Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, the United States faced the Panic of 1907, a banking crisis that undermined the monetary well-being of the Nation. The stock market lost 50% of Its value; bankruptcies were at record high levels; the Nation’s GMP fell by 11%; imports increased by 26% and unemployment climbed sharply. Similarly, the dried fruit industry was going through its own financial crisis, as sky-high interest rates made it tough to conduct business while the ensuing recession contributed to a further decline of dried fruit sales. To make matters even worse, dried fruit handlers were facing a new chaos brought about by unsubstantiated food safety claims promoted by the Bureau of Chemistry, today’s Food and Drug Administration.
Between the banking industry’s financial debacle coupled with misleading claims of dried fruit being unsafe for consumption due to additives like the preservative, sulfur dioxide, industry leaders quickly took the position of “Enough is Enough!” While these forward-thinking individuals were struggling to overcome the financial challenges they were facing, they were also keenly aware the lack of quality standards and suspect sanitation and food safety concerns would impede the growth of their industry in California.
Overcoming the financial and “poor science” influences became challenges the dried fruit industries had to face quickly and from a unified front. The question of what to do culminated in the signing the Articles of Association of the Dried Fruit Association of California on February 12, 1908.
Although the Articles are now over a century old, the purpose of the organization is remarkably relevant today. The original DFA Articles of Incorporation state:
“The purpose for which it is formed are to bring into closer touch the persons engaged in the business of wholesale packing and shipping of dried fruit and kindred products in the state of California; reform abuses existing in said business, to secure freedom from unlawful and unjust exactions; to diffuse accurate and reliable information; to procure uniformity and certainty in the customs and usages of dried fruit trade and thereby broaden the basis upon the which the industry is now conducted; to appear and act for its members in such matters as adjustments and arbitrations resulting from misunderstandings or rejections of goods as between as of its members or their customers, and to care for any and all matters appertaining to National or State food laws, freight and loading charges and generally to perform any act appertaining to said industry, for the benefit of its members, not in conflict with the laws of the United States or of the State of California, as the same apply to corporations not formed for profit; it being understood that this association is not formed for profit but to relieve individual members of the care of such matter as may be deemed advisable, throughout the United States or abroad, and promote a more enlarged and friendly intercourse between the businessmen engaged in the industry in California.”
Through the Years
The First World War
As war raged in Europe, the dried fruit industry’s activities were somewhat more mundane. DFA adopted its first buying and selling contracts, discussed trade promotion of California dried fruits and explored the possibility of keeping statistical information on the industry. By 1912 membership had grown to 35 members of which 29 attended the Annual Meeting. The first mention of inspections occurred at this meeting where it was reported that 22,000 tons of dried fruit had been inspected. Discussion was held regarding “reciprocal treaties involving reduction in tariffs” as well as inspection certificates, arbitrations, prune counts, packing charges and weights on carton goods. It was apparent that at this stage of the Association’s history, every conceivable problem in the industry was discussed and acted upon by the Association. Some interesting member complaints during this era mentioned that, “our inspections were too technical, that they (processors) were satisfied that they were shipping as good quality as their competitors.” The first mention of “in-plant” inspection versus “dock” inspection was also made during these formative years. It was reported that experiments with inspection at the plant level in San Jose resulted in a loss of $1,200 to the Association. Proving some things never change, DFA President A. W. Porter noted that with increased cost of labor and materials, packers were not getting what it cost them to pack the fruit. He also sagely pointed out the functions of the Association “were preventative rather than curative.”
All was not perfect during this era though. Complaints “the country members were not getting proper representation in the Association” surfaced during these days while “city members” countered that the “country members” were not doing their fair share of work. Meanwhile, the War Department’s Quartermaster Corps complained the quartermaster was receiving no response from the industry to the bids provided. The packers complained that the specifications were unreasonable. The threat of commandeering of goods by the quartermaster brought the situation to a head. A conference with Herbert Hoover apparently diffused the situation when the Association agreed to supply product for the duration of the war. The aftermath of World War I proved to be a challenging period, as considerable reconstruction work was needed for the Association’s members and customers in Europe.
The Depression Years 1930-1939
The ravages of the Great Depression did not spare the dried fruit industry as one of the first actions of the Association was to cut the initiation fee from $2,000 to $1,000 in August 1930. Science began to rise in prominence as the first discussions of fumigations for insects and plant sanitation inspections were held. A new apparatus for moisture determination in fruit was introduced and the Association urged its members to adopt the method in receiving and handling dried fruits. New Deal legislation was debated and a series of special meetings were held to discuss the industry code to be adopted under the National Recovery Act (NRA). Also graphically described was the tax burden imposed on the industry and its employees by the recently passed Social Security Act. Despite the Depression, membership swelled to its highest level to 39 members in 1937. The DFA office also moved to its new home at 1 Drumm Street in San Francisco.
