WASHINGTON, DC — June 12, 2003 — The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) assumed the ownership today of the global Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification program through an agreement transferring ownership from the Department of Agriculture of Western Australia.

The SQF program offers a complete approach to managing the safety and quality of foods before they reach the retail market. SQF includes a safety standard, training, auditing and certification that enable a supplier to verify food has been produced, processed, prepared and handled in accordance with international standards.

SQF certification is a way suppliers can let retailers and wholesalers know that they manage their food safety and quality systems to the highest standards, including their ability to conform to globally recognized Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles, along with country-specific regulations. Currently, more than 3,000 businesses in 16 countries have been certified as complying with SQF codes.

“The SQF system complements government programs and food industry initiatives, strengthens global food safety and trade, and offers consumers an extra measure of protection,” said FMI President and CEO Tim Hammonds. “Suppliers that become SQF certified will be in compliance with the most rigorous food safety standards worldwide. This system will enable suppliers to reduce costs and gain efficiencies through the use of an internationally recognized system that can eliminate duplicative audits. Retailers will be able to select those suppliers who have been audited and certified as an SQF business."

The SQF program is available to all food commodities, including produce, seafood, dairy, meat and poultry. For the fresh produce industry, the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association (UFFVA) has agreed to serve as the lead partner with FMI.

FMI’s Hammonds stated, “We are pleased that UFFVA and its members in the produce industry have stepped up to the plate to be among the first to demonstrate compliance to the international standard for managing safety and quality systems in the U.S. Several UFFVA members have already been SQF certified and the produce industry has offered support for global implementation of the program.”

"United has worked to implement consistent, scientifically based food safety guidance for produce growers, shippers and fresh-cut processors for many years,” said United President and CEO Tom Stenzel. “With our new partnership to develop SQF for the global produce industry, we will now be able to implement that consistent scientific standard across the industry, with the retail support and confidence in a single audit system rather than each company pursuing different standards,” he said.

The Western Australian Department of Agriculture has been managing the SQF program on an interim basis, and will continue to manage the program until the full transfer of ownership, which is expected to be completed by July 31, 2003.