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The Perishable Pundit’s
Unsung Heroes Award

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate that the industry should give thanks to those who perform yeoman’s service for the trade. So often we highlight the same people over and over again. These are the CEOs, the Presidents, the board members, the big names and, of course, these people work hard and do immensely important things.

But they don’t do it all… or even most of it. So on this Thanksgiving Eve, we launch a new occasional series for the Pundit in which we highlight people who do important and valuable work, but are not often recognized for that work.

In the aftermath of the spinach crisis, it wasn’t even close to select our first three honorees.

The spinach crisis was an immensely important event, and our association leadership — people including Bryan Silbermann of PMA, Tom Stenzel of United Fresh, Tom Nassif of Western Growers Association and James Bogart of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California — all participated as headline speakers at numerous events.

This public role was essential to give the industry a public face during a very public crisis. Add to this fact that all these people had “day jobs” running organizations and you realize that they deserve all the credit they get.

In this situation, there were also countless hours of difficult, technical work. Discussions with government agencies, with industry technical teams and much more — all to get the spinach re-start up and going.

Many staff members contributed to this, of course, but our Unsung Heroes were the ones who really carried water for the trade through this technical process. As such, the very first people we recognize as Unsung Heroes are, in alphabetical order:

  • HANK GICLAS, Vice President, Science and Technology, Strategic Planning, Western Growers Association
  • DAVID GOMBAS, Vice President, Scientific and Technical Affairs, United Fresh Produce Association
  • JIM GORNY, Senior Vice President, Food Safety & Technology, United Fresh Produce Association

We’ve put up photos and brief bios of each of these men so you can recognize them and know them better. If you see them at an industry event, we hope you will say thank you.

Each recipient of The Perishable Pundit’s Unsung Heroes Award will receive a beautiful plaque and a $25 gift card. The gift card is our way of letting our honorees know that the industry wants to buy these gentlemen a drink.

Hank Giclas
Vice President, Science and Technology, Strategic Planning
Western Growers

Hank Giclas has served as Western Growers’ vice president of science, technology and strategic planning since July of 2002. In addition to his oversight of science and technology, he leads strategic planning initiatives for the organization and serves as a liaison with many academic and corporate research departments throughout the nation.

Hank Giclas graduated from the University of Arizona in 1988 with a bachelor’s in agricultural education. He began his career at Western Growers in the Phoenix office as Public Affairs Director where he was deeply involved in all aspects of agriculture policy in both Arizona and California. He also served as Vice President of Science and Governmental Affairs in the Sacramento office.

The University of Arizona named Giclas as the recipient of its Alumni Achievement Award for 2005. The award by the university’s College of Agriculture & Life Sciences was presented at the 2006 Spring Awards Banquet at the university’s Student Affairs Center in Tucson, Arizona. Giclas was citied for his influential work regarding public policy and career success. He was also lauded for his role in organizing and developing Western Growers’ new science and technology division. Under his leadership this new division has gained an outstanding reputation for dealing with critical issues such as food safety, agricultural chemicals, crop protection, water policy, environmental programs and related policy issues.

Giclas was one of the principle architects of the April Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for Lettuce and Leafy Greens document. This work and others, in conjunction with FDA and CDFA prepared Giclas well for playing a key role during the food safety crisis.

Giclas served as an industry panelist testifying before the state Senate Government Organization Committee hearing (in October) on the outbreak.

He continues to work closely with regulatory and industry leaders in helping to resolve and perfect food safety guidelines.

David Gombas
Vice President
Scientific and Technical Affairs
United Fresh Produce Association

Dr. David Gombas currently serves as the Vice President of Scientific and Technical Affairs at United Fresh Produce Association. Dr. Gombas provides technical, food safety, regulatory and public policy assistance for the fresh and fresh-cut produce industry.

Previously, Dr. Gombas was with the National Food Processors Association (NFPA), where he served as Vice President of NFPA’s laboratories for microbiology, chemistry and processing research and technical assistance in Washington D.C. During this period, he developed and delivered various training courses, co-authoring the manual HACCP Verification and Validation along with several publications on HACCP design and implementation. Later, Dr. Gombas served as Vice President of NFPA-SAFE, the Association’s auditing program for the food industry.

Prior to working at NFPA, Dr. Gombas served in Microbiology and Food Safety departments at Campbell Soup Company and Kraft Foods. In 1993, he was Research Professor of Food Safety at the National Center for Food Safety and Technology, working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to develop HACCP training courses for FDA investigators.

Dr. Gombas received his Ph.D. in food microbiology at University of Massachusetts, and an M.S. and B.S in food science from Rutgers University and MIT respectively.

Jim Gorny, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President
Food Safety & Technology
United Fresh Produce Association

Dr. Jim Gorny currently serves as Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology for the United Fresh Produce Association where he leads the association’s food safety, quality assurance, supply chain technology and food security programs on behalf of the association’s members. As the chief food safety officer at United Fresh, he advocates the membership’s interests before all relevant health and safety regulatory officials, the Bush Administration, and the Congress.

Dr. Gorny received his Ph.D. in plant biology from the University of California at Davis in 1995, and his B.S. and M.S. degrees in food science from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

He is the author and editor of numerous scientific and technical publications pertaining to the quality and safety of fresh produce. Dr. Gorny is most recently a contributor and co-editor of a book entitled The Microbiology of Fruits and Vegetables, published in August 2005 by CRC Press. He is also the 2005 recipient of the International Fresh-cut Produce Association Technical Award.

Actively involved in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry since 1986, Dr. Gorny has worked extensively on food safety issues including implementation of Good Agricultural Practices, modified atmosphere packaging, quality assurance, operations, and general management issues, both nationally and internationally. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of California, where he serves as an extension educator in produce industry courses related to the postharvest handling of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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