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

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


email:
info@PerishablePundit.com

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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



UglyRipe Tomatoes Now Available
Year-Round

The Pundit has been writing about the saga regarding the UglyRipe brand tomato for over two years now. For example, in November of 2004, in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, we wrote:

A look at the UglyRipe makes it clear that the notion of cosmetic standards — the only criteria for grading tomatoes — is inapplicable to the UglyRipe. A top quality UglyRipe, one that should be classified a Number 1 UglyRipe, is doomed to grade, at best, as a Number 2 round tomato. This is no more sensible than it would be to demand Roma tomatoes meet that standard.

This is obvious to every retailer I’ve spoken to, so why doesn’t the Florida Tomato Committee accept that UglyRipe tomatoes are distinct from gassed-green round tomatoes and give them an exemption such as Roma tomatoes and cherry tomatoes have?

Now comes word that the UglyRipe is to be available year round:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has intervened in the national debate over the UglyRipe® tomato, freeing the heirloom beefsteak variety tomato from the shape restrictions imposed by the Florida Tomato Committee (FTC).

The tomato’s developer, Joe Procacci, had been at odds over the tomato with the FTC, a group of competing growers sanctioned by federal law. The FTC is empowered to determine all size and shape standards for tomatoes entering the U.S. market from mid-October to mid-June, the time of year when many Americans claim they’re unable to find a tasty tomato.

For the last three years, the FTC has found that the UglyRipe does not meet its rigorous standards, which are based on size and shape, but not taste. The FTC rejection meant that the tomatoes were prohibited for sale outside of the Florida growing region during the winter months.

The new USDA rule, published in today’s Federal Register, amends the Florida Tomato Marketing Order to exempt the UglyRipe from the shape portion of the USDA grade standards as long as the UglyRipe is grown, packed, and distributed under USDA’s Identity Preservation Program (IPP). The IPP uses the unique genetic fingerprint of a produce variety to assure that it is in fact the product claimed by its grower. The UglyRipe will still have to meet all of the other grade standards imposed under the marketing order.

The industry owes a big debt to Joe Procacci, not only for developing a tomato that addresses consumer complaints about tasteless fruit but for having the intestinal fortitude to stand up to a mostly very status quo-oriented industry. Joe Procacci is a living reminder that men are not meat… the more you pound them, the tougher they get.

Take a look at some of the comments the USDA received on this issue right here. You will find consumers praising the product and many retailers:

I am the tomato buyer for BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. BJ’s is a warehouse club operation similar to Costco and Sam’s. The consumer trend that we have noticed over the past couple of years has been towards a more taste-oriented tomato. We offer 11 different varieties of tomato SKUs for sale.

Sales of the traditional round greenhouse and field grown tomatoes have declined over the past couple of years while variety sales have increased tremendously. Sales of the UglyRipe tomato in particular have been very strong. Our customers are looking for that specific tomato and wish to purchase it year-round.

— Linda Kuchta
BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc.


I support giving an exemption to the Florida Tomato Commission rules that allow UglyRipe tomatoes to be marketed year round. They are a different tomato and shouldn’t fall victim to old rules for round tomatoes.

— Reggie Griffin
VP Produce & Floral
The Kroger Co
Cincinnati, Ohio


I am writing today to show my support and my company’s support in favor of the UglyRipe tomato’s exemption from the FTC rules. Please consider my request and its importance to making this specialty great-tasting tomato available to consumers outside of the state of Florida.

— Mark Malburg
Tomato Commodity Sales Manager
Kroger Co.
Blue Ash Service Center


On behalf of Schnuck Markets, a regional supermarket operator with 102 stores throughout the Midwest and Mid-South, I am writing to address an issue of interest and concern to our customers and company — namely, the “UglyRipe” tomato.

The UglyRipe tomato is an heirloom variety tomato. They look and taste like a homegrown tomato grown in your back yard. Our customers love them because they taste good. It is very difficult to find a tomato that tastes good at certain times of the year. The reason is that tomatoes do not hold up well when they travel from Florida, California etc., to St. Louis.

Joe Procacci, a produce pioneer, has developed this tomato that holds up and tastes good. It is grown in various regions but part of the season is grown in Florida. However, Florida agriculture will not allow it to leave the state because it is claimed to be “too wrinkled”. A Florida committee claims the tomato standards rule states that the UglyRipe must be as round as other Florida regular tomatoes before they can be shipped out of state. The round tomato is one that marks Florida’s good standard policy.

