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

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Fax: 561-994-1610



Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Kroger’s CEO Says Combo Stores
Are Best Response To Tesco Threat

David Dillon, Chairman & CEO of The Kroger Co., along with Kroger’s Senior Vice President & CFO Michael Schlotman, gave a presentation at the Tenth Annual Retail Conference sponsored by Lehman Brothers. Always an interesting presentation and, particularly, the Pundit found intriguing Mr. Dillon’s response to a question about Tesco’s new Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market format, which we have dealt with extensively.

Kroger has some specific experience in this matter as it operates a range of formats from giant supercenters, such as Fred Meyer, to small convenience stores, such as Turkey Hill and Tom Thumb.

Mr. Dillon’s take on Tesco was that, although convenience is important to consumers, the definition of convenience is problematic. On the one hand, as Tesco has identified, being a “neighborhood” store is important, and being convenient along the customer’s travel routes means a lot.

However, even the most conveniently located store is not convenient to the consumer if it doesn’t have the variety of products that the consumer wants.

So, after having operated this broad range of stores, Mr. Dillon spoke up in favor of Kroger’s “combo store” or main supermarket model as the most convenient.

He pointed out that in planning stores, Kroger assumes that a combo store will only draw from a two to three mile area. So combine that small range with the large variety of a full line food and drug store and, Mr. Dillon believes, you have the most compelling and convenient format.

This might be dismissed by Tesco as a CEO defending his turf. Interestingly enough, though, Kroger partners with Dunnhumby to get its consumer insight. This is the same company that Tesco partners with in the U.K. for the same purpose. Maybe they tell Mr. Dillon things they don’t mention when they are on the other side of the pond?

No video or slide show, but you can hear the audio on the presentation right here.

Honoring Front Line Personnel Through Display Contests And Awards

One of the time-honored methods for attracting retail attention and boosting visibility and sales, especially during a slow time of the year, is the retail display contest.

One of the biggest around is hosted each year by the Idaho Potato Commission. Now the winner’s are in:


2007 Potato Lovers Month Retail Display Contest

EAGLE, IDAHO, May 2, 2007 — Retailers love their spuds and from the contest entries received, it’s evident that February is, without a question, Potato Lovers Month. The Idaho Potato Commission’s (IPC) Retail Display Contest received 2,000 entries this year and awarded more than $150,000 in cash and merchandise prizes to retailers across the country. This year, everyone won! Every qualified entrant received a free MP3 Digital Music player, a $70 value!

February is typically a slow time of year for potato sales and this unique contest, which is in its 16th year, has become increasingly popular among retailers. In just the past three years, an average of over 2,000 stores have participated in this contest annually. For thirteen years prior, the average was barely 600 entries each year.

“The growth and popularity of this contest is unbelievable. The spike in interest is largely due to the fact that the contest is easy to enter, it’s fun, everyone wins a prize and it helps boost sales during a slow time of the year,” said Seth Pemsler Vice President, Retail/International, IPC. “However, if this contest continues to grow at its current pace, February may no longer be a slow sales month for Idaho Potatoes.”


While many displays featured the IPC’s famous Spuddy Buddy mascot, a few retailers went over-the-top with themed displays like “Dancing With the Spuds” and one carefully fashioned in the shape of the state of Idaho.

“This year we are particularly impressed with the quality of the entries — the retailers pulled out all stops and created some very eye-catching and unique displays,” said Pemsler. “No matter how creative a display is though, it has to sell product and that’s not always easy to do. However, this year, retailers accomplished both.”

In addition to Idaho® Potatoes appearing front and center in all displays entered, long-time partners (and potato topping favorites) KRAFT® Cheese Whiz, KRAFT® 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese and OSCAR MAYER® Real Bacon Bits were also included prominently in the displays.

And the Winners Are….

More than 150 prizes totaling more than $150,000 were awarded across three general categories: Display Winners (broken down into three categories based on number of cash registers at each store), Military (East coast and West coast) and Ad Overlay Contest. To view photographs of all the winning entries, go to http://idahopotato.com/plm_2007/winners/index.php.

