Just when it looked like the Salinas spinach season might pass without incident, we received noticeof a problem:
METZ FRESH ANNOUNCES
VOLUNTARY RECALL OF SPINACH
Test Shows Presence of Salmonella
Metz Fresh, LLC is voluntarily recalling bagged spinach as a result of a positive test for Salmonella found during routine company testing.
The spinach is distributed under the label Metz Fresh, in both retail and food service packages. These include 10 and 16 oz bags as well as 4-2.5 lb. and 4 lb. cartons. The only Metz Fresh product affected is spinach that bears the tracking codes 12208114, 12208214 and 12208314. It was distributed in the continental United States and Canada.
There have been no reports of illness or problems related to this spinach.
Salmonella is a common food borne pathogen that can cause severe illnesses, including fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. While most individuals recover in three to five days without medical intervention, the infection can be life-threatening to young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Consumers with any of these symptoms should call their physician.
Consumers are advised to discard this product or return it to the place of purchase for a refund. Consumers with questions about the recall should contact 831-386-1018.
“Nothing is more important to Metz Fresh than the safety of our consumers, period,” said Andrew Cumming, President of Metz Fresh. “As soon as we learned of the presumptive positive test, we directed all customers to hold all boxes of the spinach affected as a precaution. Now, with this positive test confirmation, there is no question that we would recall and destroy all spinach bearing these three codes.”
The positive test came during independent lab testing Metz Fresh conducts on all of its products. Through its labeling and numbering system, Metz Fresh has already tracked, located and put ‘holds’ on the vast majority of the cartons of spinach affected. That spinach will not be released into the marketplace.
While the positive test came from only one sample of many on three packing lines, Metz Fresh has, as a precaution, chosen to recall all of the spinach from the ‘field lot’ packed that day on all three lines.
Metz Fresh is keeping appropriate authorities updated on the status of the voluntary recall.
We immediately asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to learn more. Greg Larsen, a spokesperson for Metz Fresh was working late into the night:
Greg Larsen, spokesperson for Metz Fresh
Q: Could you clarify the time line? When did Metz Fresh first get the presumptive positive?
A: There was a presumptive positive late Friday [August 24]. The presumptive positive was discovered during routine company testing.
Q: Was this a 12-hour rapid testing method?
A: I’m not sure. I’m not versed on that science. I will have to get back to you on that.
Q: What action did the company take when it learned of the presumptive positive?
A: At that point we proactively decided to put a hold order, not just on the single processing line where the presumptive positive sample test came from, rather on all three processing lines. As of last Friday night, Metz Fresh was able to track, locate, and put hold orders on more than 90 percent of the affected spinach.
We continued the testing process. By late Tuesday the confirmed positive came back, and we went from a hold order to a voluntary recall.
Q: When you moved the hold status to a voluntary recall on Tuesday night, what was the process of alerting consumers? Why did it take until late Wednesday for the company press release to appear on the FDA website?
A: We worked with the FDA on the release and made sure all the information was well covered. We expected it out [in the] morning but neither the FDA nor the California Department of Health got out the release until late. It put us behind the eight ball.
Q: When you tell customers to hold a product, what is the scope of the hold program? Does that mean if any product is on the shelves, the customer removes it?
A: Our intent is to not move the product forward in any part of the chain. We would expect customers to remove any product on the shelves. We ask customers to let us know boxes and lots, etc. The hold pulled the product out of the marketplace from sale. My understanding is if any retailer had product on the shelf, that product would be removed.
Q: What if a consumer had already purchased a bag at the presumptive positive hold stage? That consumer wouldn’t have been alerted not to eat it until the public recall notice came out. Wasn’t the company running a risk, if they knew of a presumptive positive and didn’t tell the public for more than three days that a consumer could have consumed tainted product, gotten sick or even worse died?
A: When a hold is put on a product, it is not being sold to the consumer. The wholesaler is not moving it on to a retail establishment. We had already reached out to everybody. It was really early in the shipping process. From what we know, we were able to corral more than 90 percent of the product.
At the presumptive positive point, we were able to bring so much product back so quickly — both the negatives and false positives.
Q: What distinguishes the hold action from the recall action?
A: When Metz Fresh had this confirmed positive, we had no choice but to do the voluntary recall immediately. The difference is in the steps. Now we’re at the point of circling back with customers and working with the FDA. We will have the product taken and dumped, or we will have it shipped back to us, determine how much for testing. This product isn’t going any place. The voluntary recall starts the process of removing product physically and getting rid of it so that it is not in harms way of consumers.
