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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
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Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
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Pundit’s Letter To The Signatories
Of The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative

Pundit Note: With the chance to review the Good Agricultural Practices for Spinach and Leafy greens draft document, it became obvious that there is work to be done. As a result, the Pundit has decided to issue an Open Letter to the signatories of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. You can find the letter below.

To the Signatories of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative:

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

Gentlemen:

For over three months, your work has been at the forefront of industry efforts to enhance produce safety and reduce the likelihood of consumers contracting foodborne illness.

The importance of your effort should not be understated. We have fielded countless calls from individual companies, state wide associations and from commodity-specific groups. Virtually without exception, it has been your initiative that they felt a need to address. They were far more concerned about what standards you, as their customers, would insist upon their meeting than they were with any document that the trade associations would produce or, even, some future prospect of government regulation.

Now, however, is the time to fish or cut bait. If published in anything approaching its present form, the draft document of the new Good Agricultural Practices for spinach and leafy greens — although an important advance for the industry in many ways — is likely to be severely attacked and thus unlikely to achieve your self-proclaimed goals of acting “…to protect public health and work toward restoring consumer and buyer confidence in fresh produce.”

We all acknowledge that we have imperfect knowledge of various pathogens and so, many choices have to be made with less scientific backing than we might prefer. In the absence of compelling scientific data, it is reasonable to look to past experience and those existing operations that have been spared from implication in the recent E. coli 0157:H7 outbreaks as a basis for industry standards.

It is notable that those implicated in recent outbreaks are not fly-by-night operators; they are respected organizations believed to have among the best food safety programs out there.

The fact that these programs failed lays out the enormity of the task for our industry. We cannot be satisfied with a program that brings the bottom half of the industry up to the current mean level of food safety program, as all those implicated were well above that mean, certainly in the top 20% in our industry.

So, if we really want to stop outbreaks, we must confront a staggeringly ambitious goal: To bring the bottom 99% of operators up to the current standard of the top 1% of the industry.

The draft of the GAPs for spinach and leafy greens are conceptual advances. The collaborators brilliantly developed a series of “Decision Trees” or detailed maps to guide growers, step by step, in determining the proper course of action. The collaborators also created certain minimum standards. These are, as you mentioned in your second letter, “…specific, measurable, and verifiable…”Surely the whole industry joins you in congratulating the associations and the drafters of these documents for these achievements.

Form, however, goes only so far. The substance of the GAPs matter, and the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative has a unique opportunity at this juncture to assert its influence, before these drafts are made final, by declaring that these GAPs will not be accepted and will be superseded by buyer demands for a more rigorous program unless three criteria are met:

  1. Since the goal is to bring the bottom 99% of the industry up to the top 1%, no GAP document is acceptable unless it incorporates the same minimum standards as those top operators. For example, in the USA Today article ‘Fresh Express leads the pack’ in produce safety, a sidebar was included that detailed a few of these minimums. Some are applicable for GAP documents and others apply to the soon-to-be-unveiled Good Manufacturing Practices documents.

This sidebar details specific elements of one of the world-class food safety programs:

SEED TO SUPERMARKET

Fresh Express, the No. 1 maker of packaged salads, is considered an industry leader in food safety. Fresh Express processes 1.2 billion pounds of raw lettuce and spinach a year. It buys lettuce and spinach from growers, who must meet certain standards.

— GROWING —

Fresh Express gets most of its product from California’s Salinas Valley. Fields and operations are inspected three times each crop cycle.

Fields

Fresh Express won’t accept produce from fields if:

  • They’re within one mile of a cattle feed lot or dairy operation. Cattle operations may cause E. coli to get into runoff water and onto a field, especially during floods.
  • They’ve been flooded within five years.
  • They’re within several hundred feet of a cattle pasture.
  • They’re within 150 yards of rivers, or habitat that attracts wildlife that may spread contaminants.
  • They catch water runoff from cattle pastures.

Water

In Salinas, Calif., well water irrigates fields and is drawn from aquifers 800 to 1,000 feet below ground.

  • Water is tested monthly for pathogens during the growing and harvesting season. Before the recent E. coli outbreak, water was tested at least three times a year.

Animals

Because animals can spread E. coli, tracks in a field make that part of the field unfit for harvest. Often, 30% to 40% is affected. Two years ago, Fresh Express stopped buying lettuce from Florida because growers couldn’t keep frogs out of the crop, which then had to be destroyed. To protect fields:

  • Rodent traps, checked daily, are set about 50 feet apart along the field’s edge. Carbide cannons, which sound like shotguns, are set off by timers to scare off birds.
  • Fences may be required to keep out deer, wild pigs, cattle and other animals. Evidence of wild pigs makes land unharvestable for two years.
  • Workers’ dogs are not allowed in fields or in trucks.

Fertilizing

  • Fresh Express prefers growers use cover crops to add organic matter. Crops such as wheat and barley are planted but plowed under before harvest.
  • Raw animal manure is banned because it may contain E. coli.
  • Composted animal manure is being phased out because of fear that bacteria may survive fermentation and heating.

