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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Culture Clashes At Wal-Mart

In Perishables, the big news at Wal-Mart has been the departure of first Bob DiPiazza at Sam’s Club and, more recently, the departure of Bruce Peterson. Every departure of an individual has its own story behind it, as Dick Spezzano pointed out in the letter he sent us regarding DiPiazza’s departure.

Yet no man is an island, and so each individual’s story also plays out within a broader context. And in the consumer media, the departure of Julie Roehm made big news:

It isn’t often that the dismissal of a mid-level executive makes national news. But Julie Roehm is no ordinary executive. Before joining Wal-Mart, Roehm, 36, earned an edgy reputation as director of marketing communications at Chrysler Group (DCX). There she famously agreed to sponsor an alternative half-time Super Bowl show. It was jokingly called the Lingerie Bowl and featured scantily clad models. After protests, Chrysler backed away. Given her colorful career, Roehm’s hiring by one of America’s most colorless companies always struck friends and industry insiders as odd. And few were surprised when Roehm and Wal-Mart parted ways.

Roehm was dismissed; she didn’t retire or resign. It looks like there will be litigation over various allegations of impropriety on her part. But there is a subtext to everything that is going on:

As Roehm tells it, hers is a cautionary tale of what happens when a self-described change agent goes to work for a company that needs to reinvent itself but can’t. In Wal-Mart’s case, she says, the concept of “Everyday Low Prices” was so deeply embedded that the retailer’s ambition of getting upscale shoppers to buy more was a nonstarter. Roehm acknowledges mistakes, among them moving too quickly and not adapting to her new workplace. But she also paints a picture of warring fiefdoms and a passive-aggressive culture that was hostile to outsiders. Wal-Mart, she says “would rather have had a painkiller [than] taken the vitamin of change.” What has she learned? “The importance of culture. It can’t be underestimated.”

I think she actually means that the importance of culture can’t be overestimated. Which is both true and an odd thing for a marketing executive to have to “learn” by being fired.

Wal-Mart invested substantially to woo Ms. Roehm:

Roehm and her husband, Michael, who looks after their two boys, age 5 and 8, wondered about moving from suburban Detroit to Bentonville. The pace was going to be a lot slower in Arkansas. In the end, opportunity nixed the negatives. Wal-Mart was promising to continue paying the mortgage on the Detroit home until she sold it, and Roehm’s compensation wasn’t half bad: a base salary of $325,000, a signing bonus of $250,000, plus restricted stock of about $300,000, stock options valued at approximately $500,000, and an annual performance bonus of up to $400,000.

Yet she seemed to go out of her way to denigrate the Wal-Mart culture and the people who believe in it:

Wal-Mart headquarters, with its windowless offices and gray walls, was hardly inspiring for a woman unafraid of a little color. One of the first things Roehm did was paint her office chartreuse with chocolate-brown trim. That may have been her first mistake — and it’s revealing that Wal-Mart, in its response to Roehm’s suit, says she is free to collect “a step ladder and paint supplies” left behind after she was dismissed.

Being a “change agent” is always a sticky wicket. To effectuate change in a large organization, you need to persuade, and it is difficult to persuade if you are perceived as an outsider.

One temptation is to be quiet and listen for a while, blend in. Yet there is always the possibility that one will get co-opted, blinded by the group-think common in large organizations. This argues for speaking out fast and hitting the ground running.

Yet “change agents” have various situations to deal with. If one is brought in to turn around a company hemorrhaging money, sliding toward imminent bankruptcy, the mandate for change is likely to be strong. But Wal-Mart is growing, profitable and prosperous — just not as successful as some would like. This means there is a lot to lose.

So Julie Roehm’s dismissal of the culture at Wal-Mart is a kind of arrogance. How is she so certain that when the culture is destroyed, the new culture will produce better results?

Yet, Ms. Roehm’s chartreuse walls and the news reports of her riding in Ferraris aren’t really the point. The real point is that no “change agent” can operate effectively from a mid-level marketing postion. Only the CEO can make that kind of cultural shift happen.

If Lee Scott believes that a cultural shift is needed, then he has to buy the Ferrari, and if he doesn’t, no executive shift will make the cultural shift happen.