No. 1 tomatoes are firm, smooth-skinned, almost perfectly round.

No. 2 tomatoes are round, but only slightly rough.

No. 3 tomatoes are a bit misshapen and blemished.

We call these Florida tomatoes “cardboard” tomatoes. They look nice but have no flavor. I think this is a shame. It’s restraint of trade. Mr. Procacci grows a product that he should have the right to market wherever he wants to market them. Plus, our customers are not able to enjoy these tomatoes. The Florida Tomato Committee (FTC), which was established in 1955 under Federal Marketing Order No. 966, annually regulates the Florida fresh tomato industry South and East of the Suwannee River from October 15 through June 15. The Committee sets standards pertaining to the shape of round tomatoes that may be exported from Florida.

The UglyRipe has received an exemption from the grade standards during its first three seasons. However, the FTC has denied the exemption for the fourth season, saying the UglyRipe does not have the appropriate shape to meet the grade standards. The UglyRipes were prohibited from being shipped from Florida last winter and spring. We suffered a $2.8 million loss.

We feel it is a tremendous shame that The Florida Tomato Committee is preventing consumers nation wide from enjoying a tomato with a homegrown taste.

— Michael O’Brien
Vice President-Produce
Schnuck Markets, Inc.
St. Louis, Missouri


This message is in regards to the Ugly[Ripe] Tomatoes that have developed a following in our marketing area from New Jersey through Virginia. These tomatoes are the closest substitution for the back yard home grown tomatoes we grow as children. Our customer base enjoys the flavor and the “home grown” look of these tomatoes.

Please allow this great tasting, good eating tomato to be shipped from Florida so we can enjoy this tomato year round.

— Rich Robbins
SUPERVALU Produce Sales Team


ShopRite Supermarkets supports the proposed rule change which would permit UglyRipe tomatoes to be shipped from Florida year round. This is an excellent product which should not be denied to our consumers by rules such as apply.

Availability of UglyRipes will be good for Shoprite Supermarkets, but more important, will satisfy our consumers/citizens.

— Frank Rostan
Senior Vice President
ShopRite


I am writing to express Publix Super Markets, Inc.’s strong support for the proposed partial exemption of UglyRipe tomatoes from the shape requirements of the federal marketing order covering tomatoes grown in Florida (Marketing Order No. 966).

As a Florida-based company that works hard to promote Florida products, we have always believed that these great tomatoes should be available to all of our customers in our 5 operating states. There is a proven consumer demand for the UglyRipe tomato based in large part on its rich, “homegrown” flavor. But the shape restrictions of the current marketing order make it almost impossible to ship enough of the product to meet our customers’ needs. As a simple matter of consumer choice, it is our belief that the UglyRipe should be available year-round.

We strongly encourage AMS to implement the proposed rule partially exempting UglyRipe tomatoes from the shape restrictions of the federal marketing order. Allowing this Florida product to be shipped out of our state year-round is ultimately good for all involved from farm to fork.

— S. Randy Roberts
Director of Government Relations
Publix, Lakeland, Florida


I would like to take the opportunity to offer my support for the proposed rules change to the federal marketing order that would exempt UglyRipe Tomatoes from the shape restriction that currently exists for shipping tomatoes out of the state of Florida between October and June.

I feel this is the appropriate action for a couple of reasons:

The first is that it’s been our experience that consumers are interested in purchasing this product on a year-round basis. Providing consumers with those choices are important, and this exemption will allow retailers to offer this choice year round.

The second reason is that we also feel it’s good for the state of Florida to be able to give consumers the opportunity to add to their choices to purchase other products produced in that state. And we feel that it in no way would compromise existing product that is currently being offered. The UglyRipe Tomato is a compliment to existing product, not a deterrent.

We encourage AMS to implement their proposed rule change and allow the UglyRipe Tomato to be exempt from the shape restriction, and allow this product to be shipped out of state on a year round basis.

— Bruce T. Peterson, Jr.
Senior Vice president, General Merchandise Manager
Perishable Food
Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Arkansas


I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to comment on the year round availability of UglyRipe tomatoes for two years.

My name is Anthony Barbieri, and my position is the Director of Produce and Floral for Acme Markets, the leading retail chain in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Market.