— HARVESTING —

  • Spinach is typically harvested between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., when cooler temperatures help keep product fresh. Lettuce, which is hardier and is a bigger crop, is typically harvested in the morning and afternoon.
  • Iceberg lettuce workers cut lettuce from root. Outer leaves taken off. Core cut out. Each head is placed onto tray and a water jet sprays the cut area, where bacteria can cling.
  • Lettuce goes up a conveyor belt, is sprayed with chlorine-based solution for cleansing and goes into plastic-lined bins on truck. Plastic liners are used only once.

Workers

  • Workers must wear gloves, hairnets, aprons, long sleeves so that no skin touches produce.
  • Portable latrines with water for hand-washing must be within a 5-minute walk, or 1/4 mile, from workers. One latrine is needed for every 20 employees of each gender.

— COOLING —

  • Produce is trucked from the field to a cooling station.
  • Cooled to 34-38 degrees within four hours of being cut.

— SHIPPING TO PROCESS —

  • Produce is trucked from cooling stations to Fresh Express processing plants in Salinas, near Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta and Carrollton, Ga.
  • Trucks are cooled to 36 degrees and are swept and hosed down before loading.
  • Temperatures inside the trailer are monitored. If temperatures aren’t kept above 32 degrees and below 40 degrees, produce is discarded. Salinas Valley to Atlanta is the longest drive, about 66 hours.

— PROCESSING —

  • Iceberg lettuce is the largest-volume product. No hand, even gloved, touches the lettuce.

Safety measures

  • Workers wear gloves, gowns, hairnets and hard hats.
  • Gloved hands go through a hand-sanitizer rinse.
  • Trays filled with ammonia-based solutions are spaced throughout the plant so workers disinfect soles of shoes.
  • Packaged produce is washed and rinsed several times with chlorinated water, which the industry says removes 90% to 99% of microbes, including bacteria.

How iceberg lettuce is processed

  • Cut automatically. Drops into agitating chute with chlorinated wash water. Goes up conveyor belt where water drains off.
  • Drops into another agitating chute with chlorinated water. Sprayed with water from above.
  • Moves to another conveyor belt where produce is sprayed from above and water drains off.
  • Dried and bagged.

— SHIPPING TO CUSTOMERS —

  • Produce is on supermarket shelves within 24 to 72 hours of harvest.
  • Bagged salads, packed in boxes, go into trucks that have been swept and cooled to 36 degrees.
  • Trailer temperature is monitored throughout the drive. If temperatures aren’t kept above 32 degrees and below 40 degrees, produce is discarded.
  • Trucks are locked until unloaded at a customer’s distribution center.

Source: Fresh Express

Over and over again, we find that the draft GAP documents do not hold the industry to the same standards.

To take one example: Fresh Express requires at least one mile between a growing field and an animal feed lot. The draft GAPs suggest 500 feet and, even worse, say that “This distance may be either increased or decreased depending on risk and mitigation factors.”

This variable transforms the GAP into a difficult-to-enforce advisory. The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is in a position to say… First, that the standard should be at least the one-mile standard. Second this is a minimum, it can be increased due to findings in a HACCP analysis — but never decreased.

This position, that the Fresh Express standards must be adopted industry-wide as the new minimum, is the key opportunity for the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative.

  1. The rules are important, but creating mechanisms by which the rules are likely to be followed day in and day out is just as crucial. In the USA Today article, Jim Lugg from Fresh Express is quoted as follows:

    Before Fresh Express contracts to buy crops from growers, growers must complete a five-page questionnaire that details everything from the water used to irrigate crops to how growers keep birds off fields to whether worker toilets are cleaned by growers or service companies.

    “We prefer an outside company because we know the (toilets) are getting done, and the records are on the door,” says Lugg.


    Familiar as you all are with retail and foodservice operations, you know that the right policy is often not as important as the implementation plan. If in a retail produce department you want to make absolutely sure that everyone has a clean apron when they go out on the floor, you don’t hand them a “Decision Tree” to consult. You make the rule that every time an associate goes on the floor he has to put on a fresh, clean apron.

    Specific requirements that outside services be used or that internal resources be set up as a dedicated function with dedicated personnel are crucial to successful implementation. You can’t have a busy farmer with a thousand other things to do “promising” he will take care of cleaning latrines.
  2. We have learned from recent experience that these situations can be exacerbated by an inability to promptly trace back to source any problem. The draft GAPs have lots of references to the need to retain documents. This is essential but not sufficient. The documents must be retained electronically with backups kept automatically in case of fire, etc. In addition they must accessible 24/7/365. There can be no “looking for documents.” If the CDC or FDA were in any of your stores with suspect product, they should able to click a few buttons on a laptop or computer at the store and have access to full traceback information on that product. There are private companies such as ScoringAg.com that offer systems similar to this.

In any case gentlemen, this is your moment. Remember the industry had GAP documents on spinach and leafy greens before the recent outbreaks. They proved inadequate. What happened was they got watered down in the negotiation process. These draft GAPs, although stronger than the last document, show distinct evidence of also having been watered down.