Thousands of dollars in prize money were awarded to the top five Display Winners in three different store categories (with matching category manager prizes), plus $100 each to 100 honorable mention winners. The following individuals/stores received first place awards in the Display Contest categories:

1-5 Cash Registers 6-9 Cash Registers 10+ Cash Registers
1st Place — Jeff Stewart
$1,250 — Piggly Wiggly
Bonifay, FL
1st Place — Donna Shuey
$1,250 — Slone’s Signature Mkt
Jackson, KY
1st Place — Brett Reed
$1,250 — Hy-Vee Food Stores
Windsor Heights, IA

This winning display, showcasing the healthy attributes of Idaho Potatoes, won first place in the 10+ Cash Registers Category. The entry was submitted by Brett Reed of Hy-Vee Food Stores in Windsor Heights, Iowa, who received $1,250.

This Idaho Potato display, featuring a potato heart for Potato Lover’s Month, was a winning display! It was submitted by Jon Duff of Hy-Vee Food Stores in Maryville, Missouri

The top five best ad entries received major cash prizes, and an additional 25 honorable mentions each received $100. The following individual/store received the first place award for the Ad Overlay Contest category:


1st Place: — Jeff Stewart
$1,250 — Piggly Wiggly, Bonifay, Florida

For a complete list of winners and a break-down of how the prizes were awarded please see the attached sheet.

The Contest

The contest was open to retail supermarket chains and independents only. Displays had to be in place for at least one week during the January 23 — February 27, 2007 contest period, set up in the produce section of the store and include the following: fresh Idaho Potatoes (bag/bulk or both) that have a clearly discernable label showing the Idaho name and the “Grown in Idaho®” seal; a clearly marked Idaho dehydrated potato product; and two of the following three items, KRAFT® Cheez Whiz, KRAFT® 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese and OSCAR MAYER® Real Bacon Bits.

Entries were judged by the Potato Lovers Month Retail Display Contest review committee on the following criteria: use of Potato Lover’s Month signage; creativity of the display; how the display incorporates the partner products; perceived success in generating incremental sales for those products; and, perceived impact on the produce section and the store.

More on This Year’s Contest

Overall, the contest generated entries from supermarkets of all sizes and from all corners of the country — each using existing and customized point-of-sale materials and recipes to drive sales of Idaho Potatoes and the participating Kraft products.

Due to the success of this year’s promotion, Kraft has already agreed to partner with the IPC in the 17th annual Potato Lover’s Month Retail Display Contest in 2008.

These types of contests are more important than is often understood. Some large chains won’t participate because basically they don’t allow their store level people to do more than follow a plan-o-gram. (To its credit, however, Kroger runs a separate competition within the Idaho Potato Commission contest.)

The problem with this approach is that most people with the creativity needed to manage staff and handle relations with store managers, etc., won’t enjoy working under these conditions.

Managing a produce department may not be the most elevated position in the community, but it’s their gig and if you want decent people to take the job you have to give them a chance to do something great once in awhile. The Pundit doesn’t know Donna Shuey, but she did this “Dancing with the ‘Spuds” display at Sloane’s Signature Market in Jackson, Kentucky, and she went home the night that picture was taken knowing she did something great. And so she did.

Donna Shuey, Slone’s Signature Market, Jackson, KY

Every opportunity we have as an industry to encourage creativity and leadership among the front line troops interacting with consumers is a great thing. So kudos to the Idaho Potato Commission for sponsoring such an event.

And for those in Chicago this weekend for United, make sure you stop by to salute the winners of the 2007 Retail Produce Managers Award sponsored by Ready Pac. Take a look at the winners from 2006 and 2005 right here.

Sure the Idaho Potato Commission wants to sell potatoes, Ready Pac has fresh-cuts to move, but both ventures focus on the place where the consumer meets the produce — and that is an excellent place for the produce industry to be.

Irradiated Mangos Arrive From India

The New York Times ran a piece entitled A Luscious Taste and Aroma From India Arrives at Last, which reports that Alphonso and Kesar mangos from India — long spoken of almost reverently for their exceptional flavor — are now inching toward general availability in the U.S.:

The first legal shipment of Indian mangoes to the United States in decades landed at Kennedy Airport last Friday, probably the most eagerly anticipated fruit delivery ever.

