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A focus on freshness

February 13, 2013
Fresh produce Healthier choices for stronger communities

Research continues to demonstrate the correlation between nutrition and health. That’s why Oregon Food Bank has made improving the nutritional content of the food we distribute a priority, since studies show that low-income populations – including emergency food recipients – suffer disproportionately from diet-related diseases.

Across the entire organization, we are taking a closer look at our ability to better serve clients by providing them with food that is wholesome, healthy and fresh. As we ratchet up our relationships with retailers and the agricultural community, we are offering support funds for equipment, training and more to the OFB Network to make sure each Regional Food Bank is prepared to handle the increase in fresh produce that we are seeing from our donors.

Fresh produce has always been a part of OFB’s food supply. During the past few years, as other sources of food have decreased, OFB made a concerted effort to cultivate relationships with Oregon’s rich agricultural community. We work to maximize their harvest and bring produce which might not be “perfect enough” for retailers to food-insecure families and individuals in our communities.

Thankfully, our efforts are paying off. In fiscal year 2011-12, produce accounted for 20 percent of all food distributed by OFB. In total, OFB received and distributed 8.8 million pounds of fresh produce — a 14 percent increase over the prior year. And, as more and more produce rolls into our warehouses, there is a growing need for training to share industry best practices for maintaining the freshness and nutritional value of this important emergency food.

This winter, members of OFB and the Network will partner with Organically Grown Company — the largest wholesaler of organic produce in the Pacific Northwest — for an extensive training and education session on handling and storing fresh produce. Participants will also get firsthand experience with optimal temperature conditions and maximum holding times for produce, packaging, inspection, and controlling ethylene for freshness and shelf life.

“Through a strong relationship with OFB board member Josh Hinerfeld, Organically Grown Company’s CEO, we’re able to get important training from an industry leader in fresh produce,” said OFB director of operations John Klosterman. “The things we learn will help us better equip our warehouses and educate our staff as we ramp up produce procurement and donations to bring healthier food to hungry people.”