They are draft documents, though, so now is the time for them to be changed. And you, gentlemen, are the people with the influence to see them changed. Remember it was well respected processors who were implicated in the recent outbreaks, so simply improving poor operations won’t solve our problem. We need to bring everyone up to the world-class level.

Let the associations know that you want the draft GAPs to 1) Impose minimum standards equal to that currently done by the top 1% operators such as Fresh Express, 2) Insist upon procedural requirements that determine people will use outside contractors in key instances such as latrine cleaning, unless they can substantiate a dedicated capability to do such work in-house, and 3) That all records required by the GAPs will be stored electronically and available via remote access 24/7/365.

None of this will be easy. The Fresh Express standards could take significant amounts of land out of ready-to-eat production for years in the event of a flood. In the absence of new information, though, the best option we have is to insist that all producers work to the standards we know are world class. Insisting on this is the best way to protect your customers, the consuming public. As it happens, you may be saving the industry as well.

Things are rushing toward completion with sub-optimal requirements. This is your moment to stand athwart history and yell “Stop” and make everyone re-look at these issues. An insistence on world-class standards now will save this industry much time, money and heartbreak later. It may save the life of one of your customers.

It will also mean that the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative will be known as one of the most consequential industry initiatives of all time.

Good luck and God speed.

Your friendly Pundit




Is There Collusion On
South African Citrus Prices?

This is, at least for now, a small story. We hope it will fade away.

Thursday morning our phone here at Pundit Central began ringing off the hook as the usual assortment that calls in on these stories started to call in.

There were friends of the Pundit who call to help us stay informed, competitors with things to gain, disgruntled employees, suppliers and customers.

The information they gave was simple:

Agents from the FBI office in Atlanta coordinated raids on both DNE and Seald-Sweet to remove documents and computer files from their offices while simultaneously showing up at the New Jersey office of Fisher Capespan with a subpoena for the company’s President. We are told that other citrus companies have also been asked for information.

Our callers claim that the focus of the investigation is alleged price collusion on South African citrus. Nobody has even been charged with any crime much less convicted.

Seald Sweet issued the following statement:

SEALD SWEET INTERNATIONAL COOPERATING
IN GOVERNMENT’S LOOK AT FRESH CITRUS INDUSTRY

Premium Citrus Supplier Continues to Provide Fresh Product to Customers

VERO BEACH, FLA. — Jan. 19, 2007 — As part of the Department of Justice’s preliminary investigation of the fresh citrus industry, Seald Sweet is cooperating in all respects with the Department’s request for information.

Seald Sweet’s operations continue to run normally; the company experienced a temporary impact in administrative functions yesterday only, as it complied with the Department’s request issued to Seald Sweet and other citrus companies on Jan. 18.

“We have communicated with our customers and growers that we continue to do business as usual,” said David Mixon, executive vice president of Seald Sweet. “The preliminary investigation will not affect our normal, ongoing relationships with our growers or our customers.”

“Seald Sweet has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing; there is no one company being singled out. At Seald Sweet we are cooperating with the Department in its investigation,” said Mayda Sotomayor-Kirk, executive vice president of Seald Sweet.

DNE issued a statement of its own:

Statement from Greg Nelson, President and CEO of DNE World Fruit Sales:

Yesterday, we were informed that the U.S. Department of Justice has initiated an investigation of alleged price-fixing within the citrus industry. DNE has cooperated and fully complied with all requests for information from the Justice Department. We know we have nothing to hide.

Now and always, we at DNE are committed to uphold the integrity and high business ethics set by our Company founder, Bernard A. Egan.

We apologize for any inconvenience which this disruption may have caused for you. Our sales and office operations are now back in high gear.

We were able to speak with Mark Hanks, Vice President, DNE World Fruit Sales:

We did get a visit from the FBI yesterday initiating investigation of alleged price fixing within the citrus industry.

The FBI met with me personally. It was the FBI group out of Atlanta. We talked and I believe they have a better understanding that this is a very competitive business. And in fact I emphasized that Sealed Sweet is one of our biggest competitors. It makes no sense that we would ever be collaborating on pricing. We’re all competing for customers and growers and the premise of the investigation is baseless.

We have no idea where this accusation arose, but we can only think its coming from someone thrown out of the deal or who can’t buy on a direct basis. We are cooperating fully and have fulfilled all FBI requests.

Since Bernie Egan founded this company, we have continued to uphold his integrity and high ethics. This has been very upsetting, and in the middle of our season caused disruption to our customers, Our company wasn’t functioning yesterday. It had to shut down, and phones weren’t working. Everyone had to step away from their computers. But I should say that the investigators were polite and it wasn’t intimidating. Unfortunately, we were on the five o’clock news. The T.V. station had a camera crew outside our door, reporting that the FBI was there all day. At least they let our company make a statement.

The FBI came to my home. I am an officer of the company, so they do these things to keep people separated during an investigation of this nature. The FBI got what they need and we’re all back in the office as usual today.

