Pundit Interviews

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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Lessons From The LA Market

Everyone in the produce industry has had a nice opportunity to “tsk, tsk” at the 7th Street Produce Market in Los Angeles. You just had to look at the videos included in our article, Rats in Los Angeles: The Produce Industry’s Shame, and it is obvious they have a horrible facility to begin with; it was kept in terrible disrepair by its owners and the tenants allowed it to be unsanitary.

Certainly the facility is an obvious place to start. We received a note from a progressive Los Angeles area importer and distributor regarding our piece on the 7th Street Market:

“Everything is cleaned-up” is not true. Demolition would be the only real way. This market was built in the first decade of the 20th century for horse drawn cart delivery and pick-up at a street level. This is hardly a facility that should be handling exposed fresh product.

— Bill Vogel
Tavilla Sales
Los Angeles, California

Bill is correct, and what he is saying is not new. Just shy of ten years ago in PRODUCE BUSINESS, the Pundit’s sister publication, we ended a column by writing the following:

“Progressive industry leaders, though, see that the era of “buy from anyone” is drawing to close. Want to see a glimpse of the future? Go to Pittsburgh. There rises a new wholesale produce facility being built by Consumers Produce. We may not think of wholesaling as being in the vanguard of new technology but, in fact, this new plant is motivated by all the usual considerations — need for more space, consolidate operations, more efficient plant — plus one more.

As Alan Siger, president of Consumers Produce, put it: “The day is coming when large retailers, foodservice operators and service wholesalers simply won’t buy from anyone without a facility that can guarantee proper handling of the product, including uninterrupted maintenance of the cold chain.” If buyers seize their responsibility, Al Siger will be right. And the industry will be better for it. Forewarned is forearmed.”

You can read the whole piece here.

When the Hunts Point market opened in 1967, my family was an original tenant, having moved there from the old Washington Street market in Manhattan. The joke on the day it opened was that it was the newest antiquated market in the world. It had taken so long to wind through the city bureaucracy that by the time it opened, it was already obvious that it needed more room between buildings for larger trucks, that the focus on rail was going to be a problem, and, in general, that it wasn’t the market that would have been designed in 1967.

Even the more modern wholesale markets, even some still on the design boards, are not really suitable to meet current standards for food safety and food security.

The basic plan of most American produce markets — with warehouse and dock downstairs, selling area in front of the warehouse and office upstairs — is not conducive to meeting modern standards. Too many people interact with the produce.

The Boston Terminal Market, as well as many markets around the world, more closely follow the design pattern that is required.

Basically you need to separate the sales function from the storage function. You can have a central hall where produce is sold and displayed. Buyers and sellers meet here, orders are taken here, but product pick-up is from separate buildings.

In other words, there is one building for people, and they can do whatever non-hygenic things they do. There is another building in which produce comes in, is racked and then is delivered out to the truck of the buyer.

The key thing is that the produce storage building is secured. Nobody goes in without good reason and then they must be escorted.

The benefits are obvious:

  1. Quality is better because temperature control is better when a building is secured with proper buffer zones for entry and minimal opening of doors.
  2. Food safety is better because the produce is not exposed — to the elements or to people. Someone may still, as in the video, urinate in the market — but it won’t affect any produce.
  3. Shrink is less both because the cold chain is maintained better and because theft is much more difficult.
  4. Food security is much better because the contact between the produce and people is minimized and supervised.

These kind of facilities run into resistance because people are not accustomed to them. But it is the way things must be done. And, today, we have tools that could make gaining acceptance easier. For example, how about digital video cameras that can drop down from the ceiling, that show in real-time pictures of the produce on large flat screen monitors on the sales floor — so suspicious buyers can double check that the product in the warehouse is the same as what is on the sales floor?

The fact that the 7th Street Market is so old and was so neglected may make it easy for others to disassociate themselves from anything like that.

That is a shame because if people are honest, they will know that, whatever segment of the business they work in, there are issues of cleanliness and hygiene. Start right at the retailer and restaurant. How many of you have seen employees finish using the rest room, check themselves out in the mirror, slick back their hair — then walk out of the door without washing their hands?

Which, by the way, is another structural problem. The proper place for wash basins is outside of the rest room — both so that people don’t touch contaminated doors with clean hands and, so that restaurant and retail managers can post cameras to confirm that employees have followed proper hand washing procedures.

Many food safety issues are dealt with not by demanding that everyone do things that they should, but by changing the structure so that what is supposed to happen is more likely to happen and easier to confirm.




Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry:
Cheesecake Factory’s
Kix McGinnis Nystron
Everclean Services’ Jack McShane

In order to better understand food safety procedures at foodservice operators, we’ve run a series of Pundit Pulses. Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’ Dan Crimmins started us off with the perspectives of two smaller operators but with both individuals very focused on produce.

Then Michael Spinazzola of Diversified Restaurant Systems gave us his take as the supplier to Subway Restaurants, and Maurice Totty of Foodbuy, the purchasing arm of the Compass Group, provided us with his take of a massive organization with many different concepts. Most recently Ruby Tuesday’s Rick Johnson provided insight into the dependence of even substantial organizations on suppliers when it comes to food safety.

Today we are pleased to continue this series with a different perspective. Food safety discussions in the industry have tended to stop in the processing plant. Yet food safety challenges continue right up to when the product is consumed. So we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Kix McGinnis Nystrom, whose position at the Cheesecake Factory is not Buyer or Quality Assurance but Vice President of Kitchen Operations. Mira also spoke with Jack McShane, CEO and Founder of Everclean Services, which acts as an independent auditor and trainer for The Cheescake Factory.

Beyond the importance of extending our food safety concerns all the way to consumption, this interview addresses two crucial points: Compensation systems and culture.

The Cheesecake Factory not only says it wants food safety — it pays for it. The bonuses that its managers earn are partially determined by the performance of each restaurant on food safety audits and inspections.

This takes allegiance to high food safety standards beyond lip service and impresses the company’s associates with the serious commitment The Cheesecake Factory has made to food safety.

The Pundit wishes to extend many thanks to Kix and Jack, as well as to The Cheesecake Factory and Everclean Services, for being willing to share their important efforts in food safety with the whole industry. By working together and sharing this type of information, we all can do a better job of safeguarding consumers.

Kix McGinnis Nystrom
Vice President of Kitchen Operations
The Cheesecake Factory Restaurants
Calabasas Hills, California

Q: What is your role in food safety at the chain?

A: I head up the food safety part of operations in the kitchens, receiving support from other departments, making sure all our kitchens are well staffed and well trained. Several years ago, David Overton, Chairman and CEO, asked me to take over this responsibility to insure we were serving the safest food possible to guests and staff. At that time food safety and sanitation at the restaurant was average relative to the rest of the industry.

Q: What have you done to change that?

A: Food safety has become a part of our culture. Employee compensation is linked to food safety. Individuals at the company who receive bonuses are rewarded or penalized based on their records of upholding company food safety standards. Those bonuses are partly determined by the scores the particular restaurant receives on safety and sanitation inspections, and any audits that are done, whether a third party audit or health department audit. The individual receives a bonus that is tied to the specific assurance they are meeting and beating expectations of those doing the audit. We’ve been doing this for several years.

Q: How does the auditing system actually work? How often do you require restaurants undergo inspections, and are the audits pre-scheduled or unannounced?

A: The Cheesecake Factory has a rigorous inspection policy that far exceeds industry standards. Everclean Services in Agoura Hills, close to our headquarters, does surprise audits of each and every restaurant every single month. All monthly reports are visible on line within 24 hours of the audit. It has capabilities with racking and stacking numbers so that we can analyze performance records for consistency. Chronic issues in a region or restaurant or violations with the health department can be identified quickly for aggressive intervention. We’re able to merge all that data together and kitchen operators can really hone in on those areas that need to be addressed.

Q: How do you build such a well-trained and knowledgeable staff?

A: At the management level, all new managers hired into the company go through a training program. Once that is complete they come to the corporate office in California for a finishing seminar called the Cheesecake Factory Institute. All new managers are certified through the ServSafe training program. All area field training managers are certified as trainers for ServeSafe. After three years you have to be re-certified in the field. Every manager in the kitchen and front of the house is ServSafe certified.

From an employee standpoint, employees undergo extensive food safety training beginning with orientation when they are first hired. Everclean Services does on site training during its audits, and above and beyond that if we need them. They are also involved in performing an intensive, multi-faceted food safety training class for key kitchen staff and managers and all employees in every new store opening. [See session outline below]. They look to be sure sanitation and food safety practices are compliant with all federal and state health codes and requirements, and that everyone is working safe, not involved in cross contamination, properly cooling, heating and storing food, and correctly receiving product.

Q: Do you get involved on the supply side?

A: Everclean has the ability to assist us with vendor site inspections. Our purchasing department does regular on site inspections of our vendors to validate product and procedures and to insure they are being audited by a third party. Our major vendor is FreshPoint, which is now owned by Sysco. We used to do 100 percent of our procurement with FreshPoint, but with our growth, we are in some markets where they don’t have an affiliation. Still, the large percentage of our marketshare is with FreshPoint.