“If we can get them at good ripeness,” said Suvir Saran, executive chef of the Indian restaurant Dévi in Manhattan, “people will go mad for the beautiful, supple flesh and intense flavor.”

Some Indian-Americans have spent hundreds of dollars at an auction in Miami for rare Florida-grown Indian mango varieties; flown home specially for the season; or tried to smuggle illicit fruit past airport inspectors, striving to recapture rapturous memories of their homeland’s luscious, incomparable mangoes. Until now, though, most could only crave and dream.

The hold-up on importing mangos from India has been phytosanitary. Specifically the dreaded mango seed weevil, which we don’t have in North America and which the USDA is intent on keeping out of the country. Though India applied to start exporting mangos to the U.S. almost 20 years ago, the problem seemed insurmountable:

A solution emerged in January 2006, when the Agriculture Department allowed the importation of produce treated with low doses of irradiation to kill or sterilize insects — a somewhat controversial issue.

The President of the United States expressed his support:

On a visit to India five weeks later, President George W. Bush cheered the news as he announced a pact on nuclear energy and trade. “The United States is looking forward to eating Indian mangoes,” he said.

The fact that these mangos are irradiated will attract some attention:

Some public health advocates oppose irradiation of produce, claiming that it causes harmful chemicals, but this use has not yet become as contentious as irradiation of meat, which applies a higher dose and serves a different purpose, to sterilize bacteria. The Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization endorse food irradiation as safe.

Dozens of studies have found that the effects of irradiation on mango quality vary markedly by dose, variety and ripeness at treatment. Overall, the process delays ripening, extends shelf life, and is gentler than the hot water dip used on most imported mangoes to kill pests.

Whether or not Indian mango imports succeed commercially, it seems likely that irradiation will soon become a common treatment for many tropical fruits.

Facilities in Hawaii and Florida that treat modest quantities of produce have been the primary irradiated sources for the United States so far, but a huge Mexican irradiation facility is expected to start operation in a year. Arved Deecke, general manager of Phytosan, the company building the plant, said irradiation will be cheaper than the hot water dip, and that he plans to treat a quarter of Mexican mango exports by 2012. Thailand likely will be sending irradiated fruit to the United States within a year, and several other countries have applied to do it or have inquired about it.

This piece is an interesting juxtaposition of two separate stories. On the one hand, we have the story of a new import adding excitement to the mango category. Mangos are one of the few fruits with major breakthrough potential in the U.S., and we finally have an industry infrastructure through the National Mango Board that is working steadily to build demand. We also have innovative private approaches, such as Ciruli Brothers and its brand building efforts for The Champagne Mango. Now this new entrant is attracting attention in The New York Times.

On the other hand, this story is about irradiation. With the plethora of food safety concerns and the conviction by many in produce that a “kill step” is needed, irradiation has received much attention. We’ve dealt with it many times, including here.

Although there is always concern about consumer response, in the past, that has not been a problem.

It may get easier as the FDA is looking at alternatives for labeling irradiated foods when the foods are not “materially changed” by irradiation. The use of terms such as “cold pasteurization” and the elimination of the requirement that irradiated foods carry the Radura symbol are all under consideration.

In any case, the Indian mangos are the vanguard of many more irradiated items to come. U.S. treaty obligations basically require us to accept science-based treatments such as irradiation.

Virtually all spices are now irradiated, many stores sell irradiated hamburger patties and more and more tropicals will be irradiated.

Looking at both the mango and the process, nothing seems to bother an ace marketer such as Frieda’s, who has this to say about the promotional opportunity in Indian mangos:

INDIA GROWN MANGOES — The much-publicized first Mangoes out of India have just arrived in the States. The first shipment is committed to the White House … sorry but to quote Mel Brooks “it’s good to be the King.” Our Grower/Exporter is at the White House today (5/1/07) meeting with the Indian Ambassador and the Bush team.

Call your Frieda Account Manager if you want to be among the first to offer Mangoes from India to your shoppers. During the first test season, most of the volume will arrive via air shipment. The focus will be on the Alphonso and Kesar varieties only. We are still working out the details (pack, price and quantity for air shipments).