We currently have 134 stores in 4 states, PA, NJ, DE and MD. The UglyRipe tomato has been tremendously received by our customers for one specific reason — TASTE.<

A loyal following has developed over the past few years, yet there is a MAJOR PROBLEM. We can’t sell the item during the winter months due to the fact the Florida Tomato Committee will not allow shipments out of the state. I have had to personally answer hundreds of customer complaints due to the unavailability, in addition to our store level personnel constantly fielding questions regarding why we don’t have the item in stock.

Quite frankly, the consuming public can’t understand the regulations regarding shape! Repeat purchases in our business are based on experience. The UglyRipe provides a terrific eating experience. In addition to being the Director of Produce at Acme Markets, I’m currently a member of the Board of Directors of the PMA (Produce Marketing Association).

What we at PMA are communicating to the industry is that future growth of produce consumption will be driven by taste. We must always strive to improve what we are delivering to the consuming public every day. By not allowing UglyRipes out of the state, the message going out by THE Leading Industry Association is being defeated.

I strongly urge you to bypass the shape regulation on UglyRipe Tomatoes and give the people what they want and deserve.

— Anthony Barbieri
Director of Produce and Floral
Acme Markets
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Pundit also thinks a tip of the hat is due to Robert Jay Taylor of Taylor & Fulton, who spoke up on behalf of the consumer and a progressive industry:

I wanted to write today in support of the proposed partial exemption. I am a member of the board of the Florida Tomato Committee and have been for many years. The UglyRipe is a new and innovative product that should be available to the consumer.

The Florida grower has lost market share at retail for years and must innovate or go out of business. The great lengths that the AgMart people have gone to comply with all the concerns of their regulators/competitors on the committee is testament to their commitment to our industry and their desire to survive in a very competitive industry.

— Robert Jay Taylor
Taylor & Fulton, Inc.
Palmetto, Florida

You can find comments from other tomato growers, the Florida Tomato Committee and other Florida officials all calling for the UglyRipe to be subject to the same cosmetic standards as other tomatoes. There are countless pages to read but the argument really boils down to an assertion that there is a legitimate governmental function served by allowing growers to restrict competition.<

With a plethora of new proprietary produce varieties in the future, it was obvious to the Pundit even two years ago that the system of allowing growers to restrict competition couldn’t stand:

“… the UglyRipe is closer to the beginning than the end of proprietary produce. Next year someone else will have some other variety and soon we will have all kinds of genetically modified varieties, many proprietary to a particular shipper.

The real lesson here is that the Florida Tomato Committee has accepted a role as a protector of the profits of gassed-green round tomatoes. The UglyRipe story, however it pans out, is the beginning of the end for the political support of such a purpose. If these organizations are to continue, they will have to reorient themselves as agents for the consumer.

Right now the Vidalia onion industry is studying pyruvic acid levels and its use as a taste marker in sweet onions. The Florida Department of Citrus has restricted shipments based on brix levels. This means that the use of cosmetic standards as a convenient means of volume control are nearing an end. It is a sea change in the trade.&rdquo

It looks like the sea change may arrive via a new USDA Identity Preservation Program. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Joe Procacci about the program:

Joe Procacci,
CEO of Procacci Brothers,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Q: How did you get an exemption from the minimum grade requirements under the marketing order for tomatoes grown in Florida to sell UglyRipe tomatoes outside the state?

A: It happened because of demand for the UglyRipes and because USDA set up the first-ever program where we could distinguish our tomatoes from any other tomatoes, and there wouldn’t be any misrepresentation.

USDA checks out where we get our seeds all the way through production to the end customer to verify it’s the tomato called UglyRipe. They can check our tomato through DNA testing.

Q: How costly is it to participate in the Identity Preservation Program?

A: We started working on this about a year and a half ago now, and the process is on-going and very expensive — $150,000 to $200,000 a year.

Q: The program seems ideally suited to specialty, proprietary products. Yet wouldn’t the cost factor limit some companies from participating?

A: I’m sure our competitors would jump on it if they had a product that could benefit from it. We are always looking to develop a better tasting tomato, and also new varieties to take to market. We have a research and development department where we employ four Ph.D.’s focused on this goal. Nearly 60 years in this business, I can still walk into the produce department and find tomatoes that taste like cardboard.

Q: What impact will the exemption have on total sales of UglyRipes?

A: We will be able to supply UglyRipe tomatoes coast to coast now in the winter time, which we weren’t able to do before. In the produce business it is pretty hard to be exact on sales estimates. We feel it will result in at least over 500 percent more business.

Q: Do you have any new marketing plans to capitalize on your newfound freedom to sell UglyRipes across the United States?