We’re constantly updating our inspection’s physical and written requirements, insuring protocols are set for protection of final resources being delivered. We do extensive testing in our culinary center of any new produce we work with to insure product is of the highest quality standards.

Q: How do you envision your food safety strategy will evolve moving forward?

A: Food safety is extremely challenging. We try to stay involved with as many individuals knowledgeable about produce issues as possible through the PMA and other industry organizations as well as using an outside produce consultant to assist us. We try to keep an ear to the ground as much as possible with crises that come up with commodities like spinach and bean sprouts.

Next month I celebrate my 15th anniversary at The Cheesecake Factory. I remember being amazed at how busy the restaurant was becoming and the challenges of also maintaining clean and safe kitchens. Consistency and control across the chain through this expansion of new store openings has been driven by David Overton. An important component of our food safety strategy is the use of third party auditors, trainers and our outside produce consultant to assist us in assuring the produce is palatable and safe.

The following is what Kix refers to in the interview regarding Everclean training sessions for new store openings:

THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY TRAINING
SESSION OUTLINE

MODULE 1

— Facility walk-through

Walk-through training with key kitchen staff and managers. Review code violations, observational notations, and specific things to correct for a Health Department inspection. Notes will be taken and a copy of the notes will be left with management.

MODULE 2

— Why we are here

Discussion introducing Everclean, the importance of food safety, and the benefits of maintaining the highest standards. Changing behaviors

MODULE 3

— Basic Food Safety for all Employees

Food illness takes a human and financial toll. The trainer will outline simple steps to keep food safe and address what leads to illness. Main points are: How food becomes unsafe, handwashing, and serving procedures.

MODULE 4

— Kitchen Food Safety for Staff

Kitchen staff needs extra training to keep food safe. The trainer will detail procedures and techniques essential for keeping food safe. Main points are: receiving, storage, preparation, holding, thermometer use, and cleaning. Time and Temperatures

MODULE 5

— Exit Interview with Management

Trainer will supply detail and copies of important information. The Everclean Report form; Report “KEY”, and Everclean newsletters.

Jack McShane
CEO, Founder
Everclean Services
Atoura, California

Q: How do Cheesecake Factory’s food safety training and auditing procedures compare to other restaurant chains?

A: The Cheesecake Factory is cutting edge in the importance they put in food safety. We’ve been conducting inspections for the chain nine years. It was our first big national client and now we conduct 25,000 inspections.

What makes Cheesecake Factory unique is its requirement of regular monthly audits. The industry standard is once a quarter. We go into each Cheesecake Factory restaurant every single month. These are unannounced visits.

Q: Why is the added frequency so important? Does it really make that much of a difference?

A: The restaurant industry is one where people change jobs frequently, and that mandates constantly training new staff and positive reinforcement to keep them. At Cheesecake Factory, the audit inspection scores are directly tied to employee bonuses. Food safety is part of doing business.

Q: Could such a strict, police-like environment result in a backlash scaring off employees?

A: The difference with our audit quite frankly is the proactive approach we take to food safety. We are there to teach and train. We are there to educate not regulate. Our auditors are also registered four-year-degreed food safety trainers that work with managers two or three at a time to continuously improve food safety operations.

It becomes a two hour training class every month. Each time, Everclean comes in with a different targeted item to teach based on restaurant needs. It may be a situation where concerns are as simple as calibrating a thermometer. Maybe it’s tracking cooling procedures to be sure they are correct. And of course when coming through, we make sure staff is following other food safety procedures, always washing hands and using gloves correctly, etc.

We are also involved with all new store openings. Prior to opening doors, Cheesecake Factory wants to make sure every employee in the front and back of the house is trained in food safety. We conduct two full classes with the entire staff.

A lot of restaurant chains have done a solid job of back door to customer. But the fact is the farm to fork has to be the focus. Cheesecake Factory has done a terrific job of covering the entire process. Just because the product is cooked correctly doesn’t mean it came in the door that way.

Q: You’ve touched on the issue of how produce handling at different points throughout the supply chain influences food safety. Do you have an opinion on whether it’s safer to rewash prepackaged salad once it’s opened?

A: There is much misinformation regarding best produce handling procedures. A good example relates to the debate of whether it’s safer to rewash packaged salads that have already been triple washed in the processing plant. The answer is absolutely not. There is a much greater chance of someone getting sick rewashing the product after the package has been opened.

Cheesecake Factory employees are advanced in their awareness of how to handle produce. The training process for managers and chefs is very intense. Because they buy into food safety, the employees buy in. And management buys in because the CEO buys in. This is critical. If there is no buy in from upper management, more likely than not, the food safety program will fail.

