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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative
Maturing In More Ways Than One

The role that buyers can play in the industry efforts to enhance food safety is still unclear. The roster of signatories to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is as follows:

Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
Gary Bergstrom, Publix
Craig Carlson, Pathmark Stores
Jim Corby, Food Lion
Greg Corrigan, Raley’s
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Brian Gannon, Big Y Supermarkets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Don Harris, Wild Oats Markets
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Mark Hilton, Harris-Teeter
Craig Ignatz, Giant Eagle
Jim Lemke, C.H. Robinson Worldwide
Mike O’Brien, Schnuck Markets
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Roger Schroeder, Stater Bros.
James Spilka, Meijer, Inc.
Mark Vanderlinden, Price Chopper
Tim York, Markon Cooperative

The list of participants is almost three times as many signatories as the eight brave souls who were signed on at the start.

The initiative grew out of conversations between Tim York of Markon and Dave Corsi at Wegman’s and has been championed by Tim York. The initial effort of the initiative was a letter sent to the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association and Western Grocers Association

Though the Pundit always praised Tim and associates for trying to do the right thing, we had some scepticism regarding the tone the project took in its initial letter.

The deadline for action set in that initial letter was December 15, 2006:

Due to the urgency of this matter — its current and potential impact on public health — we expect that the major components of this process can and will be accomplished by December 15, 2006. If this is not the case, our options include fast-tracking our own working group to establish a meaningful certification program with objective criteria.

And just prior to that deadline, the expanded buyer’s group sent a new letter to the associations:

We applaud the food safety focus that has been evident at the associations and throughout the industry during the last 45 days. There has been demonstration of some collaboration between the associations, and Western Growers Association’s call for a marketing order is a valuable step toward our common end goal: a stringent common denominator of food safety practices for lettuce and leafy greens.

We congratulate the industry on the progress made to date on the development of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) guidelines for lettuce and leafy greens. The guidelines meet the criteria outlined in our October 26 letter: they are specific, measurable, and verifiable. We understand that a second draft document will be released in the coming days, and we look forward to the opportunity to provide input on the new draft.

We anticipate that draft guidelines for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and HACCP will also be forthcoming.

We reiterate our call for a certification or verification process that enables buyers to determine readily whether suppliers have met foundational food safety requirements. Failure to implement such a certification/verification process will likely encourage a duplication of efforts, resulting in a proliferation of standards and additional expenses incurred by grower/suppliers.

We further call for the formation of a third-party organization modeled on the Center for Produce Quality (and, where appropriate, Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCO)). The BIFSCO model is compelling because it addresses the entire food supply pipeline, from farm to table, and thus involves growers, processors, shippers, distributors, foodservice operators, and retailers. We acknowledge that food safety is a shared responsibility, both operationally and financially.

To that end, the above-named companies represent $300 billion in retail and foodservice sales; we intend to support suppliers throughout our supply chain, that meet the industry accepted foundational food safety requirements.

The associations should continue their efforts to reach out to other associations, including NRA and FMI, to preclude the development of multiple food safety standards.

We reiterate our call for initiating comparable food safety guidelines for tomatoes, green onions, and melons no later than February 15, 2007.

As long as the associations continue to collaborate toward meeting the goals outlined, it is our intention to continue to work with and through the associations to drive the changes necessary for our industry to address the food safety challenges we all face. Please inform us of further actions you intend to take.

Although not precisely humble, the new letter is significantly more restrained in tone than the first, demanding missive. The letter speaks for itself but contains three revelations not included in the initial letter:

First, there is an acknowledgement that food safety is not something that growers and processors provide retailers but, instead, a total supply chain responsibility:

We acknowledge that food safety is a shared responsibility, both operationally and financially.

Second, there is an expression of intent to use their buying power to support growers and processors that follow the new rules:

To that end, the above-named companies represent $300 billion in retail and foodservice sales; we intend to support suppliers throughout our supply chain, that meet the industry accepted foundational food safety requirements.

Third there is a call for the formation of a new industry organization, modeled after the Beef Industry Food Safety Council. Tim York, in an interview with the Pundit, described it this way:

There is an ideal model we could be following as an industry. Instigated by the Beef Industry Food Safety Council [read more about it here], it brings together representatives from all segments of the beef industry to attack foodborne pathogens through common solutions. The beef industry set aside differences for the common good. This is a recent foundational work being done over and above government regulations. It’s beautiful and spot on. We could take this document and swap the word beef for produce and it’s exactly the mission in front of us.

One can still see many things problematic about the initiative:

We don’t have the science to quantify the reduction in mortality to be expected from the adoption of a revised GAP on spinach and leafy greens — no matter how specific, measurable and verifiable they may be.

The whole GAP and GMP process is going painfully slow. That we don’t have one in place for green onions is simply unacceptable.

The buyers’ call for a certification or verification process would ring truer if the buyers would accept these audits. Almost certainly, though, each will add its own idiosyncratic requirements to the “foundational” ones — so growers and shippers will wind up with multiple audits no matter what.

A generalized expression of “intent” to support producers who follow the rules probably isn’t quite strong enough to motivate the investments required. Some kind of binding agreement to not buy on the cheap if it sacrifices food safety standards is probably going to be required.

It is unclear that PMA, United and WGA will be able to stop independent food safety initiatives from organizations such as NRA, which has formed a produce Safety Working Group.

Yet, despite these caveats, the buyer-led effort is showing a kind of maturity as it grows in size and as time goes on.

The new letter seems to be a quantum leap forward in finding a constructive place for the buying community in building a safer fresh produce supply. Kudos to all involved.




Disney Default Take 2

Back in October of 2006, we wrote about Disney’s decision to change the “default” on its combo meals at its theme parks away from French Fries toward healthier produce items. Over the holidays the Pundit family visited Walt Disney World in Orlando and so got a chance to see how this was working out in practice.

First, we noted that the change did not seem to apply to all adult meals but did apply to all children’s meals.

French Fries (and soda) were available upon request. The “default” was that the kid’s meals included a choice of two out of three side dishes, and the choices were red seedless grapes, baby carrots or applesauce. Drinks were milk, apple juice or water.

Unquestionably the produce industry was selling a lot more grapes and baby carrot packs than if these had not been on the menu. Or even than if they were only available as an a la carte option.

Still, the way it functions, the notion of a “default” doesn’t really apply. You can’t just go up and order a “Number 2” because you have to say which two out of the three side-dish options (grapes, baby carrots and applesauce) and which beverage option (milk, apple juice or water) you want. It is as easy to say, “I want grapes and French Fries and we’ll take a Sprite,” as it is to say, “We want grapes and baby carrots and apple juice.”

In this sense it is not so much that Disney “changed” the default as they “eliminated” a default option, thus making people more purposeful in ordering their food.

