Pundit Interviews

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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
Boca Raton FL 33481

Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
info@PerishablePundit.com

a

Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Meal Assembly Centers Enter
Supermarket Arena: Are YOU Prepared?

Few things important happen in the intersection between foodservice and retail without Sharon Olson of Olson Communications in Chicago giving us an early warning, and she has been beating the drums regarding the rapid roll-out of Meal Assembly Centers, otherwise known as MACs. This concept involves stores where consumers prepare meals and take them home to freeze immediately, then cook and serve later. The stores provide the prepped ingredients, recipes, preparation equipment and do the clean up.

It is a booming field with its own association, The Easy Meal Prep Association, and Sharon Olson has been working with the Pundit’s sister publication, DELI BUSINESS, to both explore the dynamics of these operations and to inquire as to the relevancy of the model to the supermarket and supercenter.

First Sharon wrote an intriguing column, Cashing In On Cook & Carry for DELI BUSINESS, which highlighted the six trends driving this new industry:

CONVENIENCE — The press talks about the MAC experience of parties and complimentary wine, but the consumers we spoke with said the convenience was the big benefit. Without exception, consumers loved the idea of assembling a meal, walking away from the mess and leaving it for someone else to clean up. Some MACs even offer fully prepared refrigerated or frozen meals for the really time-starved.

Local advertising and good websites make these centers easy to find, but most of our consumers learned about their favorite MAC from friends.

ENTERTAINMENT — When we asked consumers about the experience, we were told, “The experience definitely adds value, but the convenience is unbeatable.” We were also told, “It’s fun to pretend like you’re on a cooking show.”

EMOTIONAL SATISFACTION — The emotional gratification of having a hand in preparing a meal is a benefit for consumers. Most noted they felt this food was fresher and more healthful than frozen dinners or restaurant food. They liked being in control and able to use more or less seasoning to their own taste to satisfy their family. Incredibly clean and inviting facilities added to the appeal.

NUTRITION — Consumers told us nutrition was an afterthought. However, fresh ingredients and mostly baked or grilled entrées provided a halo of healthfulness.

VALUE — Most consumers looked at MACs as an alternative to restaurants or takeout, so a per-serving cost of up to $3.50 for an entrée seemed reasonable. All noted it was more expensive than cooking at home, but not having to clean up was a huge time saver. Most noted side dishes were suggested but not included so additional shopping and planning were required.

VARIETY — Classic comfort foods with an interesting twist appeal to consumers. They talked about pork chops made with red wine, dried cranberries and raisins, ingredients they would not usually have at home. Others talked about spices and rubs they would not typically purchase.

Then, Sharon authored a DELI BUSINESS cover story entitled, New Guy In Town Feeds Families, which grew out of a consumer research study conducted by Olson Communications. Among other things, the piece highlighted seven things consumers reported liking about their experience with Meal Assembly Centers:

NO MESS, QUICK AND EASY: In the MAC focus group, everyone loved two things: walking away from the mess and the time-saving of having the planning, shopping and prep done for them.

GOOD VALUE: They also approved of the fresh ingredients in their meals and that help was handy if they needed it. Overwhelmingly, they felt their MAC meals were a good value, cheaper than a restaurant meal and at least as healthful as one, if not more. Costs ranged from $3 to $4 per meal per person for 12 meals that serve four to six. Some outlets offer smaller-sized portions for two to three and charge proportionally less. Virtually all operations are happy to have customers split meals up between themselves.

INTERESTING DISHES: The MAC users enjoyed the new flavors in their dishes, which they described as having interesting flavors that were not overpowering or overly salty. This is seen as clearly superior to “speed scratch” alternatives, such as flavor packets from supermarkets. Favorites from the group included new tastes such as honey lime chicken, Caribbean pork chops and Moroccan chicken, which paired chicken breasts with couscous, almonds, raisins and mint. Comfort foods also were well received, with pizzas “as good as delivery and even quicker,” kielbasa sausage with potatoes and meatball sandwiches getting raves for being easy and tasting homemade.

