While industry buzzwords sustainability and food safety may be open to interpretation at many companies, clarity will be provided at Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) 2008 Foodservice Conference & Exposition. The only conference dedicated to fresh produce in the foodservice industries, this year’s event will be held July 25-27 in Monterey, California.

This 2008 conference will feature workshops on both food safety and sustainability, as well as an update on trends involving produce in foodservice and a professional development session. About 1,500 professionals from the foodservice and produce industries are expected to attend. The keynote session will feature TV’s first female Iron Chef, Cat Cora, and Bravo’s Top Chef Head Judge Tom Colicchio.

“The produce industry has had sustainability on our radar for some time now, from using recyclable packaging, reducing food miles or carbon emissions, to the popular consumer-driven locavore trend,” says PMA Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs Kathy Means. “The reality is that the economic forecast does not look promising in the near future, and to protect our businesses we are forced to investigate new options that not only benefit our environment, but our budgets as well.”

Means will kick off the sustainability session, explaining PMA’s approach to sustainability and defining the terms the association will use as it moves forward with its produce-specific sustainability initiative. A panel of industry members will then share examples of their sustainability practices and the business reasons that compelled companies to implement such practices.

The industry’s leading food safety experts will provide a food safety update to attendees and review the actions to take in a crisis situation such as the ongoing Salmonella saintpaul outbreak with tomatoes. Bonnie Fernandez, executive director of the Center for Produce Safety (CPS) at the University of California at Davis, Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) CEO Scott Horsfall, and PMA’s own Kathy Means, and Chief Science Officer Dr. Robert Whitaker will provide updates on their respective organizations’ food safety efforts. They will also share information on the latest legislation, regulations, and their effects on the produce industry.

Ending the food safety workshop will be a moderated discussion between buyer and supplier about their issues, interactions, and relationships. Boskovich Farms Director of Food Safety and Quality Programs Dave Murphy and Markon Cooperative Inc. President Tim York will represent their segments of the supply chain.

“Food safety is top of mind for everyone in the produce supply chain–it has to be because it affects the future of our businesses and even bigger, our industry as a whole,” says Pro Citrus Network Inc. Marketing Director and conference co-chair Jacquie Verissimo. “Food safety discussions are happening independently between individuals and companies every day. It’s nice to have an open conversation contained in one space and time where attendees can weigh in with questions and have them addressed on the spot.”

Additionally, the conference will offer professional development opportunities such as a leadership-building session, “Defining Success: Leadership–the Missing Link.” During this session attendees will learn the importance of emotional intelligence as defined by Dr. Alan M. Patterson, president of consulting firm Mentoré. Dr. Patterson’s keystone to successful businesses is having smart, emotionally intelligent people in place who understand that leadership and relationship management go hand-in-hand.

“The future of our industry depends not only on new up-and-coming leaders, but also on highly skilled, well connected current leaders, or ‘emotionally intelligent’ as Dr. Patterson says, to train the next generation to sustain their companies’ success,” says PMA Education Foundation Executive Director Cindy Seel. “The more we focus on leadership now, the better prepared we will be for the future.”

The conference offers many varied opportunities to network with attendees from throughout the entire supply chain and a one-day exposition that has been dubbed “the best five hours in foodservice.” The beautiful Monterey location and relaxed, intimate atmosphere are designed to promote learning and connecting.

Foodservice operators, chefs, and menu developers are eligible to receive significant discounts on 2008 conference registration rates, but space is limited so register early.

The deadline for online early-bird hotel reservations and registration for the conference and Fresh Produce Academy ends June 27. For more information about the 2008 PMA Foodservice Conference & Exposition, visit www.pma.com/foodservice.