Cheesecake Factory sets the training standards to the most stringent state regulations in the country and certifies all its managers to that standard. The chain’s commitment to food safety is monumental. Our business at Everclean is growing at 20 percent to 30 percent rates now as more companies are moving from internal quality assurance teams to third party independent companies, realizing the importance of an objective set of eyes whose sole purpose is to make sure restaurants are continuing to keep food safe.

Note Jack’s comments on rewashing pre-washed produce. This really calls into question what Costco is doing with spinach as we mentioned in our piece Costco Quandary — Should Pre-Washed Spinach Be Washed Again?

His focus on food safety as being a “farm to fork” challenge is a wise reminder for the industry. It means retailers have to be looking at refrigerated case temperatures, and the whole distribution chain has to be rethinking every step with food safety in mind.

Jack also points out that internal teams are more easily influenced by other corporate priorities. An independent third party, hired with the correct motivation — to actually increase food safety, not to just get a certification — is likely to present a clearer picture of the situation.

But it is the inter-connection between rigorous audit standards and compensation that makes The Cheesecake Factory’s program an example for the trade. How many other organizations are communicating to their associates that you can ignore what we say about food safety, because your bonus is based on sales or profits?

Solving the culture and compensation connection to food safety is crucial in every sector of the trade if we are to sustain strong food safety programs.

Many thanks to those who have participated in this still ongoing series: Janet, Dan, Michael, Maurice, Rick, Kix and Jack, as well as to all the organizations they work with. Stepping up to the plate and talking about real issues in food safety in a forum such as this, where the whole industry can benefit, is a significant contribution to a better industry and a safer food supply.




Tesco vs. Costco

We’ve run several pieces regarding Tesco’s move into the American market. In the last few days we’ve been studying a research report on Tesco done by Credit Suisse, first with a piece entitled, Tesco’s Success Course Far From Easy, and then with a piece entitled, Tesco In America: Foodservice vs. Prepared Foods. This report also analyzes the implication of Tesco opening in America for Costco:

With 20% of its store base in Tesco’s proposed U.S. markets (Southern California, Phoenix and Las Vegas), Costco is more exposed than any other mass merchant in our coverage. On a state wide basis, Costco operates 37% of its warehouse clubs in California, Arizona and Nevada.

While Costco’s warehouse club model differs dramatically from Tesco’s planned Fresh and Easy stores, there are similarities between the two retailers’ food offerings, especially in fresh and prepared foods. Food accounts for over 50% of Costco’s sales volume. Fresh food, including meat, dairy and bakery contributes up to 11% of its total sales volume. With an average ticket of $120-$130 for U.S. customers, Costco is certainly not centered around convenience. However, on a quick trip during the week or when buying in bulk on weekends, Costco customers often include a rotisserie chicken, fresh pizza or a meal ready to eat as well as a carton of milk or bunch of bananas with their purchase.

In our view, Tesco’s U.S. entrance may compel Costco to revisit its food-only concept store as a competitive response. Costco first tried to open a smaller format focused on high-end groceries in Manhattan in 2000, but the plan was derailed due to escalating construction costs and neighborhood opposition. In 2003, COST purchased a former 106,000 square foot Kmart with plans to open a food only location in Bellevue, Washington to develop and test new concepts for its existing warehouses. However, management decided to put the project on hold and instead focus solely on its existing warehouse club format.

Costco is open to new formats, as evidenced by its two specialty home/furniture stores and plans for a third this year. Costco was looking for sales of $40 million annually from its pilot furniture store in Kirkland, WA. According to Furniture Today, Costco’s two furniture stores brought in over $100 million in 2005.

Although generally the report has been insightful, on this point the analysts may be jumping the gun. If Tesco opens this concept and if it is successful, then Costco and every other retailer will respond.

In fact the biggest vulnerability for Tesco is how easily this concept can be duplicated. Because Tesco seems to have focused on a concept for which real estate is available, we would expect every supermarket and supercenter and warehouse club to look at the possibility of aping the concept — including players in the Arizona, Nevada and Southern California.

In contrast when Wal-Mart rolled out its supercenters, supermarkets couldn’t easily duplicate the concept: their distribution centers and buying operations couldn’t handle all the non-food items. It is not easy to find space and build from scratch 200,000 square foot stores.

Costco will react — it is a big market. But so will Safeway and Kroger and others — if Tesco’s stores are successful. And that “if” is a big one.




Will A&P/Pathmark
Have A Yogi Berra Moment?

A&P has announced and Pathmark confirmed that A&P is in talks to buy Pathmark and has offered $12.50 a share in cash and stock for each Pathmark share.