FREEZING IS OK: No one had a problem with freezing their meals and did not feel it changed the meal quality. However, they realized the meals probably should be cooked within a month.

“MINE” AND WHAT THEY DID NOT SAY: An extremely important facet of MACs is that customers can customize their meals. According to one consumer, “I can control the fat and salt while I am assembling them.” And what they did not say, but what can be inferred, is that because of this, they feel that they are really cooking. All this assembling, heating and putting on plate at the dinner table is their version of “cooking.” Kitchen veterans would be more likely to call it “convenience cooking.” But today’s consumers consider it just as real as the scratch cooking done 50 years ago. The emotional satisfaction of bringing a meal to the family table is just as real a cooking experience for today’s families as cooking from scratch was for their grandmothers.

COMPARED TO HOME COOKING: When the group compared a MAC meal to their own scratch cooking, they said their MAC meals were more expensive (but worth it) and more interesting, though they suspected their home cooking was more healthful.

COMPARED TO GROCERIES AND DELIS: When the focus group was asked to compare MAC meals to a cooked entrée from a grocery store or deli, the participants felt their MAC meals were clearly superior on key counts. They appreciated knowing exactly what was in their MAC meals, which they felt were more healthful, better tasting, more interesting, fresher and better quality than prepared foods from the grocery store.

Lee Smith, Publisher of DELI BUSINESS, writing in her regular Publisher’s Insights column, pointed out that that Meal Assembly Centers are both an important phenomenon and a possible opportunity for food retailers:

Meal Assemble Centers are growing, and the reason they are growing is explained through a proprietary research project done by Olson Communications, headquartered in Chicago, IL. Getting in the game could be a real winner for retailers looking for something new that will differentiate them from the competition. Pay attention to this one.

The Pundit, writing in DELI BUSINESS, although urging experimentation at supermarkets, weighed in with a piece entitled Meal Assembly Delis, in which we expressed caution about the new phenomenon:

The problem is that we don’t yet know if MACs are viable. As the article points out, they are booming — but almost all are franchises, and the small footprint of most of these stores allows them to open easily in many locations. In addition, it is an easy concept to understand, and most people looking to start a business would find this concept accessible.

But are these stores earning an adequate return on capital?

Do the families that own them earn an acceptable wage for their work? We really have no idea.

Now comes word from the Piggly Wiggly Carolina Company and Dream Dinners — a Seattle-based Meal Assembly Center company founded in 2002, which expects to have more than 200 Dream Dinners locations around the country by early 2007 — that they are going to try placing some Meal Assembly Centers in-store:

Piggly Wiggly Carolina Company (Piggly Wiggly) announced today it has entered into a Licensing agreement with Dream Dinners, the pioneer of the fast-growing Family Meal Preparation industry. This marks the first Dream Dinners concept located within a grocery store — combining the art of family meal preparation directly with a grocery store chain.

The Dream Dinners concept helps busy families to create healthy, home cooked meals. The partnership with Piggly Wiggly offers customers better time efficiency with the availability to shop for additional items for each meal.

In addition, customers can pick up everyday items right there in the store — whether a dessert, flowers, wine, and much more.

The first Dream Dinners/Piggly Wiggly location will launch in early 2007 in Columbia, S.C., at the Forest Park location (4711-1 Forest Drive), and expansion is planned for multiple locations throughout Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“The partnership was a natural fit for Piggly Wiggly,” said Robert Masche, chief operating officer, Piggly Wiggly Carolina Company. “Whether our guests want to cook a meal from scratch, pick up a prepared Deli Meal-to-Go, or save time and assemble meals through Dream Dinners — now we can provide it all.”

When Dream Dinners was approached by Piggly Wiggly with this opportunity, co-founder Tina Kuna recalls, “We were thrilled. Our companies share the same vision to empower our guests to provide the best options for their families.”

