"The outside temperature may have been a comforting 85°F, but the topics discussed at RFA's annual conference were anything but warm.

Editor-in-Chief of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods, Marina Mayer, honors Blount Fine Foods with the 2011 Frozen Food Processor of the Year award at this year's RFA Conference.

Marina Mayer, Editor-in-Chief

Who can pass up traveling to Palm Springs, Calif., in the beginning of March? I know this Chicago girl can’t. That’s why, three days after starting as the new editor-in-chief ofRefrigerated & Frozen Foods, I traded in my winter coat for springtime breezes by heading to Refrigerated Foods Association’s 32nd Annual Conference and Tabletop Display.

The conference, titled “Refreshing Ideas for Today’s Dynamic Business Climate,” provided a forum for attendees to network and gain important new information affecting the industry, including technical innovations, sales and marketing tips, consumer trends, distribution solutions, new product and package development and food safety issues. Meanwhile, the tabletop display invited suppliers to showcase the latest offerings in equipment, packaging, ingredients and services.

The conference also featured an assortment of breakout sessions held by some of the industry’s leading experts.

It kicked off with the keynote address, presented by professional motivational speaker (and Jim Carrey lookalike) Harold Lloyd. In his presentation, “Am I the Leader I Need to Be?” he asked participants to identify 10 common qualities genuine leaders must possess in order to successfully act as a leader. A step-by-step process helped attendees quantify a “leadership score” and identify ways to raise that score in the future.

Kevin Waters, vice president of product design group for The National Food Lab, LLC, Livermore, Calif., provided a Sensory 101 course in his seminar, “Sensory Research: Trends and Advances That Maximize Insights and Product Quality.” In his presentation, Waters broke down the different sensory characteristics and how sensory testing can be applied for each. He says, “people ‘eat’ with their eyes,” which means processors must perform tests on their portfolio to determine how senses influence certain perceptions of their products.

Later, Dr. John Butts, director of research for Land O’Frost, Inc., a deli meat producer based in Searcy, Ark., discussed “Data Driven Construction and Sanitation Process Control.” This presentation addressed methods to eliminate the source and control movement of organisms, and provided tips on how the sliced deli meats industry can prevent product contamination.

Meanwhile, Martin Mitchell, RFA’s technical director and managing director of Certified Laboratories, Irving, Texas, provided a technical update and the implications of pending actions regarding the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). “Product safety is the key to manufacturing success,” he added. “Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, we’re all concerned about food safety.”

During the networking lunch, I presented Blount Fine Foods, Fall River, Mass., with Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ 2011 Refrigerated Foods Processor of the Year award. To read more about Blount Fine Foods, check out Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ December 2011 issue.

Despite my crazy flight schedule (yay for West Coast time zone changes) and newfound love for all things refrigerated, the conference offered an abundance of networking opportunities, educational seminars, one-on-one CEO sessions and even a golf tournament.

Traveling for work isn’t always a day at the beach, but unlike several industry-held events I’ve attended in my 10-plus-year tenure as a trade journalist, the RFA Conference and Expo proved to be nothing short of fun in the sun.

Thank you to the folks at RFA for making my first trip onRefrigerated & Frozen Foodsone to remember. (I guess I’ll stick around, ha ha).

To learn more about the Marietta, Ga.-based organization, to become a member or to attend/exhibit at next year’s event (Feb. 24-27, 2013 in Miami, Fla.), go to www.refrigeratedfoods.org.