Andrew Southwood, vice president business development, Fisher Capespan spoke with us as well:

I can verify that the FBI did come to the offices in New Jersey looking for Mark Solomon, our president to serve a legal subpoena for information related to the price fixing investigation. Our president was up here in the Canadian office until late afternoon yesterday. I wasn’t party to what happened on the New Jersey side. Apparently two gentlemen arrived looking for the president of the company, and left the subpoena. That’s all. The company wasn’t raided. I understand a whole group of companies in the industry received the same treatment as we did. We’ve been doing business for years and years and we have nothing to hide.

At this point nobody knows what to make of all this. The word “raid” makes it seem worse than it is. The FBI shows up, removes people from their computers and, typically, the whole facility, to avoid destruction of documents or other evidence.

It is impossible to know if Fisher Capespan would have been raided if its headquarters were in the U.S. or what the end result of the investigation will be.

Off the record many of the companies spoke with us and several saw the hands of malicious competitors, etc. Hopefully they are right.

Still, one presumes the FBI doesn’t swoop down just because a competitor makes an allegation. There must be some threshold of evidence before they act.

Sometimes companies collude without everyone even knowing. An executive at one company can have an incentive to make his “deal” or “division” successful and others at the company are kept in the dark.

It is, however, a very serious matter. There was a price-fixing case regarding the Lysine Market and certain Archer Daniels Midland Co. executives were found guilty and the company pleaded guilty to a criminal felony and paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, legal expenses, settlements and damages.

The story is what it is. An investigation is ongoing. Maybe it will turn out to all be a big mistake. Maybe not.

For that we will have to wait and see.




Triumph For United…And The
Industry At Large

When United Fresh announced that it was going to offer a new Executive Development Program in partnership with Cornell University, the Pundit was supportive but concerned:

The Pundit wishes United every good fortune. No produce industry function has ever succeeded in selling itself for this price. If it succeeds it will, without a doubt, be a symbol that the produce industry has reached a new level of sophistication.

Now comes word that the program is completely sold out. This is great news for United and gives testimony to the fact that this isn’t your father’s produce industry.

A willingness to invest time and money on this scale toward executive education wouldn’t have existed just a few years ago.

It bodes well for the future of the trade and of United.

Now it is up to Professor Ed McLaughlin and his team at Cornell to deliver the kind of program that will keep selling out year after year. We have no doubt the good professor will come through with flying colors.

They are taking wait list names here.




Cheaper Produce In Chinatown

A hat tip to Matthew Caito of Imagination Farms and Caito Foods for sending over this audio piece from NPR, entitled Chinatown Vendors Ripe for Bargains. The thesis is that consumers can get produce significantly less expensively if they purchase in local Chinatowns:

Mr. JEFFREY RUHALTER: I shop there all the time. Anytime I pass, tomatoes, three pounds for a dollar.

CHOW: Jeffrey Ruhalter works as a butcher a few blocks away. He also runs a wholesale produce business.

Mr. RUHALTER: I’ve been paying almost 75 cents a pound when I buy it wholesale. They have it three pounds for a dollar. Do I understand it? Not in your life.

Why is the produce so inexpensive?

Ms. WEI TRAN LAN IP (Produce Customer, Chinatown): (Foreign language spoken)

Wei Tran Lan Ip is eyeing the fruit at one of her favorite stores in Chinatown. For $6.50 she gets three pounds of bananas, eight oranges, a bunch of celery and two papayas. That same list of items costs $15 at a nearby supermarket chain.

Ip’s friend and colleague Lana Chung translates.

Ms. LANA CHUNG: (Translating) I buy my food every day because it’s much fresher.

CHOW: Outdoor stalls and small grocers sell most of the produce in this part of town, and they do a surprising amount of business, drawing out the same customers every day.

Ms. CHUNG: Chinese people… they always believe that if a fresh vegetable and food is (unintelligible) put into the refrigerator, it will taste much, much better at the street.

CHOW: It turns out this shopping pattern is what drives cheaper prices in Chinatown. Because when Chung says fresh, she also means ripe. And for wholesale distributors, ripe means stuff that’s about to go bad.

They quote some produce wholesalers explaining the situation:

Frank Chambri sells to grocery stores in New York and to Chinatown vendors.

Mr. FRANK CHAMBRI (Produce Distributor): A riper product is definitely worth less money, and people who buy today to eat today can buy a riper product.

CHOW: Supermarkets that sell to people who shop once a week will pay more money for fruits and vegetables that have additional shelf life. They also have to deal with higher labor costs, rent and transportation. All of this adds to the cost of the tomatoes on their shelves.

Steven Katzman is the president of wholesale distributor S. Katzman. He says Chinatown vendors can sell cheaply precisely because they sell a lot.

Mr. STEVEN KATZMAN (President, S. Katzman Produce): They’re volume customers. They’re still an ethnic group that does do a lot of cooking. They sit down and have a dinner, where, you know, instead of fast food. If you go back to cultures that still have a family dinner, they’re the people who are buying it, and if they’re buying in volume, they’re buying it for less. They’ll fight for the money.

