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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



A Paradigm Shift For Citrus

An expert in the citrus industry sent us these thoughts about a potential sea change in the western citrus deal:

I can see a paradigm shift coming to the whole California and Arizona citrus industry.

points to Consider:

  1. Sunkist has lost roughly 25% of its volume with the exit of Paramount.[Editor’s Note: See Sunkist Wake-up Call? here.]
  2. Bee Sweet was added to make up some of the volume but now they have left Sunkist [Editor’s Note: See Bee Sweet Departure Adds To Sunkist Woes here.]
  3. Sunkist has lost a $16 million lawsuit to Stark Packing.
  4. paramount is waiting in the wings with another lawsuit at least as large.
  5. At least 50 percent loss of orange revenue due to the freeze. Usually Sunkist is shipping around 1 million boxes per week of navels, and word has it that they might do 350,000 a week for the same period this year.
  6. Charter ship to Japan from Lauritzen-Cool agreement stops. Now Sunkist will have to fight for this important market on more even ground. [Editor’s Note: See Another Blow To Sunkist here.]
  7. Few meaningful steps have been taken to reduce expenses and in some areas they cannot be reduced. Per unit sales expenses will go through the roof, which could drive more growers away.
  8. The freeze was bad enough, but Sunkist panicked and put its prices far too high, and the market came crashing back because demand ‘stopped’. Also the panic has attracted excess Spanish, Egyptian, Moroccan fruit to Eastern Canada, and Chinese navels to Western Canada. Thank God there were not enough oranges that could meet USDA protocols from Spain or the USA would have been inundated as well. There is going to be a shortage, but not until April or May.
  9. Not being privy to inside numbers we can only estimate, however, this may add up to as much as a $50 million hit to Sunkist against retained earnings of perhaps $70 million.
  10. Interesting, if Paramount, Bee Sweet, and say Booth Ranches combined their volume of navels, they would be bigger than Sunkist in that item.

The paradigm shift may be so dramatic that Sunkist as we have known it simply can’t continue. A dramatic change is necessary to compete in this new environment.

Big events can have big and long term consequences. This freeze may be the ‘global warning scenario’ for Sunkist — you cannot go back. We will see.

Many thanks for this pointed letter. The situation reminds us of a solution that Jeff Garguilo, then CEO of Sunkist, floated some years ago.

We didn’t want to put Jeff on the spot so we didn’t call him to ask but if memory serves Jeff suggested that Sunkist should just ‘shut down’ and set up a quality control company and license the Sunkist brand to ‘anyone and everyone’ who is willing to pack to a set quality standard, and collect royalties. Possibly, like a franchise, Sunkist could do an assessment for marketing the brand.

Although a horrified board didn’t want to go near the plan, it actually reminds us a lot of what Sunkist has done in the Southern Hemisphere in the LLC that Rick Eastes had built up.

These growers and packers in Australia and South Africa are not members of the co-op, nor are the exporters from these countries. They basically get quality specifications and pay Sunkist a royalty.

The return on equity is thus very high.

We are not certain if this is the right approach. Possibly a public offering of an operating company might do better for the growers.

What the ten points in this letter do indicate is that the system is under severe stress and something big has to happen.

Hopefully it is going to be both big and for the better.




Marketing Board Make-up Causes Concern

Yesterday we ran California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board which listed the thirteen initial appointees to this board.

Whereas prior to the announcement we heard from many looking for a more diverse board in terms of scientific knowledge and consumer advocacy, now that the names are out we’ve been hearing complaints all day that the grower has been shortchanged.

Although the companies listed may be substantial growers, the individuals selected are heavily weighted toward top management, finance and marketing.

A.G. Kawamura, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, made the appointments. Although he is well liked, he made this decision without articulating a reason.

Many of the people on the board are captains of the industry, so it is not a question of if they will do good job or not. But many seem to feel like the selections were made by company name and, maybe, a lot of grower names don’t have the same prominence.

It is growers who will have to implement this, so some voices at the table are merited.