Indian Mangoes are irradiated. This preserves the flavor and actually improves the shelf life of the fruit. Get in line now to pre-book orders!!!!

Although The New York Times article expresses concern over the high cost of air freight, first-year volumes will probably go heavily to retailers who serve Indian expatriates and emigrants as well as Indian restaurants. And they will ante up for this long dreamt-of treat.

Long term, they will find ways to ship by sea; then a whole new market will open up — unless Mexico figures out how to grow these varieties with the flavor Indians always mention.

Congratulations to Bhaskar Savani, who owns a chain of dental clinics near Philadelphia, but whose family grows the mangos back in India, for making an Indian-American dream come true.

Perchlorate Issue Is Percolating

As the industry focus shifts to United’s convention in Chicago, it is worth noting that United’s most valuable contribution to the industry is actually dealing with hundreds of issues that the average person in the trade barely hears about. One issue that has percolated for years is the issue of perchlorate.

Perchlorate is commonly found in the environment and known to inhibit thyroid function at high doses. Assessing the potential effect of low-level exposure to perchlorate on thyroid function is an area of ongoing research.

In January of this year, U.S. Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer introduced two bills: S.24, the “Perchlorate Monitoring and Right-to-Know Act of 2006” and S.150, the “Protecting Pregnant Women and Children From Perchlorate Act of 2006.” The bills aim to set standards for perchlorate, a chemical used widely in a variety of industrial processes and found in water supplies nationwide. The first bill requires EPA to establish a health advisory and a standard for perchlorate contamination in drinking water supplies by the end of the year. The second bill requires drinking water to be tested for perchlorate and mandates public notice if the chemical is found.

We sent Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott out to get an update and learn more about how this issue impacts the produce industry:

Robert Guenther
Senior VP Public Policy
United Fresh Produce Association
Washington, D.C.

Q: What is the status of the perchlorate bills?

A: On April 25, there was a hearing in the house subcommittee on the environment and hazardous material on perchlorate led by Congressman Albert Wynn. [You can listen to the testimony here]. Scientists and federal officials testified but there wasn’t anyone from the industry that spoke.

The bills have been introduced. No actionable moves have taken place on those bills yet. Senator Boxer, being chairman of the senate environment and public works committee, leads many to believe significant action will occur this year.

Q: How could this impact the produce industry?

A: This is a valid issue that has been out there for several years and certainly congressional oversight will be heightened with issues of health and environment in the forefront. More members are interested in this with Democrats under control of Congress. I suspect the Senate will have a hearing in Senator Boxer’s committee. Once oversite hearings are done the next step will be moving through the legislative process. To gain better perspective from a scientific standpoint I recommend speaking with Jim Gorny [Ph.D., Senior VP Food Safety & Technology at United] or Dave Gombas [Ph.D., VP Scientific & Technical Affairs at United].

Mira touched base with Dave to learn more:

Dave Gombas, Ph.D
VP Scientific & Technical Affairs
United Fresh Produce Association
Washington, D.C.

Q: How does the issue of perchlorate affect the produce industry?

A: Perchlorate is an issue primarily generated by contamination of ground water from other sources, such as ammunitions from the Department of Defense.

Once in the water, perchlorate is soluble; it dissolves very well in water so where water goes, perchlorate goes with it. Crops like lettuce, carrots and other produce contain a lot of water. When ground water contains perchlorate, the crops will contain perchlorate as well. When analysis is done of fresh crops, perchlorate will be there.

Q: Is this dangerous?

A: Perchlorate interferes with iodine uptake in the body. This could be a real problem for growing children. Perchlorate interferes with the thyroid. If the thyroid doesn’t work well it has implications for growth. However, Americans tend to have sufficient iodine in their diet from salt and other sources. Experts I’ve talked to so far say that the levels of perchlorate we see today in produce don’t present significant risk to consumers. That doesn’t mean we should ignore perchlorate in the water. It just means that it is not a food safety hazard for virtually all American consumers.

Q: Can the produce industry take steps to reduce the levels of perchlorate in different produce commodities? Will there be new regulations companies will need to follow if the proposed bills become law? And if so, what costs would be involved?