As far as the effect of this on what people eat and Disney’s revenue, we can say that, for the Pundit family, we think we actually ate more food and gave Disney more of our money. Why? Well the Junior Pundits (ages 3 and 5) happen to like both grapes and baby carrots, so we requested those as our side dishes. Unfortunately, there were far too many people eating French Fries in the restaurant for us to be able to tell the kids that they don’t have French Fries here and they would have flipped out when they got their meals without Fries.

So, we bought the meals as we normally would, took the produce as our sides and then, also, bought a side order of Fries. We may have gotten some vitamin or phytochemical benefits from the produce but net, net, net — we ate more and spent more than we did when they just gave us a side of Fries. If the problem is obesity, consuming more calories is going to make the problem worse, not better. Talk about unintended consequences.

As far as improving public health goes, the short term impact is very slight because the products chosen are only marginally “better” for a child. The Junior Pundits have never had soda, but they practically have an IV with apple juice and it is not clear that this is so substantially better for them.

The hope has to be that changes such as these nudge the culture in the direction of healthy eating. It is not an easy shift. Part of the problem is that the very experience of a theme park, where eating at quick-serve restaurants is more akin to refueling than to dining, is, intrinsically, an experience that detracts from the thoughtful consideration of what we are eating.

The Pundit family found we always ate more healthfully if we took time to sit and eat at a full-service restaurant. This is the message of the Slow Food movement. But the children’s patience is limited and the expense significant for most people.

Hopefully Disney will continue with these efforts to encourage healthy eating. It would be nice to see them try more vegetable options such as green beans.

Throughout Disney World there were obvious efforts to do the right thing. The coffee kiosks often had some apples and oranges along with the cakes and pastries, and there were a number of venues selling produce.

Although we applaud these efforts, The Pundit sat and watched who was buying and we weren’t too encouraged by the likelihood that these efforts would impact public health. Based on the physiques of the people buying the fruit, it seemed as if the fruit provided a wonderful option for people who were very health- and fitness-conscious. We doubted, though, that these people were switching from ice cream to an apple; they looked more like the types who wouldn’t have bought anything if a healthy option wasn’t available.

If this observation is borne out by purchase statistics, it would confirm what many suspect: Businesses are not reform schools. In other words, Disney, McDonald’s, etc., don’t create eating habits. It is more correct to say that foodservice concepts spring up in response to changes in the world and that these changes — of technology and culture — are the drivers of our diets and health states.

The interesting question is whether selling more produce, changing default options and other similar efforts can move the cultural norm toward a healthier diet. On this question much depends.




Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry —
Ruby Tuesday’s Rick Johnson

As part of our effort to better understand food safety procedures at foodservice operators we’ve run a series of Pundit Pulses. Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins started us off with the perspectives of two smaller operators but with both individuals very focused on produce. Then Michael Spinazzola of Diversified Restaurant Systems gave us his take as the supplier to Subway Restaurants. Then Maurice Totty of Foodbuy, the purchasing arm of the Compass Group, provided us with the take of a massive organization with many different concepts.

Now Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, interviews Rick Johnson at Ruby Tuesday for our first “grill and bar” concept. With a more diverse menu than a quick-service restaurant and a large scale, with company stores and franchises, Ruby Tuesday faces a range of food safety challenges.

The Pundit would like to express deep appreciation to Janet, Dan, Michael, Maurice and Rick as well as to the organizations they work with for stepping up to the plate and talking about real issues in food safety in a forum such as this, where the whole industry can benefit. This willingness to speak out is a contribution to a better industry and a safer food supply.


Rick Johnson
Senior Vice President of Supply Systems
Ruby Tuesday, Maryville, Tennessee

Q: How critical is fresh produce to the company brand?

A: Freshness and high quality are two touchstones for the company. The salad bar is a very important part of our operation and brand. Approximately four out of ten guests order the salad bar either as an add-on or an entrée. We’ve had a salad bar continuously from our second year in business. It gives Ruby Tuesday’s an association with fresh product. Key markers also include fresh proteins.

Q: How is food safety integrated into your procurement structure?

A: As an executive officer of the company, one of my primary responsibilities is management of the supply chain and quality assurance. I’ve played a role on staff or as a consultant since 1972 when the company was founded. The procurement structure is the same for produce as all base products. Organization is broken out into sourcing, contract negotiation, replenishment, and distribution, and quality assurance follows in all steps. This is actually the case for all food products and non-food products.

Q: Do you deal directly with produce suppliers or farm out the responsibility to distributors?

A: We source, negotiate and execute contracts directly with suppliers, and outsource distribution. The distributor receives product from our suppliers, then warehouses and redistributes it to the restaurants. We have about 925 U.S. locations. Approximately two-thirds are company-owned, and the rest are franchised.

In the case of produce we have contracts with both growers and processors. It depends on the product and distribution network. We buy chopped lettuce, other value-added items, and bulk produce. In some rare instances we buy from a grower that doesn’t have certain capabilities so there may be a further entity involved.

Q: Do you have specific food safety procedures and auditing requirements to which your suppliers must adhere? Are you tightening measures since the outbreaks?

A: We require our suppliers to conduct third party audits at least annually and submit results for review. We also send out our own quality assurance people to facilities, fields, distribution centers and terminal markets. We haven’t changed our standards since the spinach outbreak because we were satisfied with what we had in place. Besides communicating those standards more clearly, we’ve done nothing significantly different.

Q: Industry food safety standards are varied and subjective. How does Ruby Tuesday determine what level of food safety should be required of its growers and processors? Does a foodservice operator like Ruby Tuesday really have a true understanding of what food safety mechanisms should be instituted at the grower/processor levels?

A: Ultimately, for the foreseeable future, responsibility for food safety practices has to rest with suppliers. Any of us in food service with companies like ours will never have as many people needed to be hands on in every facility like a manufacturer.

It is important to know that even though we have a certification process and a lot of guidelines and requirements in place, we still look to growers and processors to implement thorough, rigorous standards and practices for the highest integrity product. Short of taking over the operations ourselves, the responsibility has to rest in the hands of suppliers.

Q: Doesn’t the buyer have responsibility in raising the bar on food safety? After all, the foodservice operator determines which suppliers it chooses to buy from.

A: You have to start by accepting that you can’t compromise the safety of the product and the health and well being of the consumer on the basis of costs. It’s a fundamental truth to me, and one has to start there. The marketplace will figure out how to raise the standards, providing a very reasonable level of safety and integrity in the products, yet at the same time make them accessible and affordable.

Q: In the end, more stringent food safety standards come at a cost. What if a buyer is willing to purchase a lower priced product from a company with minimal, satisfactory food safety standards over a higher priced product from a company instigating upgraded standards?

A: If the industry doesn’t make those investments and continues to have safe products, ultimately there is a much larger financial loss. It doesn’t take many spinach outbreaks to put the industry in a very bad position. Food safety is an investment like all necessary product ingredients. Over time, as additional measures are put in place, costs will have to be evaluated. Certainly there will be food safety areas that involve capital investments, but there also may be other strategies to improve food safety, which don’t require additional cost. Bottom line, I can’t buy cheap product and compromise food safety.