It is unclear what Lee Scott wants. He seemed to be pushing for substantive change, then backtracked. Yet the people making the key personnel decisions are the people whose policies he is backtracking from.

A lot of good merchants are leaving Wal-Mart. Each has his own reasons. But on some level, there is also the question of what the CEO really wants and what is really valued by the company.

One executive still at Wal-Mart told the Pundit he wasn’t certain how long he would stay. He said: “I only know how to sell stuff and make money doing it. I’m not sure anyone cares about that anymore around here.”

That is a cultural shift of epochal proportions.




Blunt Talk On Organics In The UK

January saw a sudden outbreak of blunt talk regarding organics in the United Kingdom. First David Miliband, the environment secretary, did an interview with The Sunday Times, and the story came out this way:

ORGANIC food may be no better for you than mass-produced farm food, according to the cabinet minister responsible for the industry.

David Miliband, the environment secretary, says organic produce, which is usually more expensive, is a “lifestyle choice” with no hard evidence that it is healthier.

His comments will be a blow to the organic food industry, which is pressing for government recognition of what it describes as the nutritional and environmental benefits of its produce.

Sales of organic food jumped by 30% last year, with the industry now worth £1.6 billion. A growing number of shoppers believe that it tastes better and is safer.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Miliband said: “It’s only 4% of total farm produce, not 40%, and I would not want to say that 96% of our farm produce is inferior because it’s not organic.”

He insisted that ordinary food should not be thought of as “second best”, although he described the rise of organics as “exciting.”

On nutritional benefits, the minister said: “It’s a lifestyle choice that people can make. There isn’t any conclusive evidence either way.”

He is a politician and backtracked a bit when the predictable uproar among the predictable parties occurred after the interview was published.

Perhaps even more significant, Egon Ronay, a prominent food critic in the U.K., has spoken out on the same subject:

ONE of the country’s most respected food critics has called on the government to provide clearer information about organic food.

Egon Ronay said shops and producers were profiting from public confusion about the issues surrounding organic produce.

He questioned the way organic goods were marketed, stating there is no scientific proof they are healthier….

He told the BBC: “The public has no clear idea what organic food is. We’re being conned and I think the minister ought to be pinned down and ought to be challenged to spell out in terms that the public can clearly understand what is organic food.”

The focus of Ronay’s critique of shops and producers is a different focus than previous critiques of various organic advocacy groups.

There are many fortunes being made now in the organic world. In fact, part of the story of the spinach/E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak is how desperately many wanted to protect the reputation of organic product.

Ten years ago, that would have been for ideological reasons. Now it is for financial reasons.




Prize For Best GAP Idea Rises To $1,000

Here at the Pundit, we unveiled the draft Good Agricultural Practices in conjunction with an offer of an honorarium in the amount of $500 for the best suggestion to improve the draft GAP document. Now, although it has an April 25, 2006 cover date, there actually is an updated version of the draft GAP document available, and you can see it here.

We are upping the honorarium to $1,000 because we need more help: The new draft, although more rigorous in some instances — recommending 30 feet from the edge of a crop instead of 20 feet for distances to grazing land, homes and other such things — is also weaker. It calls for 400-foot distances to “concentrated animal feeding operations” and “composting operations,” etc., whereas the earlier draft called for 500 feet.

One problem with the draft GAP document is that it retains this phrase:

proximal Safe Distance — this distance may be either increased or decreased depending on risk and mitigation factors.

It reads to the Pundit as if the authors are using the word proximal in its medical sense. The National Cancer Institute defines it this way:

In medicine, refers to a part of the body that is closer to the center of the body than another part. For example, the knee is proximal to the toes. The opposite is distal.

So they are saying that this is some kind of center of the range and that you can then add or reduce the distance as a result of risk and mitigating factors.

The problem with this way of thinking is that this kind of variable standard is precisely the complaint regarding the current GAP documents, which are unenforceable because they treat each field individually. It is impossible to walk in and say, “This guy is in violation,” without first doing a HACCP study.

We all understand that under certain circumstances, core food safety measures need to be increased. But there should be a minimum standard that is easy to enforce.