Q: Which retailers and foodservice operators would have been receiving this product? Do you have a list?
A: Without getting into the specifics, I can tell you we know major supermarket chains like Safeway and Kroger are not clients of Metz Fresh, and product is only labeled with the Metz Fresh brand. Metz Fresh categorizes itself as a small- to medium-sized grower.
Q: I’m aware that Costco carries Metz Fresh product.
A: Costco requires that Metz Fresh conducts additional testing procedures for them. I don’t know the exact name of the program, but can find that out for you.
Q: Has Metz Fresh located all the product in question at this time?
A: The company is working on that. I don’t have those numbers, beyond reiterating that more than 90 percent of product was accounted for as of last Friday.
It appears that what happened is that Metz Fresh had a preliminary positive test result on Friday, August 24, 2007, and the company immediately called its customers as well as put a hold on whatever product it had, even from lines not implicated in the test. Metz Fresh was able to put holds on over 90% of the product.
Then, almost four days later, Tuesday night, August 28, 2007, after Fresh Metz received a confirmed positive for Salmonella, it did a recall — although it didn’t seem to issue a press release.
The FDA itself didn’t issue the Metz Fresh press release via e-mail until 5:58pm Eastern Time on Wednesday, August 29, 2007.
It is, of course, great that Metz Fresh tells us that it was almost immediately able to locate and hold back over 90% of the product. Unfortunately, this implies that Metz Fresh let consumers who might have already had the product at home keep eating it, while the presumptive test was confirmed.
It may have been inadvertent, with false positives on Salmonella common and 90%-plus of the product held, executives at Metz Fresh may have felt the risk was slight.
The problem is that it is really not their call. Every consumer who purchased that product has the right to know the risk they are taking in consuming it.
If this becomes our practice, it seems an industry catastrophe waiting to happen.
The only reason not to do an immediate recall is to save money and/or one’s reputation — neither are very good reasons not to warn consumers of the heightened risk they may be taking by eating the product.
If even one person got Salmonellosis or Reiter’s Syndrome and required hospitalization because they ate product while a company was waiting for results of a presumptive positive and it didn’t want to spend money on a recall without a confirmatory test, the consequences would be catastrophic.
It would paint the industry in the minds of the press and public as a money-grubbing group that didn’t care if its customers lived or died.
It is bad enough that on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the spinach crisis, the consumer publications will have an opportunity to run headlines saying things such as: “On the anniversary of the spinach food safety scare: Is it really safe to eat spinach? One of the country’s largest producers is recalling all its spinach. News at 6”.
Do we really want them to run headlines saying: “Mr. Smith has horrible pain in his joints, his eyes itch constantly and urination is exceedingly painful — and there is no cure. The produce industry knew there could be a problem, they had a presumptive positive test for Salmonella, but a recall would have cost the industry money, so the industry kept quiet.”
When we first heard of the recall, we thought we could point to it as a sign of progress. After all, the industry is now catching these things itself, not waiting for sick customers to speak from hospital beds.
Yet now we are not so sure. When Nunes had its potential problem, it ordered a recall. Here is what Nunes President Tom Nunes said:
“At the time we ordered the recall, we only had an indication that there might be the potential that people could become sick. We thought it better to be safe, and to protect the health of our consumers. On Sunday, we pulled Green Leaf and water samples. We had all of the samples, tested for E. coli O157:H7. We are relieved that all results were negative, and we are confident our product is safe.”
When Church Brothers/True Leaf had its potential problem, it ordered the withdrawal of product from the marketplace:
During a series of regular internal tests known as ‘test and hold’, one of the many samples taken indicated the possible presence of salmonella, a human pathogen that may pose a potential health risk. To exert the utmost caution, all cases of spring mix and arugula produced between July 19 and July 25, 2007 are being withdrawn. There have been no reports of illness or problems connected to this product.
“There simply can be nothing more important than consumer safety,’ said Jared Gill, Plant Manager of True Leaf Farms. “Withdrawing all of the product, and not just the one lot found with a potential problem is simply the right thing to do. It is essential we do all we can to protect our consumers.”
In both the Nunes and the Church Brothers/True Leaf cases, the preliminary positives were not confirmed. The recall and withdrawal of product was a waste of money and a needless blow to the good name of both organizations. But they did the right thing. They didn’t wait for confirmatory tests. They got all the information out right away so that no consumer was needlessly put at risk.
That is not what seems to have happened in this case.