A: It depends on how the legislation reads when and if it is ultimately developed. One thing produce suppliers need to be aware of is that they have no control of perchlorate coming in the water or showing up in vegetables. There is no pre-treatment or cooking technique to eliminate it from the product. Well, I should correct that to say, there is nothing practical a farmer could do today to reduce perchlorate coming into the water or the vegetables.

Studies are showing perchlorate is everywhere. Perchlorate is slowly diluting out across the entire aquifer, many hundreds of miles from the original source.

Q: To clarify, even though perchlorate has become more widespread, the levels in the food supply are safe for the vast majority of American consumers?

A: It is a toxin, so sure there is consumer concern. I’m not a medical doctor, but from the studies I’ve seen, and from the experts I’ve heard from so far, the levels seen do not present health concerns to most Americans with sufficient source of iodine. We need to find out whether the amount of perchlorate is increasing, decreasing or staying the same. We need to keep an eye on how much perchlorate is present in produce items. It is important to remember that perchlorate will be in drinking water, milk, and many food items that contain water. Someone from the CDC could provide you with more information.

Mira goes to CDC for more answers:

Benjamin Blount, PhD
Chief, VOC and Perchlorate Laboratory,
National Center for Environmental Health,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), Washington, D.C.

Q: Could you tell us about the studies you’ve conducted on perchlorate?

A: CDC last year issued a report on perchlorate, which I co-authored, here, analyzing the effects of perchlorate levels in adolescent and adult men and women living in the U.S.

The research study showed that American women — and especially women with low iodine intake — are at risk of hypothyroidism due to common exposure to the toxin perchlorate. The study was published by the Environmental Health Perspectives Branch (EHPB), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Q: What were the study’s parameters and methodology? This sounds like cause for concern. Please elaborate.

A: As an exposure-assessment scientist, my area of expertise, the key issue is how much of the chemical someone’s been exposed to and if that exposure could be associated with any change in their health.

We’ve developed new ways of measuring exposure to perchlorate through urine samples.

For most people, perchlorate intake goes into urine.

We looked at 2,820 U.S. residents ages 6 and older in 2001 and 2002 and every urine sample had measurable samples of perchlorate, which indicated it was wide spread. Children had higher levels of exposure than adults. We’re not sure if that is because children eat different foods or if it’s because of more foods per body weight. We’re not sure why that is.

The next thing we did was compare the level of perchlorate exposure we found with the dose of perchlorate the Environmental Protection Agency says is ok. That’s called a reference dose, an amount estimated to be without appreciable risk of adverse health effects during a lifetime of exposure.

What we found when we estimated levels is that the vast majority of people’s doses were lower than the EPA dose.

A second aspect to this was the population we studied. Some of these individuals also had their thyroids tested to gauge how well their thyroid glands were working.

The group was composed of 2,299 men and women, ages 12 and older. What we found there, females, especially with lower iodine intake, had higher levels of perchlorate in urine. They tended to have changes in their association between higher levels of perchlorate in urine and decreased thyroid function, especially those with lower iodine intake.

Some were more susceptible to perchlorate’s toxicity, especially those that didn’t get enough iodine in their diet.

I didn’t use the term cause and effect. We don’t know perchlorate is causing this. We can only say the females that had higher perchlorate levels had lower thyroid function.

Q: How did these results compare to earlier studies you’ve conducted?

A: Earlier, I was involved in a Chilean study that looked at perchlorate exposure in pregnant women. In that study, we didn’t find an association between exposure and any changes in thyroid function.

Q: Why the different results?

A: We’re still studying this. I suspect several factors contributed to different findings. The Chilean population has more iodine in their diet than Americans do. Urinary iodine levels were measured in two studies, with very few of the women in Chile having low iodine levels. In American more than a third had low iodine levels.

The second difference: The Chilean study examined pregnant women. During the pregnancy time, the thyroid is adapting to the forming fetus. In a normal pregnancy, thyroid levels are changing. It becomes a little harder to see the effect that the change in perchlorate could contribute.

The Chilean study involved 180 total women, only three of those had consistent low iodine levels, whereas in our CDC study almost 400 women had low iodine levels.

Q: I thought Americans had a reputation for having too much salt in their diet.