The current document will not build regulatory and consumer confidence because it doesn’t allow for easy verification of adherence to minimum standards.

Besides, it is going to be a tough battle to convince consumers that the industry is really serious about food safety if we don’t insist on food safety standards for ready-to-eat produce at least as high as those used by Fresh Express, the largest producer of ready-to-eat salads.

We’ve printed those standards before, but it is worth printing them again. They were revealed to the public in a USA Today article entitled ‘Fresh Express leads the pack in produce safety.’ A sidebar detailed a few of these minimum standards. Some are applicable for GAP documents and others apply to the soon-to-be-unveiled Good Manufacturing Practices documents.

Take a look at these standards:

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

We’ve been talking to food safety experts around the world. Just got off the phone with one in Dubai and, universally, they say Fresh Express’ standards are pretty comprehensive. We would recommend just adopting the standards as minimums for ready-to-eat product. If the drafters of these GAP standards are unwilling to do so, they should at least feel compelled to justify why these standards are excessive.

It’s best to answer the question now. The alternative is to wait and let the consumer media, Congress and regulatory bodies ask the same question later.




Pundit’s Mailbag — A European Provides
Food For Thought In 2007

As we prepare to make our visit to Fruit Logistica in Berlin, it seems fitting to share a letter from a European subscriber who wrote to us once before and always has something interesting to say:

Did you realize that the Pundit has some very loyal readers (Achilles De Naeyer and Andre Vermaak) in the desert of Namibia — and they immediately contacted me at the end of last year when they read Pundit’s Mailbag — Fair-Trade From A European Perspective. They had just finished packing their grape harvest in record time and were intrigued by the discussion brought about by the Pundit’s discussion of the The Economist article, “Good Food.”

I again must congratulate you for launching a long overdue product. There is nothing wrong with all the daily news recaps, but I yearn for in-depth analysis, for discussions about our topics, which not only stimulate our intellects, but which also bring nuances into debates, and which hopefully lead to more practical solutions. Too often I find that we live in a shallow world (even in our small microscopic fresh produce industry) of “sound bites” and too often we get sucked into “debates” which only allow for “black or white” positions.

Maybe it is the “Zeitgeist,” but our industry is too small to not work together on industry issues. I applaud the U.S. industry, their associations for their mostly professional handling of the recent food safety scares in the USA. And I applaud you for keeping the real issues on the front burner, for being the “watchdog” and for handing out “yellow cards” to those who need it.

We have been dealing with food safety as well here, and rather intensively and intensely in Germany for the past 12 months, “thanks” to Greenpeace. They issued a report November of 2005 (www.greenpeace.org), and accused virtually all German retailers of selling “poison produce”, i.e., fresh produce with excess maximum residue levels (MRL), and thus putting the health of the population in serious jeopardy. By naming and shaming the retailers by first and last name, they managed to get their attention. And it has opened the floodgates. The surreal part of the debate is that in Europe not a single consumer has died due to excess MRL in fresh produce.

But the consumer perceives (!) it to be a real risk, and as you and I know, perception has a habit of becoming reality… During this past year, the discounters (Aldi and Lidl leading the pack) have responded to the criticism. They now have set arbitrary levels of what they accept in terms of maximum residue levels. These range from 33-50% of the legal limits applicable in Germany.

Which prompts the next debate: the harmonization of the MRL across the EU-25. That is reportedly to be happening by mid-2008, but in my opinion this thought is as much a utopia as you flying to the moon tomorrow. Current regulations practically mean that one product “safe” in Holland, may not be that in Germany… So in order to comply with all 25 member states, you’d have to test your product for each country, which is like taking a driving test in every U.S. state before being allowed to drive cross country. Welcome to our “single” market in the EU…

The bottom line is that today we have to test goods on pesticides at source (for “positive test release”) as well as upon receipt in port in Europe. Being certified for EurepGAP, Ethical Trading Initiative, IFS, BRC etc,. is a prerequisite for being allowed into the door (there, as well, one can debate if we should not have ONE global scheme), but if your product exceeds on MRL, then the door to the largest movers of fresh produce (discounters) in Europe’s largest market is effectively closed … That also explains the surging demand for “Fairtrade” and “Organic” produce during 2006. But you need to wonder whether the growth has been a true surge in demand, or a mere “lip service” to the Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to relieve PR pressure.