Q: Even with the best plans and intentions, foodborne illness does occur. Crisis management has been a big topic of discussion, with questions raised on how Taco Bell handled its recent outbreak. Have you ever had to deal with any food outbreaks?

A: Fortunately, we’ve never dealt with a widespread outbreak of foodborne illness. Yet 34 years in business, we’ve faced a number of food crisis management issues. We live in a time of tremendous media exposure, instant deadlines and coverage spread across a wide array of outlets. This is something everyone is aware of. It requires companies and individuals involved to be forthright and prompt in their response, but not respond without information and facts. There are a lot of opportunities for negative coverage, misunderstanding, and mistrust from the public when initial information is not accurate.

If there is one lesson, it is important to be 100 percent accurate when releasing information in the early stages of these outbreaks. The problem is that investigations are complex and time consuming, requiring trace backs involving multiple resources, gathering evidence, conducting tests and analysis, and all those processes don’t happen in the first hour or 24 hours.

On one hand, the company must be candid, forthright, speak quickly and provide as much information as possible, but it’s ok to say, ‘This is what we know, this is what we don’t know, and this is what we’re doing about it.’

We believe as a foodservice company that our guests hold us directly responsible for the safety and integrity of products we’re serving. We can say that we received the product from an outside supplier and it was contaminated when we received it. But ultimately, we served it and we must take responsibility.

Q: Do you have any examples of how Ruby Tuesday’s responded in a crisis?

A: There was a hoax at a Ruby Tuesday’s in South Carolina where someone put a rodent on the salad bar. The Associated Press picked up the story and the news spread.

We were bombarded by reporters asking all kinds of questions, trying to get us to name suppliers. We never released names. There was no reason to identify the supplier. It wasn’t relevant and only opened the door to direct culpability.

In crisis management there are general rules, but every situation is specific. I’m not pointing fingers at Taco Bell or any other company.

The media was on a hunt to name culprits in the spinach outbreak. When the FDA was looking into ranches in Salinas, it was one step in the investigation, but that didn’t prove anything. The whole investigation was being played out over a truncated period of time, but everyone was looking for an instant answer; what’s the cause?

Sometimes that information is not immediately known, or may never be known. Divulging and identifying names of potentially liable companies, and beaming the spotlight on those fields turned out to be hurtful and unproductive.

Q: How do these outbreaks impact customers? After the spinach E. coli scare, did you experience a backlash in produce ordering at your restaurants?

A: We were very proactive in responding to the spinach crisis.

FDA made the announcement 9:30 or 10:00 Thursday evening, and on Friday, Ruby Tuesday’s had no spinach in the salad bar mix, it was off the menu and out of restaurants. We didn’t see salad bar sales decline, and life went on.

In this most recent outbreak with Taco Bell, we saw no significant increase in guest comments. We do hear through feedback in our management team that guests are more aware of food safety issues and are concerned produce is safe.

You saw reaction in the grocery stores with consumers shying away from all spinach products, even when they weren’t related to the outbreak. I’m not saying people will stop eating fresh vegetables by any means. But food borne illness is on the radar screen for the mass media, and it will be reported.

These outbreaks unfold in the context of bird flu and some continuing concern of mad cow disease. Simultaneously, concerns fester about chemical additives and transfats in foods, and people are more interested in the healthfulness, integrity, freshness and quality of food.

Q: So consumers are at once conflicted between eating more produce for health reasons and grappling with the knowledge that produce comes with food safety risks?

A: Granted, evidence abounds that transfats can have an impact on health, but food outbreaks happen immediately and with serious widespread consequences in short time frames. It’s still difficult for consumers to be as concerned about the gradual effect of eating fattening, unhealthy foods that lead to chronic diseases years down the line. We’ve learned that many consumers just don’t want to hear about it.

We went through an experimental stage of listing calories and nutritional information on the menu or putting a guide on the table. Over a period of time we learned most guests just don’t want that information. And those who want it ask and we provide it to them.

Q: How have the recent food outbreaks changed customer perceptions of produce?

A: There is not much question that public awareness of produce to be the source of foodborne illeness is greater than it’s ever been. It may sound simple minded, but I believe a large segment of the public knew proteins could be linked to foodborne illness, but didn’t see the dangers with produce. Now consumers know you can get sick and maybe even die from produce and there is a growing expectation from the public to insure those products are safe.

Q: Where does the government come in?

A: Don’t think the private sector expects the government to ride in on a white horse and solve everybody’s problems. There is lots of precedent to say that’s not likely. Government can play a role in establishing uniformed regulations, guidelines and inspection practices, but once again, responsibility rests on growers, processors and manufacturers. Suppliers and those buying the products need to come together on some relatively common acceptable standards. This happened to some extent on the protein side, albeit a little less for seafood.

Q: Will consumers look to the government for food safety, security and reassurance?

A: Consumers no longer have the same expectations in government’s ability to protect them. Katrina eroded the public confidence that government could play big brother and make everything ok. Consumers will look to grocery chains and foodservice to increase levels of inspections and safeguards and do more in their view to make products safe. If we don’t respond to consumer feelings, the industry will be in serious trouble.

Rick’s comments are thoughtful and remind us of a few salient truths:

Ultimately, for the foreseeable future, responsibility for food safety practices has to rest with suppliers. Any of us in food service with companies like ours will never have as many people needed to be hands on in every facility like a manufacturer.

It is important to know that even though we have a certification process and a lot of guidelines and requirements in place, we still look to growers and processors to implement thorough, rigorous standards and practices for the highest integrity product. Short of taking over the operations ourselves, the responsibility has to rest in the hands of suppliers.

Safe product isn’t produced by auditors, but by producers. Yet, it is also true that:

You have to start by accepting that you can’t compromise the safety of the product and the health and well being of the consumer on the basis of costs. It’s a fundamental truth to me, and one has to start there.

Rick also puts his finger on a sea change in consumer attitudes:

Now consumers know you can get sick and maybe even die from produce and there is a growing expectation from the public to insure those products are safe.

So product has to be made safe by producers, but operators have to pay the bill to get the right stuff — no compromise on that — and we all better do the right thing because consumers have been sensitized to the issue.

Great stuff. Thanks again to Rick and to Ruby Tuesday. Your willingness to be heard is helping us build a safer for all consumers.




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Recap XXIV

There is an ad-hoc group that started it all, the National Restaurant Association has its group working on a program and the Food Marketing Institute held a conference. All these buyer-led initiatives can get confusing, so to assist the trade in keeping track of them all, we are publishing this recap of coverage all in one place.

As new developments, occur we will continue to update this recap to help keep the trade organized on this important subject.