A: A lot of salt is not iodized. Sea salt and kosher salt have almost no iodine. In commercial grade salt, I don’t think any is iodized. Also, a lot of people are cutting down on salt.

Using iodized salt is a way to increase iodine intake. With all things there’s a right amount.

With a small amount of iodized salt, you can certainly increase your iodine intake. Other foods like milk and some types of seafood are also good. FDA has support information on this.

Q: What’s the bottom line in terms of the dangers current perchlorate levels in foods pose to the American public?

A: A number of groups have measured perchlorate levels in milk and other dairy products. We found perchlorate exposure is widespread in the U.S. We found that a sub population of females with low iodine intake is potentially susceptible to the dangers of perchlorate, where we’ve seen a change in thyroid levels. The magnitude of this association is small to moderate from a clinical standpoint. Our finding predicts a perchlorate effect that is of small to moderate magnitude clinically relative to normal variation in thyroid function.

We certainly have a number of further studies planned to confirm the incidents and magnitude of perchlorate exposure in the population, and to look at thyroid function association in subsequent studies.

Mira also followed up with Charles Sanchez of the Yuma Ag Extension Service. Mira first interviewed Charles for a Pundit Special Science Report examining food safety vulnerabilities in Yuma and Salinas and the science of waterborne bacteria. You can read the extensive three-part series here.

Charles Sanchez
Director and Professor of Soil,
Water and Environmental Sciences
University of Arizona
Yuma Ag Extension Service


Q: Since we spoke about perchlorate issues several months ago, two bills to regulate perchlorate levels have emerged in Congress. Could you share your view on this latest development?

A: Perchlorate is not a problem for produce in Arizona. Amounts are very low relative to the reference dose established by the National Academy of Sciences. As I discussed in our original interview, there are trace levels of perchlorate in the Colorado River, but the resulting levels we’ve measured in lettuce are a small fraction of the reference dose, and in spinach are still less than 10 percent of the reference dose.

I also wanted to reinforce my point in that interview regarding the effective clean up several years ago of a perchlorate problem at a site near Las Vegas in Henderson. Perchlorate had leaked out from a plant through Lake Mead to the Colorado River. The contamination could have been there a long time, but we only had the technology a few years ago to detect it at the parts per billion level.

Bioreactors were installed to clean up the spills and reduced the loads considerably. Bioreactors have micro organisms in them that convert the perchlorate to chloride. The process renders a potential toxin to a benign substance. In fact, due to the bioremediation near the site of the contamination, the levels of perchlorate in the river have dropped substantially over the last few years.

However, a recent report released by CDC found levels below the reference dose affected thyroid hormone levels in women. This is a report that has motivated United States Senator Barbara Boxer. The Democrats have taken control of key committees and Senators Diane Feinstein, Boxer and others have a perchlorate agenda.

The bills are not a bad thing. Perchlorate contamination probably should be cleaned up. I don’t think anyone is against a clean up. My point is that the levels we are finding in vegetables in Arizona and southern California are below levels considered harmful using the best available science we have today. The CDC findings and other epidemiological studies in Chile show additional research is needed.

Chile has natural levels of perchlorate. The study picked three cities; one below levels of detection of perchlorate, one between 5 and 10 parts per billion of perchlorate, and the third city with levels 100 parts per billion. In examining the results of perchlorate in pregnant women, the study found no significant differences in hormone levels.

There were key differences between the two populations in the CDC study and the one done in Chile. Generally, the women in Chile were exposed to higher levels of iodine. Iodine is a competitive inhibitor of perchlorate and therefore perchlorate is less likely to impair the thyroid. Most Americans get enough iodine, but people have reduced sodium intake of iodine for health reasons. Fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s now use non-iodized salt.

Q: Doesn’t the CDC report raise a red flag on potential dangers of perchlorate in certain subpopulations?

A: CDC’s report indicates we need to do more work in this area. Perchlorate is found all across the United States, not just in California and Arizona. We also found perchlorate in many other places. FDA has found it in milk all over the country. We sampled a lot of dairies in the Southwest, California and Arizona, analyzing the drinking water of cows and resulting milk samples. I haven’t collected a milk sample to date that doesn’t have perchlorate in it. I also investigated perchlorate levels in lettuce and found no concerns.