Raw Milk And Dirty Produce:
Perfect Together

As the produce industry spends what will wind up to be billions on enhanced food safety it is worth noting that there is a whole movement afoot to allow consumers to expose themselves to food safety risks.

Raw, unpasteurized milk is generally restricted and often illegal to sell. And for good reason. As a Washington Post story explains:

The Food and Drug Administration, which banned interstate sales of raw milk in 1987, has likened drinking unpasteurized milk to “playing Russian roulette with your health.”

Pasteurization, federal and state health officials say, kills bacteria that in some cases could cause life-threatening diseases.

But some proponents seem willing to take the risk:

Proponents describe raw milk as an elixir with almost magical properties. With anecdotal testimony, enthusiasts say it has eased arthritis, prevented such ailments as tooth decay and scurvy, and successfully treated a host of diseases.

In fact proponents have their own theories about why sale is often restricted:

“There’s a big push for raw milk from parents whose children have health problems like autism, asthma and failure to thrive,” said Fallon, founder of Weston A. Price Foundation, a natural-foods advocacy group that has spearheaded much of the raw milk lobbying. The prevailing theory in her camp is that proponents are facing an organized effort against raw milk driven by the country’s massive dairy industry.

“The real concern is not health at all, it’s economic,” Fallon said. “Raw milk has a fantastic way of reviving small farms, sustaining them. They don’t want that.”

Health officials are agog:

It is a notion that Elkin from the Maryland health department calls ridiculous. “There’s a large body of scientific evidence for pasteurizing milk,” he said. “There’s a reason for it — to kill pathogens.”

The raw milk advocates are trying a new technique to get around laws which, generally speaking, restrict the sale of raw milk, not its consumption. They sell “shares” in an individual cow, the farmer feeds and boards the animal and the “shareholders” get raw milk as a dividend.

The article was prompted because a farmer is suing Maryland which clarified a regulation to ban the cow-share practice as a ruse to sell raw milk, which it is.

You can read the whole piece right here.

We just think it is interesting that everyone assumes that people are so risk adverse that the whole produce industry must be turned upside down, and then you read about the risks many are prepared to take to have raw milk. Wonder if anyone is going to start a club to eat only fresh, unwashed produce pulled right from the field? They say exposure to dirt may help children build immunities.




Organic, BioFach And The Iron Triangle

The largest organic trade show in the world is BioFach which just kicked off in Nuremberg, Germany.

Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development, opened the conference with a talk entitled, Organic Production: The Right Ground Rules for a Growing Sector.

There were a few key items in the speech:

First an announcement of a plan to promote organics, with a focus on the environmental benefits:

We have also been preparing a vigorous campaign to promote organic farming and products in the European Union. The crucial importance of this is clear from the fact that it constitutes the first point in our Action Plan.

The campaign will target a range of groups throughout the European Union — individual consumers, canteens in public institutions, schools, and all key players of the food supply chain.

The central message will be that organic farming holds enormous potential benefits, especially with regard to the environment. We will make sure that these groups know what organic products are — instead of having vague, perhaps contradictory ideas — and that organic labelling actually means something to them.

The campaign will not replace existing national promotion programmes, but complement and support them. It will also introduce a particular tool for co-ordination: a new website, available in all European Union languages. This will present news on organic food and farming; it will contain a toolbox of promotion measures; and it will provide links to national sites with promotion programmes.

I expect to be able to launch the campaign before summer this year.

Second, she explained a plan to ease imports of organic products, particularly from countries without strong organic standards:

Most recently, following agreement by European Union agriculture ministers last December, we have improved the rules for importing organic products. The changes are good news for overseas suppliers, because they make the import process much easier to manage.

We still allow “organic” imports from third countries which have organic standards and a control system officially recognized as equivalent to ours. But from now on, in third countries which are not on this list, we will also accept authorizations from inspection bodies approved by us.

In time, this will free suppliers in “non-approved” third countries from the burdensome obligation of applying to individual European Union Member States for temporary certificates.

Third, she proposed a mandatory EU logo for organics produced within the Union:

…it would be valuable to introduce a mandatory EU logo for all organic goods produced in the European Union. This logo should also be available to all imported products, which comply with the EU standards and control system. Last but not least, the logo would always be combined with an indication of whether the product had been produced inside the Union, outside it, or both.