On September 25, 2006, in the midst of the spinach crisis, we published The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that it is the “representations and warranties” that buyers demand that define the food safety programs we get:

“…in the end, the strength of our food safety systems is at least as dependent on what retailers demand as they are on what the government does for the simple reason that what retailers pay for is what they are going to get.”

Then in the issue of the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, which was unveiled at the PMA Convention in San Diego on October 21, 2006, we published Food Safety Is A Retail Issue, which pointed out:

“…what holds suppliers back is not that they need an FDA regulation — it is that they need to see a willingness on the part of buyers to pay more to obtain a higher level of food safety and security. So far that is missing.”

The Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety was then announced. In time it came to be signed on to by nine important buying organizations:

Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Tim York, Markon Cooperative

Here at the Pundit, we applauded the buyer-led effort but on October 30, 2006, ran a piece entitled Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question Of Buyer Commitment, in which we pointed out:

“What would be helpful from these buyers is…a reassurance to the grower/shipper/packer/processor community that investments in food safety will be protected.”

As Gene Harris of Denny’s added his endorsement to the Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety, we published, Pundit’s Mailbag — Denny’s Weighs In On Food Safety Effort on November 1, 2006, and we pointed out that the Western Growers Association was now looking for mandatory standards:

“Buyers can impose standards on their suppliers, but it seems as if the big grower members of WGA are more inclined to go with a mandatory program. Perhaps because this is more easily “saleable” to consumers, perhaps because the growers have no confidence that buyers will ever agree to a uniform standard on food safety and, perhaps, because growers know that buyers today can have the best of intentions but situations change and buyer’s change — and if legal product is available for much less money, that will put a lot of pressure on an organization to change its standards.”

On November 2, 2006, we highlighted an Opportunity For Buyers’ Food Safety Initiative, where we wrote the following:

“Here’s the Pundit’s suggestion to the buyers: Don’t wait for the deadline to pass. Withdraw the letter to the associations, which can only lead to endless negotiations with grower/shippers and watered-down food safety standards. Instead, create a temporary ad hoc consortium to spearhead the quick development of science-based food safety standards.

In the short term, these will be enforced by buyer demand, hopefully including other buyers who will buy into the plan; in the medium run the plan will be turned over to state authorities in California and federal authorities in Washington, D.C., as the basis for new mandatory regulation.”

We pointed out that this initiative may not stay in the hands of the ad hoc group leading the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative when, on November 7, 2006, we announced: National Restaurant Association Forms Produce Safety Working Group and pointed out:

“What we should have learned from the FDA loss of confidence in the industry is that food safety is not something that we negotiate over. It has to be driven by the best scientific knowledge we have.”

Mark Munger of Andrew-Williamson Fresh Produce, a grower/shipper, pitched in his thoughts on the important role buyers play in the food safety arena and, on November 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Grower, which specifically praised one foodservice customer:

I also have to commend one of our customers, who I believe demonstrates the value of collective partnerships between growers and customers. Two years ago we began working with Darden Restaurants. Darden takes food safety very seriously. They have empowered a food safety team that must approve each and every supplier. They have inspectors in the field who make weekly random inspections of growing operations, picking and packing programs. When problem issues are identified, they work closely with our food safety team to help educate our team and to ensure that collectively we fix the problem. The knowledge that an inspector can be in any field or packing shed at anytime has forced us to treat every day as an inspection day.

Additionally, Darden’s food safety team is separate from their buying team. If a farm is not up to par, they have the authority to stop all transactions until the problems are fixed. They truly put their money where their mouth is and have helped us become a markedly better company. I cannot think of a better example of the power of collective thinking between suppliers and customers. I think the industry would be well served to learn more about their programs and create similar models.

Not surprisingly, the Food Marketing Institute was not going to be content to sit this one out and, on November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into The Food Safety Fray, which detailed a conference scheduled for December 5th at which FMI would host representatives from industry, associations, academia and government to advance food safety issues. Unfortunately, FMI decided to exclude the media and we pointed out:

“…if the goal is to build public confidence in the process the industry is going through, you not only open it to media, you send a velvet invitation to the big consumer media groups.

It smells of smoke-filled rooms where deals will be cut in secret. If you let in some light and air, everyone will have more confidence in the final product.”

On November 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag: Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer Led-Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower/shipper pointed out that “This is where the retailers must step out of their ivory towers and get their walk (vendor relationship) to match their talk (aligned supply chain)… If those who signed on to this letter would get committed to buying only from “qualified suppliers,” the laws of supply and demand will drive the solution and we will quickly catch up with the rest of the world in this critical area.”

On November 17, 2006, we featured Tale Of Two Buyers, in which we pointed out: “If the VPs are sincere about wanting the buyers to place food safety first, the VPs have the responsibility for changing the culture and the economic incentive systems.”

On November 21, 2006, we published Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which features an extensive interview with Tim York of Markon Cooperative as well as the announcement that the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative gained ten new retail signatories:

  • Mike O’Brien, Vice President Produce & Floral, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, Missouri
  • James Spilka, Vice President Produce, Meijer, Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Mark Vanderlinden, Vice President Produce Merchandising , Price Chopper, Schenectady, New York
  • Greg Corrigan, Director Produce & Floral, Raley’s, West Sacramento, California
  • Craig Carlson, Vice President Produce, Pathmark Stores, Carteret, New Jersey
  • Don Harris, Vice President Produce & Floral, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colorado
  • Bryan Gannon, Director Produce & Floral, Big Y Supermarkets, Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Jim Corby, Vice President, Produce Merchandising. Food Lion, Salisbury, North Carolina
  • Roger Schroeder, Vice President Produce, Stater Bros., Colton, California
  • Craig Ignatz, Vice President Produce Merchandising, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Despite the impressive show of buyer support, we expressed some concern: “…it is also pretty clear that the prospect of one unified food safety standard acceptable to every one of the signatories, much less to those who have declined to sign, is somewhere between nil and nothing.”

On November 28, 2006, we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative, and in this piece we added Mark Hilton, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Harris-Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, as a signatory to the letter.

We also quoted buyers who had declined to sign the letter mostly due to their objection to the public nature of the initiative. We also pointed out how vendors were thinking:

Pundit Note: Many growers and shippers are irate over the effort as they see it as an evasion of responsibility. These buying organizations get exactly what they value enough to pay for. All too often, some of the same companies who signed the letter on Monday will, on Tuesday, buy some product without the slightest knowledge of where it came from.

On November 29, 2006, we ran Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which gave voice to the thoughts of some non-participating buyers that only mandatory government regulation is the way to go. Also on November 29, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, in which a processor there at the beginning of the national fresh-cut industry reminded us how uninterested in food safety most retailers were at the time.

On November 30, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers were declining to join the buyer-led initiative with Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives. Also on November 30, 2006, we received a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group, which we focused on in Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulation. We pointed out: “In terms of the difficulties on spinach and leafy greens, the key buyers are missing from the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. The buyers of the produce, in this case, are the processors.”