A: We’re considering marketing alternatives right now. One interesting direction we are exploring is the sale of UglyRipes over the Internet in online stores the way Harry & David’s sells pears. Restaurateurs and tomato aficionados will pay more to get product shipped to their door. The prospects are very promising. Currently, consumers could access this service through our Santa Sweets website.

A note from Geronimo Quinones, Marketing Specialist, USDA Ag Marketing Services, Fresh Products, Washington, D.C.:

Readers can access more information about the Identity Preservation Program by going to our website http://www.ams.usda.gov/fv/ipbv.htm. We’ve had some inquiries, but so far Santa Sweets is the first and only participant. UglyRipes weren’t able to meet the Florida marketing order with shape and smoothness requirements. The program allows us to positively identify these UglyRipe tomatoes so that imitations or fakes don’t fall through the cracks. The exemption was just approved on January 17. We expect more companies will use the program overtime.

One of the issues regarding the UglyRipe was how could Procacci make sure every tomato was an UglyRipe and not just a misshapen regular tomato. This program provides an answer. We can expect many items to benefit from a program that assures their true identity.




Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry:
Florida Tomato Committee’s Reggie Brown

The Florida Tomato Committee lost its battle to restrict sales of UglyRipe Brand tomatoes, but a more important long-term battle is to assure trade buyers and consumers safe product and, on that score, the industry is working hard to succeed.

This interview, conducted by Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott, is part of a continuing series highlighting food safety efforts made by regional groups such as the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and commodity-specific groups such as the California Strawberry Commission.

Reggie Brown, Manager,
Florida Tomato Committee
Executive Vice President,
Florida Tomato Exchange & Florida Tomato Growers Exchange
Maitland, Florida

Q: Could you put into context your latest industry food safety efforts?

A: A few years ago, FDA put an open letter out to various commodity groups, including those in the lettuce and greens business and the tomato industry, indicating concern and giving notice to the industry to address food safety problems. That’s what prompted the tomato industry to start the North American Tomato Trade Work Group, made up of members in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The group developed the first draft of a food safety program that we submitted to FDA about a year ago.

In Florida, we also started looking at a Federal Marketing Order to mandate a food safety program within the state. We had dialogue with FDA about the fact the original act formed in the 1940’s didn’t reference food safety. It’s been a bit of a struggle to get approval for food safety requirements through a marketing order.

The California industry was trying to pass a state law to get authority to regulate food safety in its state. That legislation passed in the state legislature in 2006, and was subsequently vetoed by the California governor.

Q: When that effort reached a dead end, what did you do?

A: When we discovered we couldn’t be successful with the marketing act, we in Florida proceeded to talk with Charles Bronson, the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, an authority in Florida state law for food safety regulations. He has the ability to implement food safety regulations for various products.

We approached him about the industry’s private and public effort to bring about a mandatory food safety program in Florida for tomatoes. We went into a full effort a year to a year-and-a-half ago. We’ve put together Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Best Manufacturing Practices (BMPs) for tomatoes in the state of Florida.

Q: Do growers follow those practices voluntarily?

A: We are on course to accomplish putting these practices in place on a mandated basis by state law by September 2007. As of September 2006, the industry is voluntarily complying with these regulations as we work for mandatory implementation.

Q: How did your recent food safety conference in Florida turn out, and are there plans for more meetings in the future?

A: We’re out on the edge of the knife and have been out there for quite some time. We worked with the FDA, as well as with other states, to put on a regional workshop in Florida in late November. We held the meeting in conjunction with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences (FAS) at the request of the FDA.

From that meeting, we are proceeding to work with the FDA, which is hosting a meeting in late February, bringing in the research community for tomatoes, to discuss what we know, don’t know, and the resources we need to fill the gaps. We’re trying to put industry regulatory groups and scientists together to move constructively to address legitimate issues.

Q: Are buyers invited?

A: Not at this point. Retailers and food service operators are not included. There was a limited cross section of retailers and re-packers in the North American Tomato Trade Work Group. Our regulation basically mirrors the product from that program. This is not a new wheel we’re inventing. We’re just trying to be sure we all have the same number of spokes on it.

Q: How do your efforts gel with the other food safety proposals currently being developed?

A: There are some questions relative to food safety. A significant amount of research is necessary to understand how the outbreaks happened and prevent them from reoccurring. That’s our goal.

The tomato industry has acted spiritedly to insure we are all aggressively engaged.