“We are really excited that Piggly Wiggly customers will be able to experience first hand how Dream Dinners will make it easy for them to have a homemade dinner with their families,” added Dream Dinner co-founder Stephanie Allen.

To participate with Dream Dinners, shoppers begin by logging onto www.dreamdinners.com to schedule an appointment to prepare meals at a participating Piggly Wiggly. While online, guests have several menu options to choose from. Up to 14 dinners may be chosen, with the menu options changing monthly. At their scheduled time, guests go to the Dream Dinners section at Piggly Wiggly to prepare the meals using ingredients that have already been sliced, diced and chopped for easy assembly. The meals are then taken home and frozen, to be thawed and cooked as needed.

It is an exciting concept, and we wish both companies well in their efforts. The Olson Communications study did ask consumers how they would feel about such a concept in their supermarkets and it wasn’t favorable:

Consumers asked how they might feel about this kind of service from their favorite supermarket did not seem to think it would work. Reasons included the isolated physical space and sanitation requirements that made them feel comfortable in a meal assembly center.

However, Sharon also suggested three ways retailers might be able to respond to the Meal Assembly Center trend:

Here are few things to consider to respond to your time-starved customers’ needs for convenience, value and variety and to get your share of the meal solution business.

  • RE-ENGINEERED PHYSICAL SPACE — If you have space to run consumer cooking classes, think how easily some might become do-it-yourself dinner solutions with the introduction of some stainless steel prep tables on wheels.
  • CHEF-INSPIRED ETHNIC MEALS — If you have a chef or use local chefs as resources, think how you can take advantage of their expertise and ability to work with your customers. For example, your customers might enjoy taking home a week’s worth of Mediterranean fare they prepare in your store with your chef’s supervision.
  • SENSATIONAL SIDES — Fill the gap in what MACs do not offer — complete meal solutions with sides. Put together the entire package for your customers in the deli. Do not ask them to shop the entire store to pick up sides and salads to accompany their creation.

The Pundit thinks it is well worth an experiment but suspects that simply opening a Meal Assembly Center franchise in a store isn’t taking full advantage of a supermarket’s competitive edge.

For example, many Meal Assembly Centers often offer set menus every month and require advance ordering. You see in the release that Dream Dinners requires people to log in on a computer and order selections from a monthly menu from home. This is partly so the centers can buy and prep the food. Supermarkets offer the advantage of having all the food in the world right at the doorstep. They can support much wider menu options than free-standing stores.

Also, supermarkets have an incentive to keep people in the stores longer. One wonders if they could actually cook the food for consumers and blast freeze it while consumers do other shopping?

Certainly marketing and merchandising will be important. If a consumer signs up to make a particular entrée, selling that consumer appropriate beverages, side dishes, salads, bakery items, etc., could make the experience both superior for the consumer and profitable for the retailer.

One unspoken concern hanging over this concept is food safety. The FDA states:

Never leave seafood or other perishable food out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours — or, for more than 1 hour when temperatures are above 90° F. Bacteria that can cause illness grow quickly at warm temperatures (temperatures between 40° F and 140° F).

Although most of the items made have a “kill step” as they get cooked, inadequate cooking or cross-contamination in the kitchen could easily cause a problem if someone is driving across Dallas in the hot summer to pick up the kids at school, stop at the post office, etc.

These MAC stores are still run by small companies. Supermarkets, with access to food safety expertise, should look at this subject and consider requiring that product be taken from the store in insulated coolers with ice packs.

But if supermarkets keep it safe, keep it clean and innovate to take advantage of the supermarket’s unique resources, this may be an opportunity whose time has come.




Food Safety Leadership Awards

With all the work being done to enhance food safety in the industry, perhaps we can win some awards and show how much effort is going into these initiatives:

NSF International today announced the first call for nominations for its 2007 Food Safety Leadership Awards (FSLA) Program. As part of NSF’s ongoing public health and safety commitment, the annual awards program recognizes key individuals and organizations who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in foodservice safety.