On December 1, 2006, we published Spinach And The Consequences Of Buyers’ Action, in which buyers who hadn’t signed on to the buyer-led food safety initiative pointed out that rigorous food safety systems will restrict supply and raise prices.

As we explained: “It is unknown if those who don’t buy spinach because of high prices will buy healthy alternatives. They may buy candy bars and die of complications of obesity. It is a completely open question as to whether safer spinach won’t cost lives in the end.”

Also on December 1, 2006, we responded to industry feedback claiming that foodservice did a better job than retail when it came to food safety by beginning a series of Pundit Pulses focused on foodservice. The first two, Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, dealt with how smaller buyers deal with these issues.

On December 5, 2006, we continued our discussion with buyers who refused to sign the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative by noting that some of them weren’t thrilled with the Western Growers Association proposal either. Our Piece Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job?dealt with the problems created for the industry when one region is declared “safer” than another and with the difficulty of utilizing a marketing order to legislate world class food safety practices.

On December 6, 2006, we ran Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline), which dealt with what will happen if the trade associations do not meet the deadline set by the buyers. Also on December 6, 2006, we continued our series on foodservice and food safety by running Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Of Diversified Restaurant Systems.

Additionally on December 6, 2006, we ran a letter from Tim O’Conner, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board in our Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing Worldin which Tim explained: “Given my experience with government inspection and regulation, I place much more value on a supply chain-led initiative to deliver meaningful long term results.”

On December 7, 2006, we ran FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered, which looked at the contribution of FMI’s effort to play a role in preventing a future leafy green crisis.

On December 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costs, in which a letter from Jack Vessey of Vessey & Company clued us in to the specific cost implications of food safety initiatives.

On December 12, 2006, we ran Taco Bell Makes Ready Pac Its Scapegoat, which explained that the attitude of shared responsibility for food safety that is essential for success can’t be sustained if a buyer dumps an innocent vendor at the first sign of trouble.

Also on December 12, 2006, we published New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety, which dealt with the way a cultural imperative to low prices could lead food safety to be sacrificed.

Additionally on December 12, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Aligned Supply Chains And Statistical Quirks, which analyzed the way the tyranny of large numbers can impact our perception of the food safety problem.

On December 13, 2006, we published Wholesalers, Independents May Get Windfall From Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out that a buyer-led initiative would likely leave lots of growers looking for homes for their product and that wholesalers and independents could benefit.




Botulism And Carrot Juice
Summary XLII

We’ve been asked to make available in one place our coverage of the recall by Wm. Bolthouse Farms of certain 100% carrot juice products and the broader implications of this issue for food safety. This piece is updated regularly and will be re-run to include new coverage of this outbreak and issue.

We initiated our coverage on October 2, 2006, by publishing the FDA notice to consumers warning them not to drink the product, and we inquired as to the margin of safety on the product. You can find the piece, entitled Oh No! Another Outbreak, right here.

On October 4, 2006, we published Bolthouse And Juice Refrigeration, which analyzed the proper standard of refrigeration for vulnerable products and the ability of both the trade and consumers to maintain that cold chain. Read it here.

October 5, 2006, we ran Botulism III, which detailed the 12 steps in the distribution chain that the industry needs functioning properly in order to maintain the cold chain. The piece challenged retailers to evaluate the integrity of their own cold chain. You can find the piece here.

In The Botulism And E. coli Connection, which we ran on October 6, 2006, we noted similarities between the botulism outbreak on certain Bolthouse carrot juice and the spinach/E. coli outbreak. The piece is right here.

On October 10, 2006, we noted, in Bolthouse Botulism Case Hits Canada, that two Canadians were now victims of this botulism case and noted that it was an unusual cluster to occur at one time if the problem was solely temperature abuse by customers. You can catch it here.

October 11, 2006, we ran Carrot Juice Still On Canadian Shelves, we noted that Canadians were getting upset over the inability of Canada’s public health authorities to execute a simple product recall and that the frequency of recalls was raising questions over the safety of California produce. Read it right here.

On October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration urging industry lobbyists to work on legislation to make sure consumers have the tools they need to keep product safe at home. The article is here.

October 18, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, disagreeing with our urging of legislation regarding thermostats and refrigeration. You can read the piece here.




Pundit Rewind LII

The Pundit originally ran the Pundit Rewind on September 21, 2006. We continuously update it in order to keep everyone organized with respect to reference material on this subject; we have updated it with new items and run it again today.

Spinach Crisis Summary

With so much having been written in so short a time, thought it would be helpful to publish a sort of round-up of available material to help people understand the whole situation regarding spinach and this E. coli breakout:

The Perishable Pundit itself has dealt extensively with the subject in several major pieces. On September 15, 2006, we published Spinach Recall Reveals Serious Industry Problems, which addressed the implications of this crisis for the fresh-cut industry. You can read the piece here.

On September 18, 2006, we published Organic Dodges a Bullet, which deals with the implications of the outbreak for the future of organic farming. You can find this piece here. Also on September 18, 2006, we ran a piece called Ramifications and Reflections on the Spinach Recall, which provided our first 10-point analysis of the situation. You can read it here.

September 19, 2006, we asked Is FDA’s Concern Now an Obsession? — a piece in which we assessed whether a national recommendation to not eat spinach made any sense. You can review this here.

On September 20, 2006, we noted 10 Peculiarities about the E. coli Outbreak and reviewed why certain aspects of the situation are unlike past food-safety challenges and other unanswered questions regarding the outbreak. Read this one right here. Also on September 20, 2006, we did our third 10-point list, calling this one “Spinach Recall Begs for Solutions”, where we reviewed how the trade can deal with this issue for the future, including looking at the meat industry, the prospect of universal testing and the use of RFID and GTIN. You can read all this here.

On September 21, 2006, we asked Is FDA Causing Long-term Damage? Here we posed the question of whether punishing the innocent and the guilty alike doesn’t reduce incentives to invest in food safety. You can read this piece right here.

The September 25, 2006 edition of the Pundit includes our fourth 10-point list entitled Though Not ‘All-Clear’, Consumers Can Eat Spinach Again, which reviewed many issues facing the industry as spinach begins to reenter the market, including the FDA’s announcement, PMA consumer research, the behavior of industry association, battles over fresh-cuts and organics, the reintroduction of Salinas Valley production, the FDA’s capabilities, and more. You can read this piece here. Also on September 25, 2006, we reviewed The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that buyers have an important role in insuring food safety. Catch this piece here.

Additionally, on September 25, 2006, we ran the Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industryin which a panel of retail Pundits gave us insight into the way the spinach issue played in store and with consumers. You can read it here.