There are perchlorate spills around the country and no one objects to clean up. But I would object to any reference that produce in Arizona isn’t safe to eat because of it. This issue will flare up again because Democrats taking power want to pursue it.

To some extent this is an environmental issue, but then, as we referenced here, one way of thinking about E. coli 0157:H7 is as a kind of pollution from cattle ranches and dairy herds. And one policy response would be an effort to restrict and remediate the effects of that pollution.

Still, although this issue is mostly below the radar right now, the industry shouldn’t take much solace from the fact that most research seems to indicate that negative effects, if any, are confined to certain sub-segments of the population. The serious effects of most foodborne illness also are confined to certain vulnerable segments of the population. Yet this doesn’t prevent foodborne illness from being a major issue.

In light of all the industry efforts to increase produce consumption among children, we need to be especially mindful of what research can tell us in this area. Very little research is ever done on what is safe for small children, so we are often extrapolating from adult studies.

The poignant story of Kyle Allgood, the 2-year-old from Idaho whose mother tried to help him by adding healthy greens to a fruit smoothie, was also just about the most damaging thing that could happen to the produce industry because it placed in the minds of consumers negative thoughts about giving produce, healthy greens at that, to young children.

Perchlorate is a chronic health issue, so we won’t have the drama of a spinach crisis. It is wide-spread in other foods so it is not a produce- specific issue.

Yet, things have a logic of their own and if Senators Boxer and Feinstein are successful in persuading their colleagues that perchlorate should be monitored in drinking water, surely it won’t be long before irrigation water is monitored as well. And then food itself will need to be tested.

And it is difficult to know if this is appropriate or not.

So if at United you see Dr. Gorny or Dr. Gombas, shake their hands and thank them for figuring it all out. This kind of quiet, but important. work is why, along with WGA’s Hank Giclas, we gave them The Perishable Pundit’s Unsung Heroes Award.

McDonald Of Taylor Farms Wins United’s Technical Award

At United’s FreshTech Conference in Palm Springs, United Fresh gave out its first version of a special award long given out at the IFPA convention before its merger with UFFVA:

Drew McDonald of Taylor Farms Receives
2007 United Fresh Technical Award

Honoree Gives Time and Technical Expertise
to the Produce Industry

Washington DC — Drew McDonald, vice president of national quality systems at Taylor Farms, was awarded the 2007 United Fresh Technical Award during the Global FreshTech Conference in Palm Springs.

The annual United Fresh Technical Award honors an individual who has made significant technical contributions to the overall fresh produce industry in the areas of food safety, food quality, innovative technologies and overall industry image.

“Drew has been a strong advocate for industry-led food safety research initiatives, and he has unselfishly given his time and technical expertise for the benefit of all of us involved in the fresh and fresh-cut produce industry,” said United Fresh Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. Jim Gorny in his introductory remarks. “He has also played a pivotal role in the drafting of the lettuce and leafy greens GAP metrics and audit verification scheme for use by the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.”

Drew is a member of the United Fresh Food Safety and Technology Council and participates in numerous allied professional associations and buyer councils such as the McDonalds and Yum! Brands supplier councils. In addition, he often advocates produce food safety and quality perspectives at national buyer meetings, such as the recent National Restaurant Association meeting held a few weeks ago in Monterey, CA and the national food safety summit in Washington, D.C.

In his acceptance remarks, Drew thanked United Fresh and acknowledged his industry colleagues. “I am truly honored to receive this award. There are so many people deserving of this recognition. It is all of us coming together — our unprecedented collaborative work in the area of food safety that has made the industry stronger,” he added. On hand to see Drew receive the award were his wife Aimee and two children Courtney and Norah.

Drew is a native of Minnesota. He holds a bachelors degree in biological sciences and English literature from Lawrence University in Wisconsin, where he graduated with honors in biology. His first job out of college was as an intern at one of the major fresh-cut processors in the early 1990’s on a project called “desert storm” to determine the causes of premature value-added lettuce breakdown in desert-grown lettuce. Drew worked as the fresh market manager for Campbell’s mushrooms and later as the new ventures manager for Dole Fresh Vegetables during the construction and start up of new fresh-cut processing facility in Sweden. At Taylor Farms, he has worked as a quality assurance supervisor, quality assurance manager and now serves as vice president national quality systems.