Foodservice operators, manufacturers, researchers and members of academia may be nominated. The nominations are divided into six categories: technology breakthroughs, research advances, equipment design, product development, packaging innovation and systems improvements. Nominations for a special lifetime achievement award are also being accepted. Nominations will be accepted through Thursday, March 15, 2007.

The award winners will be announced at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, which will take place on May 19, 2007, Booth #3438 in Chicago, Illinois at McCormick Place Convention Center.

Nomination information is available at http://www.nsf.org/ business/newsroom/fs_awards_nomination.asp or by calling 800-NSF-MARK ext. 5627.

NSF staff will review nominations for each award category, and forward this information to each selection committee member. An independent expert committee will then evaluate all nominations. Organizations represented on the committee have included:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Food Safety & Toxicology Center at Michigan State University

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

National Restaurant Association Education Foundation

Institute of Food Technologists Foodservice Division

International Association for Food Protection

NSF International Council of Public Health Consultants

Association of Food & Drug Officials

International Food Safety Council

“The food safety leadership awards program continues to be a tremendous success,” said NSF Vice President William Fisher. “This is our fourth consecutive year honoring outstanding achievements in the foodservice industry. This year’s winners will join a group of leading food safety professionals who share in NSF’s ultimate commitment — to protect the consuming public.”

In 2006, the winners included:

Dr. Ranzell “Nick” Nickelson II, Chief Executive for Science & Health for Standard Meat Company/Cargill/CTI Foods, Lifetime Achievement in Research Advancements

Dr. Peter Snyder, Jr., President, Hospitality Institute of Technology & Management, Lifetime Achievement in Food Safety Education

Hormel Foodservice, Food Safety Leadership Award in Technology Breakthroughs

Maple Leaf Foods, Inc., Food Safety Leadership Award in Research Advances

H&K International, Food Safety Leadership Award in Equipment Design

Sodexho, Inc., Food Safety Leadership Award in Systems Improvement

You can get more information on the awards program right here.




Florida Corn Served During
Governor’s Inauguration

It was a bit cold as Charlie Crist was sworn in as Governor of the State of Florida on January 2, 2007.

But several hundred people were warmed up as the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association shucked, cooked and served up some hot sweet corn to attendees.

The corn was provided by Wilkinson-Cooper Produce of Belle Glade, and the culinary staff included Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association staffers Butch Calhoun, Alan Peirce, Danny Raulerson and Lisa Lochridge, along with volunteers from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson supports the “home team” sweet corn industry and the inauguration of a new governor for the State of Florida.

From left to right, Danny Raulerson, Director of Membership, Marketing and International Trade Division for FFVA, double teams with Alan Peirce, Regulatory Affairs Manager for FFVA, to make sure the corn is cooked just right.

From left to right, Butch Calhoun, Director of Government Affairs Division for the FFVA, reviews the progress being made by Danny Raulerson, Director of Membership, Marketing and International Trade Division for FFVA.




Pundit’s Mailbag — Farmers Are Not
The Cause Of Food Safety Problems

Weighing in our coverage of the spinach/E. coli 0157:H7 crisis and food safety issues in general is a gentleman who wishes to speak out on behalf of growers. In fact, he sees much of the trade’s food safety effort, which has focused heavily on revising the Good Agricultural Practices for growers to follow, as not being focused where he believes the problem really is — the processor level:

I have been in the middle of the spinach mess from the beginning and have successfully defended many of my clients (processors and farmers) in this debacle and many more recalls recently — it is not the farmer causing these problems.

Let me say it again, IT IS NOT THE FARMER CAUSING THESE PROBLEMS! The public, government and trade associations all are misled by a very expensive and well run PR effort by those who stand to lose the most money — the processors. The more they can shove the blame down hill to the farmer, the less they pay out in losses. Look at the losses they are facing — it is overwhelming. The US Mint does not have enough cash to pay their bill. Follow the money on this one, not the hog or cow standing in the field of green.