Releasing the test results should probably be a law. At very least, all buyers need to immediately insert in their contracts that all vendors must make public any presumptive positive test results on product that was sold to them.
And where was the FDA? Why did it take almost 24 hours to distribute the recall press release? And how could the FDA know that there was a presumptive positive for Salmonella and not require immediate disclosure?
There is a lot of explaining to be done.
In the wake of the Metz Fresh recall, one thing that has become obvious is that traceability is breaking down. The problem is not growers and packers and processors as we have all been focusing on; it is local distributors and retail distribution centers.
Look at what happens in foodservice:
As an example, a distributor might carry one brand of Spring Mix, perhaps that of a big buying group. It may be packed by two separate processors. But the distributor will only point to one slot for Spring Mix. So both producers get put in the same slot — the packer is identified on the outside of the carton, but the distributors don’t capture this information — and for that matter, if they filled in or did a buy outside their normal distribution system with another brand, the fill-in item would also get put in the same slot.
Because the distributors don’t have true traceability, even though their vendor can tell them they received XX boxes from Packer #1 on XX date, it’s gotten blended in with the other product in the same slot. Essentially it assumes a generic identity, and for this reason, all Spring Mix shipped after the questionable date would be recalled. So it’s not just the 100 boxes they received from a packer having an incident, the recall is much larger.
We need a system to track product all the way through, much like a FedEx package.
The big foodservice buying organizations have good systems of traceability and are able to identify where every carton of our product is grown (ranch ID), harvest crew, date, shift, and when it was loaded on a truck (plus, of course, plant ID, pack line and shift for fresh-cut products). The system falls apart at the distributor. All they know is they logged in 100 boxes of Spring Mix and put it in the Spring Mix slot. In today’s world, that should be unacceptable.
Retail can be a little better just because sometimes retailers decide to carry multiple brands and so slot them differently. By and large, though, it is the same problem. We lose the information we have because everything gets put in the same slot.
The consequence of this is that a company asking for a recall of 100,000 boxes may be putting in place a recall of double or triple that or more. It raises the costs and disruptions of recalls substantially.
We need to really look at better traceability systems on this end of the business.
The very last Kash n’ Karry has closed and the sign has gone up for a new Sweetbay. The heritage goes back to 1914 and the Kash n’ Karry banner, back in 1962, pioneered something approaching Every Day Low Pricies (EDLP) by eschewing trade stamps and whatnot.
The chain was once owned by Lucky Stores in California, and a chunk of the stores were Kroger’s old Florida Choice division.
There was a bankruptcy, a public offering and, finally, an acquisition by Delhaize. Then, in November 2004, the first Sweetbay opened:
In early 2004, Kash n’ Karry, the Florida-based supermarket company of Delhaize Group, announced the creation of a brand new supermarket concept in Florida. Developed from research in core markets, Sweetbay Supermarket intends to reinvigorate the marketplace and provide Floridians with a vibrant, exciting and diverse place for their shopping needs.
The Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia Virginiana) is the literal inspiration for our name. With its fragrant white blossoms and brilliant red berries, the beautiful Sweetbay vividly reflects our passion for delicious food. Common to West Central Florida, the Sweetbay grows tall and strong, echoing the strength of our stores and associates.
The doors of the first Sweetbay store opened in November 2004. The Sweetbay shopping experience is unlike any grocery store in Florida (or the world for that matter). It’s all about food, glorious food — variety, quality, freshness and flavor!
Sweetbay associates are not only passionate about food, they’re extremely knowledgeable — with an insatiable appetite to learn more.
Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, went to visit an early Sweetbay and you can read the article here.
Now Sweetbay announces the end of an era…and the beginning of a new one:
After entering Southwest Florida market three years ago,
supermarket retires Kash n’ Karry brand
TAMPA, Fla. (August, 29, 2007) — Kash n’ Karry is saying goodbye after more than 50 years in the Florida marketplace. Today marks the end of a 3-year transformation of one of Florida’s oldest grocery store chains, as the final Kash n’ Karry store, located in Crystal River closes and Sweetbay Supermarket, the Florida-based supermarket company of Delhaize Group, opens its doors to the community.
“Kash n’ Karry at one time was a strong brand and served as a pillar for the Tampa Bay community,” said Shelley Broader, president and chief executive officer of Sweetbay Supermarket. “We wanted to treat Kash n’ Karry with respect and retire the company gracefully, and I am very proud that we have.”