It all costs money. We need to avoid a lot of significant duplication on the research process. There is a limited amount of money out there and we need to focus on asking and answering our most pressing questions.

Our approach is to bring the entire industry under mandatory regulations and audits. The reality is that whether it’s a Florida tomato or one from New Jersey, Ohio or California, experience in the marketplace shows that foodborne illness linked to any tomato is an industry problem, not a regional one.

We’re trying to deal with the problem through science to minimize these occurrences. There have been occasional outbreaks with salmonella, relatively short in duration, but the attention with the press never dies. We are working on best traceability methods and improved food safety measures based on scientific research. This takes time. In the meantime, we must apply the best science we have to minimize the chance of outbreaks.

We’re moving forward to bring about mandated regulations. We encourage other states, industry organizations and foodservice groups to learn more about our efforts at http://www.floridatomatoes.org. In saying that, I don’t want to appear as though we think we have all the answers to the world’s food safety problems, but we want to open a dialogue.

Much appreciation to Reggie for speaking out and helping the industry to advance by letting us know all about the efforts being done to make tomatoes safe. Reggie makes several key points:

  1. In Florida they have not been able to use the Marketing Order for food safety purposes.
  2. They expect food safety requirements to be enforced by state law as of September 2007.
  3. Money is needed for research.
  4. They want every tomato producer covered. An outbreak anywhere is bad for anybody.

So much attention has been paid to fresh-cut spinach and lettuce, but the trade’s challenges don’t end there. Commodity by commodity, region by region, efforts must be made… efforts such as are being made with tomatoes.




Pundit’s Mailbag —
Auditor Qualification And Certification

One thing all the food safety proposals being discussed involve is the use of auditors. Our piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety Audits And Government Oversight dealt with the proposal to set up a new state-run audit function in California. Some readers thought this an excellent place to kick off a discussion on the subject of auditor qualification and certification:

Your “Food Safety Audits And Government Oversight” exchange with an auditor provides a good forum to start the much needed dialogue on the subject of audits and auditors. There are certainly pros and cons to discuss regarding private-sector vs. public-sector auditors. One key item that has been missing in the ongoing food safety discussions is who certifies the auditors?

Right now there is no governance structure and corresponding policies in place for issues such as quality assurance of auditor personnel and processes; and handling disputes between auditors and auditees. These are just two of the many issues that any quality accreditation systems would address. There are private-sector, public-sector and nonprofit/trade associate-sector examples of accreditation — the first issue is accreditation of auditors, the second issue is private-sector, public-sector and/or nonprofit/trade association entities conducting the audits.

— Jeff Dlott, Ph.D.
SureHarvest
Soquel, California

Jeff’s letter is incisive and raises a key point:

Right now there is no governance structure and corresponding policies in place for issues such as quality assurance of auditor personnel and processes; and handling disputes between auditors and auditees. These are just two of the many issues that any quality accreditation systems would address.

What we really need is two organizations: first something comparable to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), a national, professional organization for CPAs. Among its objectives:

CERTIFICATION AND LICENSING

Seeks the highest possible level of uniform certification and licensing standards and promotes and protects the CPA designation.

It was the founding of the AICPA that really helped create a true profession:

The AICPA was founded in 1887 and upon its creation, established Accountancy as a profession distinguished by rigorous educational requirements, high professional standards, a strict code of professional ethics, a licensing status, and a commitment to serving the public interest.

In addition, we need an organization similar to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, whose mission is as follows:

The mission of the Financial Accounting Standards Board is to establish and improve standards of financial accounting and reporting for the guidance and education of the public, including issuers, auditors, and users of financial information.

Now it is not that nobody has been thinking of this subject. In the very first letter of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, the buyers wrote:

The standardized requirements will be translated into standardized audit criteria and such audits could be performed by private and/or federal/state auditors. A certification program shall be in place to assure private auditors are calibrated and perform inspections/reviews in accordance to the established standards.

Yet this isn’t something produce associations can or should take on. First there is liability and that scares people off but, more importantly, why should produce vendors certify food safety auditors? They have no expertise in this area. It makes no sense.

In fact only a professional body, such as what the accountants have, makes sense for this rapidly growing profession.

Of course there would be legislative initiatives in each state to codify the professional standards much as there are laws preventing one from practicing medicine without a license.

Much appreciation to Jeff for reminding us that no standard that depends on auditing will be better than the auditors we have.




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative
Recap XXXI

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 XLIX

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 LIX

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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