The farmer is expected to bring the product to the state-of-the-art, HACCP-certified, run like a Swiss watch, overly chlorinated, highly professionally trained personnel, highly publicized plant that cranks it out well advertised as “Ready to Eat”. What in this statement is the red flag? It is the plant! The problem is the plant, not the farmer.

You don’t need rocket science to figure this one out. The farmers would have killed us off years ago if they were at fault. It’s not that E.coli 0157:H7 is that much stronger, it’s that we are reading the “Ready-to-Eat” advertising and eating out of the bag. We are drinking the Kool-Aid!

Years ago as a kid growing up in San Jose, I would watch my Mother at the sink peeling the outer leaves off the head of iceberg lettuce and washing the core. Why? Because the farmer is not expected to clean it up. In our fast ready-to-eat society, we’ve lost along the way a lot of good ideas. Today, there is so much money in the lettuce business they don’t dare back off of the “Ready-to-Eat” advertising because our culture is so ready-to-eat-oriented that to add the washing step at the fast food restaurant or at home would be a marketing disaster.

I have clients that cringe at the ready-to-eat advertising. They either refuse to print it on the bags of lettuce or place a disclaimer on the back of the bag. Why? Because the brokers and super stores won’t buy it if it is not ready-to-eat.

However, it can be ready-to-eat. But it comes back to why the system failed not only in the spinach crisis but also many others. Look deep into the Taco Bell debacle and you will see the plants, restaurants and big taco corporation very much at fault. Not to mention they added a dimension to the produce industry’s problems by pulling the trigger early on green onions and then the lettuce.

We will never know where the contamination came from but bet me that the big taco corporation won’t take the blame. It all goes back to what I am calling “not watching the store”. It is not the farmer, as it is they who have the most to lose. What is so amazing is that as I watch Senate hearings, listen to technical review boards and other so-called experts on this crisis and the truly uninformed from the press that followed, no one, repeat, no one even dared to bring up the subject of management. Why?

Follow the buck. Who supports the trade association, the organic program, the government and so on? The big processors. Who makes the money — and a lot of it by the way? The big processors. And who pays the bills for all the big experts, the processors. The farmers don’t make it, especially the individual organic farmer. By the way, ask me some day to discuss what people are calling organics — Twinkies are more organic in my opinion, and healthier!

Inside the spinach and the other more recent debacles, you will find plants that lost track of the traceback of where the product came from, running out of chlorine to treat the water, using pool grade chlorine (not the good stuff), allowing spinach, which normally sits refrigerated for two hours before being washed and bagged, sitting for almost 5 days in many cases and not being rotated, left dirty, getting warm in field totes, turbidity issues that should have been taken care of routinely but allowed to remain in the wash system for days, little or no sanitation; the list goes on.

One little tiny cluster of bacteria can grow to tremendous colony counts in little time, and after days of sitting and then not being washed well, will grow to deadly levels. But why were these things allowed to happen in the state-of-the-art, HACCP certified, run like a Swiss watch, overly chlorinated, highly professionally trained personnel, highly publicized plant that cranks it out well advertised as “Ready to Eat”? BECAUSE SOMEONE GOT GREEDY — NO ONE WAS WATCHING THE STORE.

Take your pick which is the right answer, but both answers work equally well. How do I know these things? Because my company services many farmers and processors in this business, and we find mismanagement all the time. We will not work with a farmer or processor that provides lip service to food safety or indicates through their actions that they simply want our name on their product to sell it.

I have to take my hat off to those like George Boskovich, who hired my company years ago after they were wrongly implicated in the green onion crisis to turn his company upside down and find the problems and weak links again and again, day after day. Today, Boskovich Farms is one of the finest processors in the business because not only are they constantly challenging their systems but they also are not getting rich on it either. (By the way, they were doing a great job of food safety before the green onion crisis — another testament to their programs four years ago.)

Boskovich Farms is good, honest people doing their due diligence, as many others we service are also trying to do.