An interesting little piece. It doesn’t only apply to Chinatown. Many years ago, Dick Spezzano took us to see a Tianguis Mexican-themed store and pointed out a big display of tomatoes that were too ripe to be sold in a Vons but perfect for making Salsa.

The story is a good reminder that the biggest don’t necessarily get the best prices. It is the ones who can be flexible enough to buy the good deals that get the best prices.

Listen to the NPR piece right here:




Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry:
Beef Industry Food Safety Council’s
James “Bo” Reagan

The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is endorsed by a substantial number of important buying organizations. The current signatories are 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

This initiative is driving a great deal of food safety activity across the produce trade and in its most recent letter, the group identified an organization outside the produce industry that was doing what it wanted to see done in produce. Here is an excerpt from the Buyer letter:

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.

Yet most in the produce industry know little if anything about BIFSCO.

What is it? How did it come about? How does it help the beef industry? To learn more, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out what we could about the organization and its relevancy to enhancing food safety in the produce industry:

James “Bo” Reagan, Ph.D.,
Chairman of the
Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCO),
Centennial, Colorado.

Dr. Bo Reagan was instrumental in establishing BIFSCO, which is recognized internationally for its role in leading the beef industry in the safety arena and reducing the chance of foodborne pathogens entering the food system. As the produce industry grapples with a host of food safety issues in the aftermath of the spinach E. coli crisis, there is much to learn from the beef industry.

With aggressive food safety agendas, industry executives such as Tim York have pointed to BIFSCO as an ideal model for the produce industry to emulate in formulating new standards. “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.”

Bo’s fervor for food safety goes way back. Growing up on a cattle and sheep operation in Lampasas, Texas, he received his BS, MS and Ph.D. in Animal Science/Meat Science at Texas A&M University. Bo served a 16-year tenure at the University of Georgia (UGA), where he attained the rank of Professor of Meat Science in the Department of Animal Sciences. He has authored or co-authored more than 125 scientific publications in the areas of food microbiology and beef and pork quality, and he has won many awards for his work.

In 1991, Bo joined the National Live Stock & Meat Board as a Director of Research in areas of product enhancement and beef safety. He served as staff coordinator for the industry’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, which was charged with developing an industry blueprint for addressing the issues associated with E. coli 0157:H7.

Following the merger, Bo was named Executive Director of Science & Technology for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, where he instigated development of BIFSCO and now chairs. He has served as the Executive Director and Co-Leader for NCBA’s Center for Research and Technical Services, and in December 2002, was named Vice President of the NCBA Research and Knowledge Management Center, where he oversees the national research programs in beef safety, market research, product technology and human nutrition research.

Q: How did BIFSCO come about?

A: It was part of a long building process. In 1992, when I worked for the National Livestock and Meat Board, we were partnering with a number of packers, testing the use of organic acid rinses, citric acid, acidic acid, and lactic acids. If we sprayed the carcass with one of these three acids would it make it more difficult for pathogens to attach? Also, if bacteria was present, would it reduce the amount? We discovered that taking these steps did have an impact. We were seeking a venue to talk about innovative technologies and new protocols to improve food safety.

Not long after this, the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak shook the industry. It sickened hundreds of people and we lost four children. [The outbreak was linked to adulterated hamburger patties manufactured and sold to the fast food chain by one of its suppliers. Litigation stemming from the outbreak took years and tens of millions of dollars to resolve.]

Our board came together with the need to address this issue and do it fast, forming a blue ribbon task force to attack the E. coli problem, appointing me to lead it. We identified 12 industry experts in research science areas that joined the panel. We met every month and examined every sector, pre-harvest, post-harvest, processing, retail, foodservice with those knowledgeable in the E. coli pathogen.

Several things became clear. We didn’t know a heck of a lot about E. coli 0157:H7 and the way it spread. In each of these sectors, we made a list of areas we needed to examine, questions demanding answers. If we were to build an industry research program to address E. coli in the grinding sector, the packing sector and so on, we’d have to construct a blueprint for a targeted investigation and analysis the next three to four years down the road. We started the food safety council and research funding efforts.

Q: How is the program funded?

A: At that time, we presented our research plan to the industry in order to receive available funding through the beef check off program, which was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. It assesses $1 per head of cattle sold in the U.S., in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. State beef councils collect the dollar per head of cattle and retain control of 50 cents of every dollar, and the remainder goes to national programs in promotion, research, education and communication.

In fall of 1993, United States beef producers started investing $2 million specifically to research E. coli. That’s how we started rolling in food safety research and expanding our knowledge base. About 80 percent of all research in the safety arena is done through check off dollars used at the industry level. The majority of interventions have involved beef check off dollars. In my experience as a university professor and researcher, there’s not a program around that can compare to the beef check off program. It is very well accepted by the government.

In 1996, The National Livestock and Meat Board, which worked with the check off dollars, merged with the National Cattleman Association, the policy office and lobbying arm, to form the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Over the years at NCBA, we’ve worked with over 65 institutions, including 20 to 30 universities, not only in safety, but incorporating marketing, nutrition and other areas as well. In time, safety research has broadened. Not every dollar goes to examining E. coli, but normally investments involve the study of pathogens, salmonella applies as well.

