

After 20 hours of travel, their first time so far away from home, two students from the southeast Asian island nation of Timor-Leste have arrived at Genesee Community College. Arsenio Ferreira, 21, and Jorguino (pronounced Jor-gino) Savio, 19, will spend the next two years at GCC earning an associate degree in Food Processing Technology (FPT).

GCC offers its first course in the brand-new degree program, Introduction to Food Processing Technology (FPT 101), beginning with the 12-week class session, which starts on Monday, Sept. 22. A few seats are still available in the class.

Savio and Ferreira earned full scholarships to study in the United States through the Timor-Leste Hillary Clinton Scholarship Program administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE). The IIE suggested GCC to the two young men.

"The program officer from IIE felt that GCC was a good fit for the Timorese students based upon their program of interest, student population, international student population, student services offered and GCC's commitment to diversity," said Carrie Sputore, International Admissions specialist at GCC.

Both Ferreira and Savio come from the capital city of Dìli in Timor-Leste. The city of approximately 190,000 people is the largest in the country, which neighbors Indonesia, and has an overall population of 1.2 million. The tropical climate is much different than western New York. Neither student has ever seen snow. "Everything is new for us," Savio said, including the way Americans cook and the foods we eat.

In Timor-Leste, wood stoves are used to prepare food, 90 percent of which is imported from Indonesia. Crops grown in Timor-Leste include corn, rice and cassava (a woody shrub whose starchy tuberous root resembles a potato; tapioca is extracted from it). The scholarship program aims to train youth to take skills back to Timor-Leste, contributing to the country's economic and social development as well as its democracy.

After two decades, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and near total infrastructure destruction, the country's independence from Indonesia was formally recognized in 2002, but it has faced great challenges rebuilding.

Timor-Leste has benefitted from oil procurement in offshore waters. Arsenio's father works for oil producer ConocoPhillips. He's excited for his son to study abroad as he earned a master's degree on scholarship in Norway. Arsenio is the second of five boys in his family. He also has two sisters. His mother is deceased.

Jorguino has a 21-year old sister studying engineering in Indonesia and a 12-year old brother. Both of his parents are primary school teachers.

"When I got the scholarship, my mother was very proud," he said. "It's very hard to get this scholarship. But when I left my mother was crying."

He already misses his family, but appreciates the educational opportunity he's earned.

Both Arsenio and Jorguino will live in College Village, adjacent to GCC, with American roommates.

"They are very friendly," Arsenio said.

Both he and Jorguino have studied English since high school. They also speak Tetum (official language of East Timor), Portuguese and Indonesian.

The Timor-Leste Hillary Clinton Scholarship program is funded through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Scholarships were awarded to academically talented and qualified Timorese students with the goal of strengthening the base of skilled, high performing professionals in Timor-Leste to contribute to the country's economic and social development.

September 13, 2013 - 5:47pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, agriculture, GCEDC, Bonduelle, food processing.

If you're a vegetable processing company, "growth" better be your favorite word.

It's a word tossed around dozens of times today during an open house for local officials and regional media at Bonduelle's facility in Bergen.

The family-run, France-based firm purchased the plant, along with plants in Oakfield and Brockport, from Allen Foods in March 2012.

It was a strategic purchase. Bonduelle, which specializes in packaging frozen vegetables under the labels of retailers, sees the United States as a place to grow and the Northeast as suitable target market.

Company executives made four trips to Allen's facilities and decided the plants were under-utilized but were in great locations with great employees, said Daniel Viefaure, CEO of Bonduelle Americas.

"When we visited the plants, what we saw were people eager for improvement," Viefaure said. "They were working under a company that was not as eager for growth as we were and the employees realized that. When they saw we were visiting, they were really interested and I got the feeling that they were the right people to do what we really wanted to do."

To date, Bonduelle has invested for $5.5 million in the four former Allen plants (there's also one in Wisconsin), including $3.5 million in the Bergen facility.

Bonduelle was so eager to grow in its first year that it applied for -- but didn't use because the timing wasn't right -- a $250,000 state grant through the Genesee County Economic Development Center.

While Allen was reportedly losing money on the facilities it sold to Bonduelle, Viefaure said his company was profitable its first year of operations.

The company plans to continue growing its WNY operations and Vielfaure said Bonduelle will likely seek out future assistance from GCEDC to assist with that growth.

Steve Hyde, CEO of GCEDC, said Bonduelle is a great success story for Genesee County, helping to shore up the vegetable end of the county's food processing industry.

“This is a game changer,” Hyde said. “The companies that owned this plant previously were really allowing it to decline and they weren’t investing and they weren’t growing, and now what you see is a 180 (degree change).”

The move into WNY by Bonduelle has certainly had a big impact on its employees in Bergen and Oakfield, who were on the cusp of unemployment under Allen. Bonduelle made a point of retaining the 69 year-around employees at the two plants.

The facilities also employ 188 seasonal workers.

Currently, the Bergen facility processes 107 million pounds of corn, carrots, beans and peas, said James Newcomb, facilities manager for Bonduelle.

Newcomb has 42 years experience working for the companies that roll up into the history of the Bonduelle plants.

On one of the tours today, Newcomb repeatedly emphasized the great care for quality Bonduelle has instilled in the plants, making equipment upgrades, improving training and ensuring only the best produce is purchased from family farms within 75 miles of the plants.

"Our customers were asking for more product, but we didn't have the capacity," Viefaure said. "Our customers are very happy to buy more product from us. They are experiencing growth and they needed more vegetables."

Among Bonduelle's clients is Wegmans, which Viefaure said is a great customer for Bonduelle because of Wegmans insistence on quality vegetables for its brand-name frozen foods.

"Wegmans is a state-of-the-art company," Viefaure said.

While Viefaure did not discuss today the specific expansion plans for his company, he did make clear the company is looking to grow its market share in the Northeast and that will mean expansion in Bergen and Oakfield.

James Newcomb demonstrating how corn kernals are stripped from the cob.

A worker sorting through kernals of cut corn, picking out imperfections. Newcomb said this was his first job in the industry and said it's one of the hardest jobs in the plant.

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