It’s not the farmer. Sure, there are some farmers out there that can do better but there are no new controls or technology to discover. Mother Nature has a great system and if we help her by testing well water, doing soil analysis and following label directions on inputs, then the product is delivered to the plant in great shape. Remember, the farmer is expected to bring dirty product to the processing plant.

For those who think composting is the culprit, it is not. It can be if not done correctly, but composting is not what is causing the problem. So you say, how did the E. coli get into the plant? Yes, it did come from the farm — where else could it have come from? Maybe someone not washing their hands but not to the degree that would sicken hundreds of people. But once again, the farmer is expected to bring it to the plant dirty. The plant is designed, let me say that again, the plant is designed to clean it up!

Our food safety programs are not broke and do not need more or different standards. They just need to be enforced beginning with the plant owners, managers and QA personnel. NOT THE FARMER, IT’S THE PROCESSING PLANT! Take composting out of the farm and you have taken away one of the most critical and important tools the farmer has — watch his production cost go up!

Removing composting is like asking the farmer to eliminate water. And kiss off the organic program. It rests on compost. When can compost be bad? If we don’t hold, test and release it after we manufacture it from manure and other materials. However, and again, the farmer is expected to bring it to the plant dirty.

And stop all this nonsense about E. coli being introduced into the stem or leaf of the lettuce. Nothing is farther from the truth. I have study upon study that disproves it and yes, there are studies that show it can be introduced into the plant. And you too would take E. coli into your blood stream if it was force fed into your veins. It does not take a rocket scientist again to figure this one out. If that were the case we would have all been dead long ago.

And, don’t think for a minute the sprout industry knows what they are doing. I am involved in that community, and they still have not figured out that food safety is the key to safe food; they seem to think nature takes care of food safety. Does nature prevent unwanted pregnancies? The government has it wrong (again) with seed soaking and not focusing on the tenants of food safety.

The sprout industry has some great people, but the vast majority are just lucky on outbreaks. My hat is off to people like Robin Taylor of Sun Grown Organic Distributors, who puts food safety above all things, especially his profit.

Someone needs to wake up and follow the money to find the problem and get this conversation off the backs of the farmer! Be a George Boskovich and do your due diligence.

— Karl Kolb Ph.D.
President and CEO
The High Sierra Group and the American Food Safety Institute, International

It is quite a letter and Karl makes several key claims:

  1. The basis for much of the growth in the fresh-cut salad industry, the claim that the product is “ready-to-eat” right out of the bag without further washing, is overstated based on the practices many processors have been following.
  2. Raw agricultural products should be expected to arrive at processing plants “dirty,” the processing plant is designed to “clean it up,” and E. coli is part of the “dirt” that should be expected.
  3. Processing plants can fail for many reasons. In some cases the issue is “someone got greedy” — or looked to cut costs at the expense of safety. In some cases “no one was watching the store.”
  4. Specific problems at processing plants include:
    1. Poor traceback mechanisms and records
    2. Running out of chlorine
    3. Using poor quality chlorine, such as pool grade
    4. Not promptly processing raw product
    5. Not rotating raw product
    6. Allowing product to sit getting warn in field totes
    7. Turbity issues, which are not promptly resolved
    8. Poor sanitation
  5. Many farmers and processors are not food safety-oriented and only want an audit or HACCP plan developed because they need it to sell their product.
  6. There are no new controls to discover that will be important. There are three things for growers to do, remembering that growers are expected to bring dirty product to a processing plant:
    1. Test the wate
    2. Perform soil analysis
    3. Follow label directions on inputs
  7. Composting is not the culprit but we must hold, test and only then release compost for use.
  8. E. coli does not enter the stem or leaf of lettuce except under certain laboratory conditions.
  9. Even after years of attention to food safety issues, most sprout producers are more lucky than food safety conscious and the government focus on seed soaking is misplaced.