Q: What had been happening in terms of food outbreaks? Was there relative calm in the marketplace since the Jack in the Box scare?

A: There was a period of two or three years where E. coli problems went away. Then in the summer of 1997, Hudson Foods got pummeled by a major recall of some 25 million pounds of beef when hamburger product was found to be contaminated with potentially deadly E. coli. All that plant operation did was process ground beef.

In those days at the grinding plant, operators grinding at different points during the day would rework patties that didn’t form right and run them back through the system again.

Regulations today break that chain. So if the plant runs eight lots a day and there’s a problem with lot one, it doesn’t mean the operator has to condemn every lot that day. Hudson Foods carried work one day to the next and got into a huge mess. The beef processing plant shut down. We were digging into that, which kicked off BIFSCO.

At the same time, the Japanese were concerned plants in the Midwest carried dangerous pathogens.

Chuck Schroeder, our CEO, had been Nebraska’s Commissioner of Agriculture. Governor Ben Nelson called Chuck and said NCBA needed to take the lead and pull the industry back together. The two of us went on a plane to meet with Governor Nelson and talk about this issue with representatives from the packing industry. We coined the term BIFSCO, officially launching the organization in 1997 and meeting a couple of times a year.

BIFSCO was rocking along. Then in 2002 all that changed with another E. coli outbreak resulting in Con Agra’s massive recall of 18 million pounds of beef. Controversy ignited when reports questioned the government’s delayed response from the time meat inspectors discovered the contaminated hamburger to when USDA issued the recall. When that happened, we decided we needed to reinvigorate BIFSCO.

Q: And how did you go about it? Shaking up established ways isn’t easy, not to mention getting everyone on board.

A: We were very concerned that our industry was in deep trouble. It really dawned on us that if we were going to be successful in addressing issues, we had to be non-competitive and share information. In January 2003 we held an invitation only summit in San Antonio, Texas, to deal with E. coli.

Q: Invitation only? Sounds secretive and exclusive. Couldn’t that approach fuel skepticism from the outside world?

A: We made the decision to go behind closed doors as a big family without the press or regulatory agencies there, so that people could roll up their sleeves and feel comfortable to be completely open in sharing information to get to the crux of the problem. It was no longer about holding back knowledge or protecting proprietary food safety strategies to gain the competitive edge. People finally realized that no matter which company had the problem, we all had the problem.

Everyone within the industry — producers, cow feed operators, slaughterers, grinders, processors, retailers, foodservice people — all the way from the gate to plate were involved. What came out of that meeting was a pledge to do everything we can to produce the safest product in the world. Everyone signed it and walked out of that meeting with a pledge card and a message to promote. A majority of people still carry that card as a symbol of the acceptance to share all our food safety information.

Q: So where did that pledge take the industry?

A: We developed strict best practices for each sector. On our website you can click on retail, foodservice, pre-harvest, grinders, and others to find a list of food safety guidelines used to promote the safest product possible. If you go to each of those sectors, influential and respected industry players are identified as point people you can reach out to and call if you’re trying to implement a program, or have an issue or problem. For the program to work, you have to develop trust amongst each other, be open and go beyond the doors of your own plant.

We also come together each spring at a food safety summit to share what we’ve learned, and update the guidelines for each of these sectors. Our group assesses our tremendous research program and reevaluates how we should invest dollars. BIFSCO plays a huge role in identifying research and putting money behind those recommendations. Well over $23 million in beef check off dollars has been invested since 1993. In addition, each one of those 34 or 35 major packing plants has invested close to $20 million in state of the art facilities that continue to evolve. Other sectors have made significant investments as well. As we develop interventions, we’re putting them to work.

Q: How prevalent is buyer participation in these efforts?

A: We do have buyers participating at BIFSCO, but not at the same level. Retailers belong to FMI and set up their own guidelines and best practices. From the early stages, retailers and foodservice operators have not been as active in BIFSCO as in other organizations. We are really reaching out to these folks. A big effort by BIFSCO is now underway. The only way to reach food safety goals is to have every sector of the chain involved. Safety of product is no better than your weakest link. It doesn’t matter how good a job the producer, job feeder, grinder or packer does, if something happens to impede the safety of the product once it passes to the next sector.

Q: Are industry and government standards compatible?

A: The government standards are based on our research. We have more data than the government has. What we’ve done is critical to success. We work with the government very closely. Whenever we do research, we discuss with government officials possible interventions. We say, “This is what we want to look at and target. Do you see any holes?” We want to share data and receive input. The government realizes quality work and understands the industry is behind these efforts. If people are pulling in different directions, you can’t get anything accomplished. You have to build those relationships.

Q: Many of the issues you describe parallel what the produce industry is going through now.