The Pundit on September 26, 2006, included an articled entitled The California Department of Health Services Owes People An Explanation in which the question was raised whether certain parties received preferential treatment in the current spinach/E. coli outbreak. Read it right here. Also on September 26, 2006, we did a piece questioning the efficacy of our trace-back systems. The piece was titled More Recalls Trickle In, and you can read it here.

On September 27, 2006, the Pundit analyzed the bad publicity that the Salinas Valley has received and asked Is Salinas Getting A Bum Rap On Food Safety? The piece can be read right here.

September 28, 2006, the Pundit included a piece entitled Call For Stronger FDA that analyzed the demand of some in the food industry for beefing up the FDA and its budget within the context of the spinach/E. coli situation. You can read it here.

On September 29, 2006 we did a piece called Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics that explored the contradiction of modern life that has led things to seem less safe, even as they are actually safer. Read the piece here.

October 2, 2006 we ran The FDA Needs to Reexamine Its Methodology, inquiring why it was necessary to shut down a whole industry when, as far as we know, it was only Dole brand bagged spinach that was implicated? Read it here. Also on October 2, 2006, in a piece called Needless Recalls, we examined how even if many of the recalls were unnecessary, the recalls revealed big flaws in the trade’s traceback systems. You can find the piece here. Another piece October 2, 2006, entitled Deconstructing FDA, analyzed the FDA’s statement regarding the end of the spinach crisis. The piece is right here.

The Pundit also ran a piece entitled Action Plan to Regain Consumer Confidence that both discussed the industry plan and proposed an alternative plan. Read about it here. Also on October 2, 2006, we did a piece called Collateral Damage vs. Assumption of the Risk, which analyzed some of the liability issues surrounding the outbreak. You can find the piece here. Additionally, on October 2, 2006, we published the second in our series of Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry. This one including insight from Bob Edgell of Balls Foods and Ron McCormick of Wal-Mart, regarding reaction at retail as spinach outside California became available. Read it here.

On October 4, 2006, the Pundit ran a piece entitled In Defense of Salinas, in which, based on a discussion with a Salinas farmer, we outlined five points you need to understand about the relationship between the Salinas Valley and this outbreak. You can find it here. Also on October 4, 2006, we published Notes On Natural Selection: It Could Happen To You, which discussed the new food safety plan revealed by Natural Selection Foods and discussed the necessity of product testing. Read it here.

October 5, 2006, we analyzed the implications of the FBI raid in Salinas with Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… You can read the piece here.

We also explained on October 5, 2006, the involvement of Growers Express in the FBI raid in a piece entitled Bailando Juntos (Dancing Together), which you can find right here. What’s more, we discussed on October 5, 2006, why Canada is still banning U.S. spinach and what that implies about relations between the FDA and CFIA. The piece is called U.S. Spinach Still Banned in Canada, and you can read it here.

On October 6, 2006, the Pundit pointed out the importance of considering the human costs of our actions in A Look At The Faces, which you can read here. Also on October 6, 2006, we analyzed how increased use of a federal network was bound to mean the recording of more frequent food safety outlets in a piece entitled PulseNet Ups Ante In Food Safety Battle, which can be read right here.

Although not strictly speaking spinach-related, when one company voluntarily recalled certain green leaf lettuce, it was a decision affected by the overall environment caused by the spinach/E. coli situation. In Nunes Recall Reveals Testing Dilemma, published on October 10, 2006, we analyzed how stricter standards may lead to more frequent recalls. Catch the piece here.

October 11, 2006 we pointed out that the Center for Disease Control was beginning to see fresh-cut in a whole new light. You can read CDC’s Aha! Moment right here. Also on October 11, 2006, we offered Heads Up — Political Posturing On Spinach Begins, pointing out that the a State Senator in California was going to start some hearings. Read the piece here.

On October 12, 2006, in PulseNet Asleep At The Wheel, we detailed that the nation’s food safety bulletin board likes to take off on weekends. Read this astounding piece here.

Dangerous E. coli Found On One Ranch ran on October 13, 2006, and points out that this finding doesn’t tell us much. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Fast Testing For Pathogens Necessary, which pointed out that product testing is bound to happen and discussed options and obstacles. You can read it here.

October 18, 2006 the Pundit ran a piece in which PulseNet Explains Why It Doesn’t Work Weekends.You can find the piece here.

On October 19, 2006, the piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouses and Vertical Farmingexplores the potential of greenhouse and hydroponic growing in the light of the spinach/E. coli crisis. The article also explores the potential for vertical farms in urban neighborhoods. Read it here.

On October 24, 2006, we published Town Hall Spinach Meeting: Unanswered Questions, in which we analyzed what we learned and what was still a mystery after attending a Town Hall Meeting on the spinach crisis at the PMA Convention in San Diego. You can find this piece here.

October 27, 2006, we ran a piece entitled PMA Commits $1 Million To Food Safety Fixes and you can read it here. Also on October 27, 2006, we thought part of the fallout from the crisis would be a reexamination of the industry’s government relations efforts and so wrote PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds. You can read it right here. Additionally on October 27, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouse Solutions dealing with whether Controlled Environment Agriculture might be the solution to the trade’s food safety issues. Read it right here.

On October 30, 2006, we responded to a very important proposal from several leading members of the buying community with Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question of Buyer Commitment.You can read the piece here. After the government announced that it was looking at wild pigs as the culprit in the E. coli contamination, we ran, on October 30, 2006, a piece entitled Now We Know Why Spinach Salad Is Served With Bacon Dressing. Read it right here.

On October 31, 2006, we published Western Growers Association Calls For Mandatory Food Safety Standards, in which we discussed the epochal change taking place as the industry looked to move to mandatory, as opposed to voluntary, food safety standards. You can read it right here.

November 2, 2006, we published Opportunity For Buyer’s Food Safety Initiative,which raised the idea that not involving growers in setting food safety standards was a good idea. Read it here.

On November 7, 2006, we ran a piece entitled NRA Forms Produce Safety Working Group that discussed a new National Restaurant Association initiative to impose standards on suppliers to foodservice. You can find the piece here. Also on November 7, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — United’s President/CEO Responds (Part 2), which dealt with the question of how much difference a good government relations program can be expected to accomplish at a time of crisis. Read it here.

November 8, 2006, we ran a valuable Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Growerthat focused on the value buyers can bring to food safety programs. You can read it here.

On November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into Food Safety Fray, which details the role a food safety conference FMI is organizing might play in helping the industry develop new food safety protocols. You can find the piece here.

November 14, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower pointed out that growers needed retailers to walk the walk not talk the talk. Read it here.

On November 15, 2006 we published PulseNet, And The Pundit, In The News, which linked to a TV station that picked up on our reporting on ways to improve PulseNet. Read it here. Also on November 15, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Westborn Markets, Schnucks, Wal-Mart, in which these retailers updated us on how the market for spinach and bagged salads is recovering. You can find the piece here.