A&P has been retreating for some time, including selling off its Canadian division, and this would represent a consolidation in its strong New York market where A&P’s banners, including Waldbaum’s and Food Emporium, give it leadership.

No official word yet but consolidation might change produce procurement patterns as A&P moved from self-procurement and distribution to allowing C & S Wholesale Grocers to supply produce.

No definitive agreement has been reached but, even if it is reached, one wonders if we won’t have, as Yogi Berra explained, a moment of “deja vue all over again.”

In 1999 Ahold announced its agreement to acquire Pathmark for $1.75 billion, into which it was going to integrate its Edwards chain. Yet due to antitrust concerns, the FTC set tough conditions for approval including divesting many stores. As a result Ahold terminated the transaction. Pathmark sued for breach of contract.

The question now: will the FTC find more favor in a combination with A&P than it did with Ahold?




Pundit’s Mailbag — Rats In The Trenches

An industry luminary whose multi-generational family business keeps him working in the trenches sent us a letter:

I think that your column today, especially the article The Rats In Los Angeles: The Produce Industry’s Shame was the absolute perfect metaphor for those of us who operate daily in the trenches (rather than in the fancy tower offices) on how we view the potential of food safety dictates. I have served on enough industry committees dealing with food safety to know that there is a terrific disconnect between what happens in theory and what happens in practice. The most telling line in your column today was to point out the question of what shape the 7th Street Market in Los Angeles will be in a few months from now. Any thinking realist knows the answer to that question. Also, any thinking realist also knows that they can replace their own personal operation (whether it be a superstore DC, a retail warehouse, a service wholesaler, a cash-and-carry foodservice provider or restaurant operator) with the LA operation very easily.

I also want to compliment your piece entitled The Rats Of New York Teach The Produce Industry Some Lessons On Food Safety because you got to the essence of the matter: As long as humans are involved, the motivation to succeed must be self-motivated. It can’t be dictated by fiat or policy.

Many thanks to our correspondent for both his kind words and insightful thoughts.

The gap between lofty ideals and execution is substantial in most things and in food safety it is a canyon. How can it not be? Food safety is an expense — you are “not allowed” to promote it as a benefit — and whatever speeches might be given, the incentive systems typically reward increasing profits, not being safe. One of our most e-mailed articles, Tale Of Two Buyers, tells the story of how at the executive level retailers can have excellent intentions but the incentives for buyers are different.

And to anyone who has had to hire and train people, the gap between people who are self-motivated and those who are not is also a canyon.

Culture is a huge indicator. An executive at an airport once confided to us that Japan Airlines and an airline of a certain nation that we won’t name to protect the guilty, both had flights arriving at JFK airport around the same time. The flights would overnight in NY and leave the next morning at about the same time.

Although both airlines cleaned the planes and did the needed mechanical checks, airline number two finished up and shut out the lights. In contrast, the Japan Airlines jet had bright lights shining on it all through the night and people were scrubbing it clean all through the night.

It’s the power of culture.

But it is not only culture and not only self-motivation. And we are not prepared to just say some people are pigs and nothing can be done about it.

Our piece on the Cheesecake Factory, which we dealt with here, is an example of a company putting its money where its mouth is — by tying bonuses to food safety audit scores.

Our piece that deals with wholesale market design points to the importance of structural change in obtaining food safety.

Culture is enormously important but it is not immutable, and focusing on changes in structure and incentives can lead to cultural change.

After the Buyer-led Food Safety initiative was announced, we received a letter from a very respected member of the shipper community. You can read the letter here. It was a very insightful letter because he basically said that to achieve anything, flavor, food safety, anything, the person with the Purchase Order has to simply decide to work with people who are focused on the same thing.

This is the point the industry has to focus on: Many of our industry efforts are specifically designed to prevent a cultural shift in produce. What should happen after something like the spinach/E. coli 0157:H7 crisis is that buyers start saying “I don’t know you, I don’t know where this produce has been, so I can’t buy it” — so, when Johnny Rockets sent out a letter saying it had instructed its supplier not to buy off the 7th Street Market anymore, it had it backwards.

If Johnny Rockets really wants to guarantee its customers have safe produce that has gone through clean facilities, Johnny Rockets needs to affirmatively say who and where its produce will come from, not sit around and wait for an outsider to tell the company one of its sources of supply is sub-par.




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative
Recap LVI

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 World in 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 LVXVIX

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 LXVXVIX

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 Industry in 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 Farming explores 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 Grower that 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 Award to 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 Holiday and 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 Costs in 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 Ambiguities in 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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