Produce food safety remains in the spotlight this year, in part due to the most recent high-profile foodborne illness outbreak linked to fresh produce. Substantial changes are needed to restore consumer confidence in produce safety, and to address regulators’ and legislators’ concerns. An interactive town hall meeting and other educational workshops at Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) 2008 Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition will tackle this issue head on. The event will be held Oct. 24-27 in Orlando, Fla.

“We continue to discuss ways to improve food safety practices within the produce industry – but our consumer research and government interactions make it clear that we need to do less talking and more changing to retain our customers and avoid more government involvement in our business. If it is not already, food safety must become an integral part of your company’s culture,” said PMA President Bryan Silbermann.

A town hall meeting on the recent Salmonella saintpaul outbreak has been added to the convention’s food safety educational track. This two-hour interactive meeting, to be held Friday, Oct. 24 from 2:45-4:45 p.m., will rely heavily on questions and content from the audience. The session, “Town Hall Meeting: A Candid Discussion of Foodborne Illness Investigations,” will review lessons learned from the recent Salmonella outbreak and invite questions from the audience. In this essential, no-holds-barred town hall meeting, public health authorities, government officials and industry experts will discuss the investigative process, provide insight and information they have learned from these outbreaks, and answer industry members’ questions.

“Food safety will also be a major theme in my annual ‘State of the Industry’ address, and I expect it will also be a prominent feature in the comments of outgoing Chairman Bruce Taylor and incoming Chairman Dave Corsi,” said Silbermann. “Food safety is an integral part of our produce business now, and that will be evident at Fresh Summit.”

Silbermann will speak during the general session luncheon on Friday, Oct. 24, and Taylor and Corsi will speak during the breakfast general session on Sunday, Oct. 26.

Several other food safety-themed workshops are also planned for this year’s Fresh Summit.

• “Food Safety + Risk Management = Profitability,” to be held Saturday, Oct. 25, 9:35-10:50 a.m., will provide a whole new way to look at your food safety program – not just as a social responsibility, but as a critical risk assessment/risk management tool. Speakers will offer tips on how to determine which areas of your business are most vulnerable and how to measure the impact of a crisis, and discuss the positive effect a risk assessment program can have on your bottom line and how crucial it can be to the vitality of your business.

• “Finding Your Place in Whole Chain Traceability,” being held Saturday, Oct. 25 from 9:35-10:50 a.m., will look at how the entire produce supply chain will be affected by new initiatives to achieve whole chain traceability. Find out the Produce Traceability Initiative’s next steps, when they will be implemented, what the industry expects of its companies, and how taking your traceability capability to the next level can benefit your company. Attendees of this session – a must for senior executives and information technology managers – will discover why internal traceability systems may no longer be enough, what needs to be done and where to turn for help.

• “Food Safety: Keeping Your Business Healthy,” to be held Sunday, Oct. 26 from 9:15-10:45, will review the latest regulatory updates and initiatives, and look at food safety from an ROI perspective. Attendees of this session will gain an understanding of why food safety programs are essential for a healthy business. This workshop is a must for quality assurance, sales, marketing and management.

Two other workshops – “Packaging With Impact” on Saturday, Oct. 25 from 9:35-10:50, and “Saving Dollars and Making Sense of Sustainability” on Sunday, Oct. 26 from 9:15-10:45 a.m. – will also include food safety elements.

The deadline to register and save for Fresh Summit is Sept. 26. Pre-registration ends on Oct. 10. Attendees may also register on site in Orlando beginning on Oct. 23. For more information about the 2008 Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition, visit www.pma.com/freshsummit.