This is about clarity for the consumer. All organic products on sale in the Union meet certain standards, and the consumer must see this clearly — only then can the Single Market work smoothly.

Nevertheless, under the provisional new general approach, national and private logos would still be permitted, in addition to the EU logo.

The speech reminded us of the many scholars that have posited the existence of an iron triangle connecting a regulated industry, the key congressional committees or subcommittees, and the agency in charge of the regulated industry.

Theodore Lowi, a long time professor of government at Cornell argued in his famous book, The End of Liberalism that interest groups corrupt democracy and prevent the implementation of fair and appropriate public policy.

Ms. Boel’s speech had some interesting points in it, but the overall tone is not that she is representing the people of Europe and is cognizant that she is dealing with an industry with its own financial interests, and that part of her job is to safeguard the hard-earned tax money of these citizens. Instead she sounded more like the head of a trade association, paid to promote the industry.

It is somewhat unseemly and really quite dangerous for the future of democracy.

You can read the speech here.




Pundit’s Mailbag — Rutgers Response

Our piece Consumer Studies On Spinach Reviewed…And Costco’s Proactive Approach brought a response from the fine people at Rutgers, who sponsored and authored one of the studies referenced in the article:

We appreciate your calling attention to our national survey regarding the recent recall of spinach potentially contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7. However, we wish to correct a few misperceptions likely to have arisen as the result of your comments. In particular, we believe that a more careful reading of the report would clarify the issues you raised in your commentary.

For example, in the beginning of our report we clarify the reasons that we purposely chose to use the term “recall” rather than “advisory” when speaking with consumers. As we point out, one of the important distinguishing characteristics of this incident was that the FDA initially advised consumers not to eat any fresh spinach, regardless of where it was grown or packaged. Thus, this advice went beyond the recall of specific brands or packages of spinach. However, while we (and your audience) are very clear about the distinctions between advisories and recalls, much of the public is not. Therefore, in our survey, we needed to balance the precision of the term “advisory” with the greater familiarity of the term “recall.”

In choosing which word to use, we conducted a search of the terms used in relevant news stories published by eight major newspapers which represented east, midwest and west coast news coverage between 9/15/06 and 9/22/06; counting the number of times the terms recall (recalls, recalling, recalled), and advisory (advises, advisories) were used in discussing the spinach contamination. The term recall (and its permutations) was used much more often (107 times) than advisory (and its permutations) (30 times). Because the media referred to these events in terms of the “spinach recall,” we chose to use the same term in speaking with the public and in discussing our results.

In addition, you comment:

“The study also seems to imply a degree of consumer autonomy that belies the reality of the enormous influence retail stores have on these matters. So it declares that ‘…the data clearly indicate that the majority of consumers did stop eating spinach during the recall.’ Doubtless this is true, but whether this happened as a result of the FDA advisory is just speculation. What made this result a lead-pipe cinch is that virtually no retailers were selling spinach during this period. Unless you grew your own, you were not going to be eating much fresh spinach.”

It is absolutely true that most retailers withdrew fresh spinach from their shelves, which would have made it difficult for consumers to purchase the product during this period. However, I believe you overlooked an important part of our report. We found that 30% of people who eat spinach and were aware of the recall “say that they had fresh spinach in their homes when they first learned about it.” While more than three-quarters (77%) reported ultimately discarding the spinach once they learned about the recall, more than one-quarter (27%) say they consumed some or all of the spinach they had in their home and 72% of these say they knew about the recall at the time they ate it.” So, consumers did have the autonomy to disregard the FDA’s advisory and eat the spinach that they already had in their homes, or to throw it out. That some chose to eat spinach despite knowing about the “recall” is of concern, but it doesn’t erase the fact that most people who knew about it did stop eating spinach during the recall, including most of those who had spinach at home.