The Fifties 1950-1959
The Association first made the idea for a merchandising program directed at the retail trade level in 1950 echoing the development of the modern U. S. economy. Marketing and research begin to dominate the agenda during the first half of the decade. DFA President T. O. Kluge commented on the importance of meeting consumers’ likes and dislikes. He stressed the importance of research in developing new and better ways of processing and distributing dried fruit and called upon the industry to maintain its willingness to adopt new ideas, new methods, and new ways and means of presenting its products when new and better ways are developed. The Association reported that potassium sorbate shows promise as a preservative that will meet FDA’s approval as an additive. As the decade concluded, the raisin industry decided to use the USDA as its official inspection agency, and DFA moves its offices from San Francisco to San Carlos St. in San Jose.
The Sixties 1960-1969
Although the sixties were tumultuous years for the country, the sixties proved to be a less turbulent decade for DFA. The sixties began with the industry exploring the opportunity to supply dried fruit and tree nuts for fallout shelters. Early in the decade, a proposal was approved to purchase property and construct a new administration building. The project came to fruition with the building of the Santa Clara office on Brokaw Road for the sum of $80,000 including the land. By the middle of the decade mycotoxins (toxins produced by molds) were suspected of being a problem for the industry with the Association taking a leading role in investigating this potential new problem for the industry. Today two mycotoxins, aflatoxin, and ochratoxin, are now well studied and well understood issues in the industry. In March 1966 the Dried Fruit Association of California formally changed its name to DFA of California to better reflect the wide scope of its business. This year also marked the first time the 1800 Club awards were presented to member plants achieving outstanding levels of sanitation.
The Seventies 1970-1979
A growing specialization characterized the Association during the seventies. The board of directors formally established a full-time technical department responsible for sanitation inspections and a laboratory. Early in the decade pesticide surveys by commodity were initiated and new UPC Coding on the packaging was discussed. In 1971 the FDA gave a presentation to DFA members regarding the self-certification of products. Considering computers to be a fad, the board recommended against updating DFA systems to computers in 1973. By 1975 sanitation services had expanded to consigned warehouses and the early discussions regarding alternatives to sulfur dioxide and methyl bromide had taken place. As the seventies drew to a close, DFA was approached to perform fresh apricot inspections and the Association was lamenting its problem obtaining adequate numbers of inspectors.
The Eighties 1980-1989
The eighties were a decade of expansion with several new commodity inspections and the purchase of two new offices. At the beginning of the decade, DFA belatedly enters the information age purchasing its first computer at a cost of $42,000 in February 1981. New commodity inspections of pistachios (1981) and incoming walnuts (1984) were initiated early in the decade.
In 1982 the DFA Moisture Tester was formally recognized by CODEX as a means of determining moisture in dried fruit. DFA expanded its real estate holdings with the purchase of the Yuba City office for $149,200 in December 1983 and the Fresno Lab in May 1985 for $125,000.
The Nineties 1990-1999
Business expansion continued in the nineties with the inspection of fresh peaches and pears for the canning industry. Physical expansion of facilities also occurred with the Yuba City office moving to a larger, more suitable building. In 1997 the DFA headquarters building was sold and the office was relocated to a newly constructed building in Sacramento. As the twentieth century drew to a close, vast changes were in store for the Association that would have a far-reaching impact on its traditional role in the industry
The Twenty-First Century 2000-2008
The events of the tumultuous new century tested the determination of the Association. The workers’ compensation crisis in California, the stock market collapse after September 11, 2001 and the suspension of the inspection component of the Prune Marketing Order combined to form the “perfect storm” for DFA’s operations. Difficult yet necessary retrenchment of prune inspection operations, the sale of one of our Yuba City buildings and the freezing of the Association’s pension plan were all the unfortunate result of these events. The current proposed changes to the Walnut Marketing Order also portend future changes to DFA. However, with these changes come tremendous opportunities. DFA is now poised to provide the types of food safety services demanded in today’s world marketplace. Laboratory analyses as well as preventative sanitary procedures are the future of food safety. DFA is greatly expanding both laboratory and sanitation inspection capacity to meet the industry challenges of the next 100 years.