November 16, 2006, we had a piece entitled Pundit’s Mailbag — Kill Steps And Irradiation that dealt with the industry concern that no matter how we strengthen our agricultural practices, only a “kill step” can really solve the problem. Read it here.

On November 17, 2006, we published GAPs/GMPs And HACCP Plans, in which United Fresh President/CEO Tom Stenzel gives his take on what happened during the spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 17, 2006, we ran Tale Of Two Buyers, which pointed out that culture and compensation may matter more than intent when it comes to food safety. Find it right here.

November 21, 2006, we ran Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which updated us on the progress of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. Read it here.

On November 22, 2006 we presented The Perishable Pundit’s Unsung Heroes Awardto Hank Giclas of Western Growers Association, David Gombas and Jim Gorny, both of United Fresh Produce Association. Read all about it right here. Also on November 22, 2006 we reported the explosive news that the whole consumer advisory not to eat spinach might have been avoided had certain processors cooperated with the FDA. The piece is called Spinach Farmers Won’t Be Thanking Certain Processors This Holidayand you can read it here. Additionally, on November 22, 2006 we explained that restricting product usage could reduce the impact of future outbreaks. The article is called If You Are Eating Out For Thanksgiving… and you can find it here.

November 28, 2006 we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative that explained one objection to the way the initiative was being handled. Read the piece here. Also on November 28, 2006, we wrote Don’t Forget The Regional Spinach Processors, which showed how Aunt Mid’s Produce Company in Detroit, Michigan, was communicating with its customers. Catch it here.

On November 29, 2006, we ran a piece called Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative that focused on the thoughts of some buyers that only mandatory government regulation would help the industry. Read it right here.

On November 30, 2006, we published Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives, a piece that continued our series on why some buyers don’t wish to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. You can find the article here.

On December 1, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers elected not to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative with Spinach And The Consequence Of Buyers’ Actions, a piece that looked at how food safety might impact prices and public health. Read it here.

Also on December 1, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, which explored how smaller foodservice operators were looking at food safety. Catch it right here.

Additionally on December 1, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sprout Lessons Echo Food Safety Dilemma, which pointed out what the broader produce industry can learn from the food safety woes of the sprout industry. You can find the piece here.

On December 5, 2006, we asked Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job?This piece discussed both the difficulties of setting different food safety standards in different regions and the difficulty of establishing food safety standards through a marketing order. Read it here.

On December 6, 2006, we ran Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline),which dealt with what will happen if the trade associations do not meet the deadline set by the buyers. Read the piece here. Also on December 6, 2006, we continued our series on foodservice and food safety by running Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Of Diversified Restaurant Systems, and you can find this article here.

Additionally on December 6, 2006 we ran a letter from Tim O’Conner, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board in our Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing World, catch this piece right here.

On December 7, 2006, we ran FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered, which looked, from a retailer’s point of view, at the contribution of FMI’s effort to play a role in preventing a future leafy green crisis. Read it right here.

December 8, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costsin which a letter from Jack Vessey of Vessey & Company detailed some costs being incurred as a result of buyers’ demands for various food safety efforts. Read it right here.

On December 12, 2006, we published New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety, which dealt with the way a cultural imperative to low prices could lead food safety to be sacrificed. Please read it here.

Also on December 12, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Aligned Supply Chains And Statistical Quirks, which analyzed the way the tyranny of large numbers can impact our perception of the food safety problem. You can catch this right here.

On December 13, 2006, we ran Wholesalers, Independents May Get Windfall From Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out that a buyer-led initiative would likely leave lots of growers looking for homes for their product and that wholesalers and independents could benefit. Read it here.

Also on December 13, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Eliminating E. coli 0157:H7, which argued that we should look for legislation to prevent cattle from polluting with E. coli 0157:H7 and look to eliminate E. coli 0157:H7 from the food chain. Catch the piece here.

On December 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Ground, which dealt with the food safety implications of the presumption that the spinach implicated in the spinach/E. coli outbreak was grown with organic methods on ground being transitioned to organic. Read the piece right here.

On December 15, 2006, we published the Pundit Special Science Report: Part 1 — Food Safety Vulnerabilities in Yuma And Salinas; Part 2 — The Science Of Waterborne Bacteria; Part 3 — Product Testing At Natural Selection Foods & McEntire Produce. The whole report can be found here.

On December 19, 2006 we published Irradiation Will Prevent Future Outbreaks which dealt with the need for a “kill step” in produce. You can read it here. Also on December 19, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Organics And Manure which dealt with the issue of the use of manure in modern agriculture. You can find the piece right here.

On December 20, 2006, we published The Cultural Contradictions of Food Safety, which analyzed how growers are placed in a financial and ethical dilemma by issues of food safety. Read the piece here. Also on December 20, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — WGA’s Ambiguitiesin which Bob Martin of Rio Farms discussed the WGA’s proposal along with the challenges buyer’s demands place on growers. You can find the piece here.

On December 21, 2006, we ran Fighting E. Eoli At The Source, which detailed industry efforts to play offense, not defense, on the food safety front. Read it here. Also on December 21, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Foodbuy’s Maurice Totty, which analyzed how a large organization, the Compass Group, worked to secure food safety. The piece is here.

Additionally on December 21, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Answers, which focused on the implications of the spinach/E. coli crisis. You can find the article here.

On December 22, 2006, we published Many States Are Weak At Reporting Foodborne Illness, in which we detailed how many foodborne illness outbreaks are not being identified as such due to the condition of many state labs. As they are improved, more foodborne illness will be identified even as the food supply gets safer. You can read the piece right here.

IMPLICATIONS OF THE CRISIS
In addition, the Pundit has done several smaller pieces that touched on various aspects of this crisis. On September 18, 2006, we raised the issue of whether food safety outbreaks such as this raise long-term issues about the viability of cartoon character tie-ins in Who Has Marketing Fortitude? You can read about it here. Also on September 18, 2006, we wrote Fit To Be Tied, which dealt with the way some companies have little sense of decency when it comes to marketing their products in the midst of a crisis. You can read this one right here.

Additionally on September 18, 2006, our Pundit’s Mailbag focused on letters received by United President/CEO Tom Stenzel and incoming Chairman Emanuel Lazopoulos of Del Monte Fresh, which dealt with the confluence of United’s Board Meeting and the spinach crisis as well as issues of industry leadership. You can find this one here.

On September 19, 2006, we noted that there might be a Greenhouse Opportunity in all this. Read this here. Also on September 19, 2006, we noted that, though fruits and vegetables are healthy, fresh produce is not necessarily the best choice for those with a compromised immune system. The piece is called Marketing Nightmare and you can find it right here.

On September 21, 2006, we did a piece called Wal-Mart Deli/Bakery Has Crisis Of Its Own that draws a link between the difficulty of preventing a Salmonella outbreak at one store with the difficulty of preventing an E. coli outbreak on an industry-wide basis. You can read this piece here.