You also point out that the statement “The spinach recall is still in effect” is “technically” true. We agree, but regardless of the procedural veracity of the statement, it is highly predictive of having eaten spinach since September. Again, as we discuss in our report, people who believe that the “recall is still in effect” is true or don’t know whether it’s true are two and a half times less likely to report having eaten any fresh spinach since September compared to those who say it is false. Thus, we are much more interested in understanding why some people have not returned to eating spinach than whether or not the public is aware that if they find a bag of the recalled spinach in the back of their refrigerators they are still entitled to get their money back. We believe that your readers are more interested in how to regain their consumers as well.

Thus, we stand behind our contention that while most Americans had heard the FDA’s initial advice that they shouldn’t eat fresh spinach, many fewer got the FDA’s message that they could be confident in consuming the fresh spinach now on store shelves. The fact that there has never been a definitive “all clear” message (in part because of ongoing concerns about the risk of product contamination) and that such a message is important to regaining consumer confidence is exactly our point

— William Hallman
Director, Food Policy Institute
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Many thanks to Dr. Hallman for his letter. As we mentioned in the article our assessment was that “The report…is well worth reading.” There is no question that the authors of the study were diligent, that the Food Policy Institute contributes much to our knowledge of the food industry and that Rutgers is an important and reputable institution.

The Pundit thinks, however, that intelligent and well-intentioned researchers selected the wrong path, in deciding how to proceed with this study.

While the Pundit is doubtless guilty of many sins, not reading documents carefully is not one of them.

The problem here is not a lack of understanding but, rather, a disagreement as to what might be the preferable approach.

Although we recognize the reason that the researchers elected to use the word “recall” in conducting the telephone survey, we think it added an element of confusion that makes the results difficult to interpret. This is especially true because one of the purposes of the study was to evaluate “…what did they [consumers] do in response to the advisories issued by the FDA warning them not to eat fresh spinach.”

The problem is not so much the use of one word or another, but a failure to define these terms to the respondents, which means we can never be sure what we are talking about.

Because there are two separate categories of overlapping events — recalls by various companies and consumer advisories not to eat spinach — it becomes crucial to understand what, precisely, was the motivating factor in consumer behavior at every point in time.

The use of one word — recall — to describe these two overlapping categories of events makes this problematic.

In Dr. Hallman’s letter he explains:

I believe you overlooked an important part of our report. We found that 30% of people who eat spinach and were aware of the recall “say that they had fresh spinach in their homes when they first learned about it.” While more than three-quarters (77%) reported ultimately discarding the spinach once they learned about the recall, more than one-quarter (27%) say they consumed some or all of the spinach they had in their home and 72% of these say they knew about the recall at the time they ate it.”

That 30% of the people had fresh spinach in their home when they first learned about “it” — is an excellent example of how frustrating this survey was to read.

How are we to know what the meaning of the word “it” is in this context?

The word “it” could mean the literal meaning of the word. This would imply that consumers heard about a recall by companies such as Natural Selection Foods and/or Dole and/or other companies.

Or “it” could mean that the consumers had heard about the FDA advisory not to eat spinach.

But there appears to be no way to distinguish between these two different states of knowledge.

This matters because based on a corporate recall, we would not expect consumers to automatically not eat spinach they had in their house. We would expect them to ascertain if the brand of spinach they had in the house was subject to recall and return or discard the recalled product.

But if a consumer learned about the recall, learned what brands it was applicable to, noted that in the refrigerator was an unaffected brand and then consumed it, the behavior is unobjectionable.

This is a good example of the problem with the use of the word “recall” in the study. We have no way of knowing if those consumers that ate spinach after they heard about the “recall” — ate spinach after they heard that certain brands were recalled or if they ate spinach after they heard that the FDA had advised not to eat any spinach. Two completely different behavior sets, each one pregnant with different meaning regarding the influence of the FDA.

In effect, the lack of clarity in the data just makes it very difficult to draw strong conclusions. We just don’t know from the way the question was asked if that 27% of those who had spinach in the house and the 72% of those who say they ate it after they were aware of the recall were intentionally disregarding the FDA advisory or were scrupulously following the edicts of a product recall.

We appreciate the study and find much value in it but do think that this is a missed opportunity.