The United Fresh Technical Award was established by the International Fresh-cut Produce Association (IFPA) in 1995 in recognition of technical excellence. Following the merger of IFPA and United last year, United Fresh has continued that tradition.

Drew is held in exceptionally high esteem. All through the spinach crisis, people constantly were calling the Pundit to tell us what Drew McDonald thought. Sometimes they hadn’t even spoken to the man but, like Kremlinologists of old, they would watch him in public meetings and fire off e-mails on their blackberries to let the Pundit know when he was nodding his head in agreement or raising an eyebrow in doubt.

Now he is everywhere, representing Taylor Farms as it donated $2 million in cash and $1 million of in-kind research to the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis and receiving this award from United.

Perhaps his value to the industry is that he crosses the lines between science and communications so well. There are plenty of scientists and plenty of communicators, but it is a good bet that when Drew, as an undergraduate, was pursuing his dual major in both biological science and English literature, he never realized how far that combination could take him.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Can Irradiation Follow The Path Of Pasteurization?

As we have been discussing irradiation, it is a good time to bring out a letter from one of the trade’s more intriguing thinkers. We had run a piece entitled Raw Milk And Dirty Produce: Perfect Together that juxtaposed certain activists’ efforts to legally drink raw or unpasteurized milk with the regulatory assumption that consumers were so risk-adverse that only zero possibility of food borne illness was acceptable on produce. The piece brought this note:

Regarding “Raw Milk And Dirty Produce: Perfect Together,” I hope that as different groups propose different solutions to the safety problems associated with leafy greens, we can keep the pasteurization story in mind. 100 or so years ago, most people who drank milk drank raw milk. That was what milk was. Who knows what the typical dairy was like in terms of sanitation? Nonetheless, what they produced was milk. Those people who were worried about possible illness had the option to do some kind of home-pasteurization.

Once pasteurization became an accepted practice, raw milk became gradually re-identified. The people selling pasteurized milk, and the whole industry supporting them, had a vested interest in defining pasteurized milk as the only safe milk, regardless of the sanitation practices of the individual dairy. Today, selling raw milk is a criminal act, and drinking it, as you quote in your article, is playing Russian Roulette.

When some process is identified as a safer way to produce or treat salad greens, is there any reason to suppose that it won’t become illegal to sell any salad ingredients that are not produced or treated using the process, and that the risks which have been acceptable up to now will in the future be seen as Russian Roulette?

Is this what we want? Do we have any choice?

— Bob Sanderson
Jonathan’s Sprouts
Rochester, Massachusets

Coming from the sprout industry, Bob has had plenty of time to think through the implications of various food safety regimens. Here he makes an important point: Many of us view irradiation much as we might view organics, not something to be mandated but a reasonable choice to offer consumers.

Bob raises a question about how the very existence of use of technology changes the prism through which we evaluate our environment.

So, as he points out, it used be that raw milk was the norm and those who did something to their milk were the fringe. Yet something eventually happened to the way the public perceives milk, so that now, it is pasteurized milk that is the norm, that is, in some sense, milk. Raw or unpasteurized milk is an oddity that most people wouldn’t consider fit for human consumption.

Bob is quicker than the Pundit would be to attribute this switch to the vested interests of producers. It may just be a “tipping point” phenomenon in which when something reaches critical mass, the formerly accepted practice becomes quaint or odd. In other words, we don’t have to blame a plumber’s conspiracy for the fact that a person who lives without running water is going to be deemed both odd and unsanitary.

Still, with mangos from India and other imported tropicals being treated with irradiation, the comfort level will grow and then, somebody is bound to try an experiment on selling bagged salads. If it is safer and financially feasible, soon that will be recommended and some retailers will only sell irradiated product.

Very possibly we will reach a tipping point in which that becomes the norm. Then it is easy to pass laws restricting the sale of non-irradiated product.

Bob is just laying out this road for us and is asking if we really want to go down it.

Of course, as he also acknowledges, if we, despite the new Good Agricultural Practices documents in California, have more outbreaks, this may be the only path open to the industry.

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