On September 25, 2006, the Pundit noted Another Oddity In Spinach Crisis and raised the question whether some or all of the product being marketed as conventional might not be organic. Read it right here. Also on September 25, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag which dealt both with the utility of loyalty card programs and with the nature of large, multi-line fresh-cut packing facilities. You can read this one right here. Also we did a short piece on what change was actually necessary if consumers were to be reassured of the safety of spinach. Read it here.

On September 26, 2006, we discussed the issue of recalls and how insurance plays into that. You can read this here. Also had an unrelated piece on Wegmans that included a video clip on how consumer media is dealing with the reintroduction of spinach. You can catch it here.

Additionally on September 26, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the causes of the outbreak. You can read this piece here.

September 27, 2006, we focused on a piece in the Washington Post that helps us in Putting Things In Perspective. How does the Spinach/E. coli outbreak relate to the total numbers that get sick and die each year from foodborne illness? You can read it right here.

On September 28, 2006, we published a terrific Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the frustration the buy side felt in dealing with the spinach/E. coli situation. Read it here.

October 2, 2006, we had some Questions For Western Growers that asked how far the WGA was willing to go to make sure foreign growers meet the same standards as Salinas area farmers. Read about it here. We also asked How Committed Is The Produce Industry To Broad/National Food Safety Program. You can read the piece here.

In addition, on October 2, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Another Despicable Marketing Attempt that pointed out how a seed company was taking advantage of the situation and, possibly, leading to harm, by pushing its products. Read about it here.

On October 4, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Primary And Secondary Suppliers, which details how this food safety crisis has to impact retail vendor selection. Catch it right here. Also on October 4, 2006, we discussed how to help innocent spinach farmers who were victimized by this crisis in Everyone Needs to Do A Little Bit. The Pundit pledged to do its own bit. Read it right here.

October 5, 2006, we ran a piece focused on another outbreak of foodborne illness — in this case, botulism in carrot juice. The focus, however, was on the necessity to change attitudes as the produce industry becomes less a packing industry and more a processing industry. It is called Botulism III, and you can read it here.

On October 6, 2006 we pointed out The Botulism And E. coli Connection where we explained that our focus on pathogens at the product source, though important, is insufficient. Read it here. Also on October 6, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: What Are The feds Up To? This answered a reader’s letter inquiring as to whether the FBI being in Salinas implied industry members weren’t cooperating. You can find this item here.

Food Safety, Good Delivery And Temperature Monitoring was published on October 10, 2006, and pointed out that old temperature recording devices have to be superseded by new temperature monitoring technology on all trucking of vulnerable products. Catch the piece here.

On October 11, 2006, we ran a piece that grew out of the decision of Publix to stop giving some perishables away because of food safety concerns it is called Culture of Risk-Aversion Hurts the Poor and you can read it here.

Nunes Tests Negative on October 13, 2006, raises the question of the appropriateness of recalls for generic E. coli in irrigation water. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration, which pointed out that consumers are not given the tools needed to be vigilant at home. Find it here.

In addition on October 13, 2006, we published PulseNet Redux pointing out, once again, that this outbreak could have been caught earlier had the government not taken off for the weekend. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006 we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Population Inured by Recalls? This piece raised the possibility that frequent recalls, with no subsequent illness, would rebound to the benefit of the trade. Please read it here.

On October 17, 2006, we ran Will Hydroponics Be A Solution To Spinach Woes? and analyzed the potential of hydroponics to head off future outbreaks. Read it here.

October 18, 2006, we had a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, in which the Pundit was challenged for urging excessive governmental interference. You can find it right here.

October 20, 2006, we had two pieces related to the Nunes recall on Green Leaf lettuce. First, in a piece entitled Closure For Nunes, we detailed that the product had been declared clean by the FDA. You can read it here. Second, we had a piece entitled Partial Closure In Mexico, which explained that Mexico had decided to allow the import of U.S. lettuce but not spinach. You can find the piece right here.

On November 1, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Canada Opens Door To More, But Not All, US Spinach. You can read it right here. Also on November 1, 2006, we had an interesting Pundit’s Mailbag — The Acceptance Of Risk, which included a fascinating comparison on how the FAA views safety in airlines as opposed to the FDA looking at food. Read it here.

November 3, 2006, we published Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t, which dealt with the way enhanced detection technology is likely to increase reports of foodborne illness — even as the food supply gets safer. Read it here. Also on November 3, 2006 we ran a brief note entitled Broader Concern For Food Safety, which linked to an FDA-produced slide show on the spinach outbreak as part of a broader food safety perspective. You can catch it right here.

Additionally on November 3, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — CPMA’s President Sets The Record Straight, in which CPMA’s President Dan Dempster addressed the importance of communication between the public health authorities in the U.S. and in Canada. Find the piece right here.

On November 7, 2006, we ran FDA Focuses On Retail And Foodservice Food Safety which gave news of an FDA satellite broadcast for retailers and foodservice operators and addressed the general issue of buyers and food safety. Read it here. Also on November 7, 2006, we ran an Erratum correcting some calculations in our previous piece Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t. You can find it right here.

November 9, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Bigg’s Marvin Lyons, the first of a series of retail interviews looking at how sales at retail are going post-spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 9, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sticking Up for the Pundit, in which an industry leader wrote in to support the work of the Pundit. You can find the piece here.

On November 10, 2006, we highlighted a quick directory of Farm-to-Fork Food Safety Resources. Catch it here.

November 21, 2006 we ran Capitol Report: United Helps Coordinate ‘Spinach Fest’ which focused on an event in D.C. reintroducing spinach to consumers. Read it here. Also on November 21, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Woeful Costco Experience, which detailed the difficulty of getting accurate information down to store level personnel. You can find the piece here.

On November 22, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Thankfulness in which Harris Cutler of Race-West Company offered a common sense perspective on food safety. Read it here.

November 29, 2006 featured Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, which reminded us that retailers weren’t always focused on consumers or safety in the early years of the national fresh-cut industry. You can find the piece right here.

On November 30, 2006, we published What’s In A Name, recognizing the birth date of Theodor Escherich, for whom the genus Escherichia of which Escherichia coli is the most common member. Read it here.

Also on November 30, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulations, which dealt with a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group trying to find a reasonable proposal on food safety. Catch it here.

On December 1, 2006, we ran Speaking Of Produce Washes, which revealed a study that found that washes and water are all about the same. Read it here.

Several additional pieces appear in the Perishable Pundit today, and they will be incorporated into future iterations of this Spinach Crisis Summary.

RESOURCES
In addition to our own work, there are many excellent sources of information out there that do not require payment, membership or registration. Three of the Pundit’s favorites:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has offered daily information on the crisis right here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deal with the outbreak here.

The Produce Marketing Association has maintained an excellent industry resource on the subject right here.

Please feel free to write or call if you are looking for specific information not included here. Note that many of the articles and websites have links to other resources.

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