I personally think “The Economist” has contributed a healthy and fresh perspective to the debate. The point is that Food Safety is much more complex than we all think. But above all, food has not been this safe ever before and one needs to retain some “common sense” (for a healthy dose of that read “Don’t hold back on your leafy greens” by John Gapper, Financial Times 18.12.06, page 13 comment (www.ft.com): “For all those who frequent e.g. Taco Bell on a regular basis: should your concern be to fall ill due to E. coli, or should you be more concerned about the nutritional value of the enchilada going into your stomach…” The only certainty in life is that we all will die and until then we need to take responsibility for our own actions.

For our industry in Europe, Food Safety (in its broadest sense) will remain key, followed closely by all “green” and “social” issues, such as carbon credits and in the process making our operations carbon neutral, or by convincing our truck operators to convert to biofuels (On our farm in Namibia, we have planted the jathropha seeds for example to render our farm energy self-sufficient within the next 5 years). Furthermore, by making our packaging long term biodegradable and so on.

In essence, in many areas the organic and fair trade will flow into the conventional arena. Also you will see niches within niches developing — e.g., operators defining their “own” fair trade schemes — in Namibia, for example, we have been living fair trade as a way of life. And now retailers are looking into putting back some profits into their own schemes (Waitrose in the UK is doing some exciting stuff in this area) to bring the faces of “their” growers in contact with “their” consumers.

This is thus a tremendously complicated issue, but one as well that will give us a whole range of exciting new opportunities. We need the professionalism of our industry to take away the perceived fear and risk of food safety and deliver not only really safe (as much as humanly possible) but also change the perception and get out of our defensive position.

Once the fear factor has been minimized, then we need to draw the attention of the consumer to the wonderful benefits of eating fresh produce, delve into the issue of functional food, and find a way to communicate truthfully and objectively the specific health benefits of eating berries, pineapples and kiwis.

As for the “green” and “social” issues, we have a moral obligation to our children and their children to get into action now, regardless of the fresh produce we sell. We need to bear in mind that growers around the world need to have a living to produce what we want. And we need to protect our planet in the process. There is no rocket science involved here: just common sense and respect for people and planet. But that is only my personal opinion.

Anyway, there is more than enough food for thought in 2007, and I would hope the Pundit will go global, because the issues you address are global, and we need global perspectives to help solve local problems. In this era, no one should be forced to reinvent the wheel anymore.

In this sense, I wish you a wonderful 2007 and may it be a year the Pundit reaches new and global heights.

Kind regards from an “overseas” subscriber.

— Marc De Naeyer
Managing Partner
TROFI
The Netherlands

Many thanks to Marc for sharing his thoughts and for his kind words about the Pundit. We are proud to have readers in over 100 countries now and look forward to meeting many new readers at Fruit Logistica.

We think Marc’s comment about the Zeitgeist is apropos in more ways than one. It is nice to have a good German word to repeat while in Berlin, and this good German word speaks to an atmosphere, a climate … as the dictionary says: the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.

Many food industry advocates find issues such as food safety, organics and fair trade difficult to discuss because it seems not to matter what they say. That is because what often matters is the Zeitgeist, the general feeling as to what is right and what is wrong with the world.

This is difficult to fight with particulars; it involves engaging in the great intellectual battles of our time. The Pundit spends a great deal of time speaking with academics and journalists because the battle is ultimately fought in their field.

What farmers in Salinas will ultimately be compelled to do is determined by people far afield from the produce trade, so we cannot be indifferent to the opinions of thought-leaders.

And as our correspondent points out: Thoughts travel easily across borders and oceans, and you can’t change the Zeitgeist without being willing to take on the world.

Thanks again to Marc and to our other readers across the globe. We need your ideas and your knowledge to make this a truly global community.




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative
Recap XXXVIX

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 Efforton 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 Groupand 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, Wegmans 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 LVII

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 LXVII

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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