As far as getting customers back, we simply want to draw attention to the impact that retailers have in this regard. As an example, during the entire time this survey was conducted Costco, for example, was not selling any spinach. Someone who was accustomed to buying his spinach at Costco may well have thought that the advisory was still in effect — seeing the absence of spinach as evidence. So the point that Dr. Hallman notes: “…people who believe that the ‘recall is still in effect’ is true or don’t know whether it’s true are two and a half times less likely to report having eaten any fresh spinach since September compared to those who say it is false.” — may be a case of correlation rather than causation: Consumers who shop at venues that are not yet restocking spinach or not to the extent as they did before are both ill informed about the ending of the consumer advisory and don’t eat much spinach.

To put this another way, all the spinach disappeared from retail shelves across America in a very short period of time. It is being phased back in over many months. This has an effect both on consumer perception of the situation and consumer purchase and consumption behavior.

To Dr. Hallman’s final point: “The fact that there has never been a definitive ‘all clear’ message (in part because of ongoing concerns about the risk of product contamination) and that such a message is important to regaining consumer confidence is exactly our point.”

We couldn’t agree more.

It is never easy to have one’s work publicly critiqued and 20-20 hindsight is always good, so we express our appreciation to Dr. Hallman and his team both for doing this important work and for putting it out for public assessment. By all working together we can learn more and do things better.

It is a long report and our quibble is really with one word. We strongly disagree with those critics who have dismissed the report because it is built off of November data. Understanding how consumer perception evolves post a food safety outbreak is crucial.

Once again, many thanks to Dr. Hallman for his letter.




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative
Recap XLVI

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, 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 LVXIV

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 LXVXIV

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.




Univeg Intends To Buy Ready Pac

Univeg, the Belgium-based group that has grown from its founding in 1983 as a mushroom farm started by Hein Deprez, the present CEO of the group, to a multi-national giant with business units in 14 countries, dropped a surprise on the attendees at Fruit Logistica in Berlin:

2/5/2007 — UNIVEG SIGNED A LETTER OF INTENT TO ENTER INTO A TRANSACTION WITH READY PAC

Today, Univeg signed a Letter of Intent to enter into a transaction with READY PAC.

Ready Pac is a California-based company with subsidiaries in Texas and at the East Coast in Florence, Swedesboro and Jackson. Ready Pac comprises 7 factories with activities in value-added fruit and vegetables. Year sales are more than $700 mlllion.

The transaction will include a large capital investment into Ready Pac’s working capital. This new capital and the operational resource to be provided by Univeg, will allow Ready Pac to continue to aggressively grow their business platform.

Univeg is a very aggressive company that has grown very quickly. Most recently, in 2006, it merged with the Verona, Italy-based Bocchi group, which doubled the size of the company. It is best known in the U.S. for its involvement with Seald Sweet, with which it partnered in 1998 and later increased its ownership to 80%.

The deal between Ready Pac and Univeg has been struggling to be born for some time. Indeed there has been at least one prior deal that fell apart around the time of the Taco Bell situation.

It is probably a good deal for both parties. Ready Pac will benefit from additional investment and Univeg will acquire the ability to serve its European customers who have operations in the U.S.

Univeg is headquartered in Belgium, as is Delhaize. In America, the U.S. operating brands for Delhaize include Food Lion, Bloom, Bottom Dollar Food, Harvey’s, Hannaford, Kash n’ Karry, Sweetbay — over 1,500 stores in 16 states.

The European practice is to have a few trading companies serving as the portals to the key retailers. They bring in produce from dozens of countries and control market access due to their strong relationships with retailers.

Much attention has been paid to global sourcing efforts. Univeg is both progressive and smart; the company undoubtedly sees an opportunity to service its European customers, such as Delhaize, all around the globe… including America.

Seald Sweet was an experiment on a new continent; Ready Pac is the rollout of an idea.

And it is an idea that will challenge many settled American attitudes in business. As vendors start losing business because they can’t support a global supply pattern, they will realize that the world is changing, fast. Univeg is getting out in front of the future.

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