In many ways Karl’s letter takes us back to the first letter we received on the spinach crisis. It came from Alan Siger of Consumers Produce Co. in Pittsburgh and focused on the fact that, disproportionately, it was fresh-cut produce that was the source of food safety outbreaks on fresh produce. Alan wrote us again to point out when the CDC came to the same conclusion.

If the problem is substantially a fresh-cut problem, then Karl’s focus on processors rather than growers seems compelling.

Karl’s core thesis — that growers are expected to deliver product to the plant “dirty” and then the plants are designed to clean it and make it safe — is both true and controversial at the same time.

Certainly plants have to be designed and operated on the assumption that dirty product, including bad things such as E. coli 0157: H7, might arrive on the produce.

At the same time most food safety experts seem to feel that at every stage of the food production and distribution pipeline, each actor needs to make strong efforts to deliver to the next stage the “cleanest” product possible. So, new rules involving things such as fencing to prevent intrusion of animals and establishing minimum distances from cows seem reasonable.

Several of the things Karl is talking about do seem to be quietly being done. During a Pundit interview with Natural Selection Foods, Samantha Cabaluma, Senior Director of Communications, mentioned some of the things they are doing on the processing end:

Our facility had top notch food safety manufacturing procedures in place before the outbreak. We are adding to that, increasing agitation in the wash line, boosting filtration in the water and the water testing. We also put in a different type of chlorine that may be stronger at killing pathogens.

Karl’s focus on processors is important because, completely aside from cause or fault, the industry has a lot better chance of solving the problem if it is something that can be implemented and enforced in a few hundred fresh-cut processing facilities located in identifiable places as opposed to in tens of thousands of farms located all over the country and around the world.

It brings us back to that first Alan Siger letter referenced above, in response to which the Pundit pointed out:

“…the only answer is that processing facilities have to assume that E. coli contamination is present and the processing has to be developed so that even if it is present on the crop, it can’t wind up in the bag.”




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Recap XXVI

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.

On January 3, 2007, we resumed our discussion of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative by publishing Publix and C.H. Robinson Join Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which brought the list of signatories to twenty-two:

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

We were particularly intrigued by the possibility that C.H. Robinson’s participation, as a major vendor to Wal-Mart, might mean that Wal-Mart saw some usefulness in being somewhat related to the initiative.

On January 4, 2007, we ran Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Maturing In More Ways Than One, that included the Buyer Group’s latest call for action.




Botulism And Carrot Juice
Summary XLIV

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 LIV

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.

On January 3, 2007, we ran Publix And C.H. Robinson Join Buyer-led Food Safety Initiativ,e which pointed out the growing buying power behind the initiative. You can read it here.

On January 4, 2007, we published Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Maturing In More Ways Than One, which detailed the latest letter written by the group. Read it here.

Also on January 4, 2007 we ran Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry — Ruby Tuesday’s Rick Johnson in which we heard frank talk about where food safety responsibility lies. Catch it here.

On January 5, 2007, we ran FDA’s Money Problem, which pointed out that funds for research are essential if we are ever to really resolve the trade’s food safety issues. Read the piece here. Also on January 5, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — More on Manure, in which we explained why manure needs to be banned from spinach cultivation. Catch it 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.

On January 3, 2007, we published Crisis Management which suggests that simply having a spokesperson is not sufficient, you need people who actually know to speak for you in a crisis. Read it here.

Also on January 3, 2007, we ran Pundit’s mailbag — Taco Bell & FDA’s Rush To Judgment, in which Cary Rubin of Rubin Brothers Produce Corp. objected to businesses and government when they speak out based on supposition. Catch it right here.

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

On January 5, 2007, we published From a Victim’s Perspective, and pointed out how continued consumer concern over produce may impact sales. Read the article here. Also on January 5, 2007, we ran Food Safety Culture which provided a link to a food safety video that included a terrific presentation by Frank Yiannas, Director of Safety & Health for Walt Disney World. The presentation focused on building a food safety culture. You can find the piece right here.

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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