A: When the leafy greens industry had a meeting in California, we shared our information. The produce industry in a lot of respects is where we were in 1993. We didn’t have the investments needed in research, or the necessary interventions in place. We’ve offered to share all our knowledge with the produce industry. And we are looking at setting up a meeting to give tours of processing plants and recommended sampling programs.

Q: There is much discussion in our industry about the costs and benefits of sampling finished product before it is shipped.

A: Sampling product is where a lot of people get hung up. You have to have check points, but move up to where product flows at critical entry points. You have to find out where pathogens are coming into the system. We’re also huge believers that there is no silver bullet. A lot of people have tried irradiation. It’s a tool and part of the process to control pathogen issues, but you need it as part of the solution.

Q: Industry executives are now discussing the concept of banning cow manure in certain growing processes all together to dramatically inhibit the chance of E. coli from entering into the production areas in the first place. Another argument is that cattle ranchers need to take a bigger burden of responsibility in containing livestock and looking to minimize antibiotics that may create pathogenic immunities.

A: E.coli is a common pathogen in all ruminant animals, cattle, goats, deer. Look at chicken and salmonella. I tell people the reasons chickens don’t have E. coli is because the salmonella kills it. Ninety-eight percent of pork contains another pathogen.

In reality, most creatures have some type of organisms associated with these types of pathogens. There has to be shared responsibility. If you’re a cattle producer, you need to have those animals confined so they are not roaming spinach fields. If you’re a spinach producer, you need food safety guidelines. The fences were fine for cattle it was the wild boors that surfaced as the problem in the spinach outbreak. I’ve heard arguments from some growers that issues with endangered species prevented them from putting up fences.

As far as the cow manure is concerned, it is the responsibility of the owners of those fields. If they are going to use animal manure, they need to implement processes of composting to make that product sterile. There are no issues with it then. That needs to be in the guidelines. The produce industry is funding research on composting.

Q: As you look back on how far the beef industry has come in food safety, what would you consider the largest roadblocks to progress?

A: Is BIFSCO perfect, no we still have issues. The big challenge is pulling the industry together and creating consensus for change. You can’t have finger-pointing. Everyone has a role to play and until people realize that, you can’t have food safety success.

Recruit people that may initially have doubts by demonstrating common interests. Costco came to us and shared their best practices they use in their operations, and that was the basis of our best practices for ground beef. Some wanted to sell best practices. We didn’t think this was a good idea. The goal is to make food safety accessible.

We looked at industry decisions upfront, knowing we had to target the squeeze points in the industry. There are 750,000 cattle producers, 50,000 feed lots, 30,000 packing plants harvesting. Then you have the retailers and foodservice operations. It’s a no brainer. With limited dollars, you put into affect the food safety measures at the critical control points where you move the greatest number of products. You focus on the 35 major plants that harvest at least 89 percent of all cattle.

In the produce industry, you go back to the processor and look at the percentage of product run through 15 processing operations. You put in interventions. If all you’re doing is washing with chlorine, you need to upgrade food safety measures so they are more fail proof. Look for the areas of biggest impact then move back toward the grower. You’re in a time crunch where you need to focus on the squeeze points where you affect the greatest amount of product.

Q: In conclusion, what words could you leave us with to help the industry move forward?

A: Take the beef industry’s knowledge of E. coli and the lessons we’ve learned and look where you could apply them in produce. Doing so won’t answer all your problems but would give you a leg up. We are glad to have people call us. We want to help reduce instances of foodborne pathogens. We are all in this together.

We know we speak for the produce industry when we say THANK YOU to Bo for giving up his valuable time to speak with us and for his generous offer to share BIFSCO’s research knowledge and other lessons learned. It is an example of comity in the service of safety that we all need to keep in mind.

Particularly interesting is Bo’s suggestion to the produce trade to focus on the processing plants. After the initial focus on growing practices more and more voices in the produce industry — as we noted both here and here — are coming to the same conclusion.

In some ways, particularly the lack of science regarding E. coli 0157:H7, the beef industry when it started BIFSCO was in a similar situation to the produce industry today.

Yet the differences shine through as well. One is money. We have no mandatory assessment in the produce industry. No equivalent of the $1 per head of cattle that can be used to fund the effort.

The reason we don’t have it speaks to another difference: All cattle producers have a lot in common. Produce growers, raising wildly different crops in wildly different places, much less so.

The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is important in no small part because it is the buyers that create the produce industry. If, tomorrow, every buyer decided to split fruits and vegetables with separate VPs and buying and merchandising staffs, the industry would instantly bifurcate.

The buyers see everyone in the business as their produce supply chain, but it surely is not missed on citrus growers that all these food safety problems have been on spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions and melons. They may feel that these crops should pay for their own food safety needs.

Even with differences noted, there is a lot to learn from this initiative, and the produce trade will be studying it closely. Thanks again to Bo Reagan, the staff of BIFSCO and the entire beef industry for sharing its expertise and experience so generously.




Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety Audits
And Government Oversight

We received a letter from a third-party auditor warning of a problem with the way the proposed California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Agreement and Marketing Order are structured:

My, and others’, biggest complaint with regards to the MA and MO for leafy vegetable crops is that there is no mechanism for forcing competitive pressure on the entities that obtain the funds. Providing “captured dollars” corrupts even the best intended firm, association, commission or agency. The fear of losing those funds for lack of performance or results is a healthy corrective force.

If the MO and MA provide a mechanism for funds to be redistributed back to growers and/or handlers (eliminate the centralized or unilateral decision making) and allowing the hiring and firing of the third party auditing firms by growers and/or handlers, then possibly some degree of duplication could be avoided.

There will be more than one buyer who questions the idea that the government is “here to help”. If we need a predictive model, simply study the beef industry. Its use of USDA inspectors on a 24/7/365 basis has neither eliminated nor reduced the number of private third-party audits.

Unfortunately the MA appears to provide CDFA with the ability to form its own auditing entity while also being the sole administrator. CDFA and USDA-AMS have a long history of expanding internal capabilities without regards to efficiencies. Each, like other government agencies, views the source of failure as a function of the under funding, not the lack of performance.

Getting as much of the MA and MO funding into the hands of folks that can be fired is the surest way of increasing the potential for the program’s success.

Getting an agency to administer a system that is responsive and adaptive to changes will be difficult. Allowing individual handlers or growers of leafy greens the option of selecting service providers under a program administrated by a “higher authority” would provide the credibility desired but maintain some of the benefits normally provided with services left to the “market.

A more carefully prepared MA, one that provides for “market” corrections for human and institutional failings, might actually be of benefit to the industry.

The Pundit was intrigued by this idea and asked a question:

Are you suggesting that the portion of the fee that is collected by the MA or MO should be a kind of voucher to be used with any certified or approved auditing body?

Our correspondent answered quickly:

In short, yes.

There will not be a single audit (e.g., observe EurepGap program and the multiplication of individual audits that have been added, etc.), but there could be a core audit that is critical for satisfying certain objectives (e.g., no audit performed in the United States should ever fail to cover the issues addressed by the FDA guidelines, and/or the new laws that will inevitably be passed in the near future, etc.).

There will be auditing firms that attempt to be recognized by the largest number of buyers or controlling entities (e.g., commissions, government, etc.). Their incentive is to maintain recognition and drive cost out of the system or increase their profits. Their competitors will force the cost to drop.

A logical approach is to force the service providers to attempt to satisfy the largest number of parties demanding some type of review (e.g., private buyers, government, commission, etc.). That will not occur under a program controlled by CDFA or USDA-AMS or any other commission, organization, private firm, etc., that has control of “captive dollars”.

Providing the audit or on-site review will be the most costly part of this effort. To amortize the cost of these visits the industry requires service providers capable of credibly balancing many different interests. On one side, growers and shippers that want an easy-inexpensive audit; on another a controlling authority that must confirm credibility; on a third, buyers will be looking for that little extra, etc.

It will happen if private firms are attempting to increase their value to their customers (e.g., European buyers, foodservice — high end to low end — grocery retailers, etc.).

We have all been here before… we just have to take human nature into account.

Our correspondent makes several key points:

  1. A government monopoly loses incentives to keep costs down and service up.
  2. In all likelihood this new audit will just be a base audit — with most major buyers demanding special audits. A private company is likely to be far better able to do the base audit and then add on to it — the Costco audit, the Wal-Mart audit, the Tesco audit, the Aldi audit, the Darden audit, the McDonald’s audit, etc. Dealing with all these auditors is a big expense and substantial inconvenience for suppliers. A system that can reduce this expense and inconvenience is much to be preferred.
  3. He adds a twist to these very valid arguments by saying that we could still keep the auditing mandatory and paid for through an assessment but give people a voucher to use with any “certified” auditor.

The Pundit adds another point: Food safety people who know what they are doing are tough to find and expensive. A government monopoly is likely to wind up understaffed and with unqualified people. As we learned in the Hunts Point scandal, government employees are also not immune to corruption.

Obviously as an auditor, our letter-writer has his own interests at stake when the government is talking about going into the business — but the points our correspondent make are reasonable. We shouldn’t set up a massive new government bureaucracy without more careful consideration of the point and of other possibilities.




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative
Recap XXX

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 XLVIII

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 LVIII

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 Initiative, 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.

On January 9, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Farmers Are Not The Cause Of Food Safety Problems, which contained an important letter pointing out that farmers are expected to deliver “dirty” product to processors. You can read it here.

On January 10, 2007, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Oversights In Food Safety, which featured an important letter from Tom Russell of Dynasty Farms/Pacific International Marketing calling for a ban on the use of cow manure in agriculture and a “Right to Irradiate” bill. You can read the piece here.

On January 11, 2007, we ran E-coli 0157:H7 Vaccine Approved For Use In Canada, which related to efforts to stop E. coli 0157:H7 before it can hit the produce fields. Read it here.

Also on January 11, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Arguing For Irradiation, which included a letter from Mark Beeler of Watsonville Produce pointing out that we need a “kill step” if the goal is to stop outbreaks. You can find it 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 MailbagTaco 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.

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.

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

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