To celebrate the milestone, Broader, her executive team, Mayor Ronald Kitchen, Vice Mayor Jim Farley, City Councilman Philip Price and hundreds of Sweetbay associates participated in a ceremonial ribbon cutting and retirement party Wednesday at the Crystal River store located at 1651 SE U.S. Highway 19.
“These were exhausting and exhilarating years of transition and we couldn’t have done it without the dedication and resiliency of our entire team.” Broader said.
Kash n’ Karry began in 1914 when Italian immigrant Salvatore Greco bought an old horse and wagon and began selling fruits and vegetables in the streets of Tampa. The Kash n’ Karry name was adopted in 1962, and by 1970 the chain had grown to 48 stores. By 1973 it expanded into 11 counties and a distribution center was opened in Tampa in 1976. By 1989 the supermarket had 97 locations and more than 8,200 associates with annual sales exceeding $900 million. In 2001 Kash n’ Karry joined the Delhaize Group. In 2004, the company announced the creation of a brand new supermarket concept in Florida. Sweetbay Supermaket was developed from extensive customer research in core markets to reinvigorate the overall marketplace and provide Floridians with a vibrant, exciting and diverse place for their shopping needs.
The first Sweetbay Supermarket opened its doors in Seminole in November 2004, with Ft. Myers and Naples opening stores shortly thereafter. The brand was so well received during the first two years that the supermarket accelerated store openings by one year, transforming 92 Kash n’ Karry stores in three years. Today, there are 101 Sweetbay stores, with three more brand new scheduled to open by the end of this year.
“The conversion of the last Kash n’ Karry store is only the end of the beginning, and now our single focus is building a really successful regional supermarket chain. Broader said. “All of our effort and energy is now focused on improving and growing Sweetbay.”
The Kash n’ Karry stores Delhaize purchased were mostly so bad that Sweetbay clearly benefited simply by the comparison. And Sweetbay benefits from being in a market where the pickings are thin beyond Wal-Mart and Publix. Yet, even on its own terms, the Sweetbay concept is very appealing.
The offerings are very fresh, a lot of foodservice, very foodie-oriented — yet with prices that are competitive with any conventional supermarket.
Concept is crucial, of course, and Sweetbay believes it has found an epicurean niche in the business. Yet execution is also crucial, especially with a concept that is looking to offer so many things often identified as upscale — but at a competitive price point.
The executive team is crucial. And Shelley Broader, president and CEO of Sweetbay Supermarket, has the reputation of a phenom, with many people certain she will go very far, very fast.
The Pundit has been explicitly asked if Delhaize would ever appoint an American woman as CEO. And best of all, she is from the perishable world, having served as Vice President of Perishable Merchandising for Hannaford, Sweetbay’s sister division.
One suspects that this background is part of the key to Sweetbay’s success. For many years now, it has been recognized that fresh food and floral are crucial in differentiating stores, yet supermarket CEOs have come predominantly from grocery, front-end or accounting.
Maybe it is time for a change.
Delhaize reports substantial sales increases when each Kash n’ Karry is converted to a Sweetbay. Although some of that is offset by higher expenses, especially more labor, it is still a big win for Delhaize. That is the good news.
The bad news, of course, is that the “easy money” is now off the table. Comparisons to last year will be more difficult, and competitors, particularly Publix, are starting to respond more effectively.
Yet all this is a problem for another day. For the moment it is time to celebrate. Delhaize took a tired old chain and turned it into a beautiful fresh concept that almost everyone would like in their neighborhood. That is a substantial accomplishment.
Many congratulations to the Sweetbay team.
It was just a video made by a couple of college students, but A&P decided to sue them for a million dollars. Next thing you know, the headlines were everywhere:
One of America’s oldest grocers has sued two college students for licking its produce on YouTube.
Last week, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Company — better known as A&P — slapped a $1 million lawsuit on former employees Mark and Matthew D’Avella, accusing the two YouTubers of defaming the 147-year-old grocery chain in an online rap video called “Produce Paradise.”
According to the suit — filed in New Jersey superior court on August 24 and recently tracked down by an El Reg hack desperate for a good read — the video shows the D’Avella brothers “doing various disparaging and disgusting things” inside the Califon, New Jersey A&P where they worked as shelf stockers before getting the sack six days ago. “At least one customer,” A&P says, is extremely miffed by the video, which has the rappers “licking packaged produce and putting it back on the selling shelf” — among other things.
“This customer, understandably, was disgusted and distressed by the scenes depicted in the video,” the suit reads. “Also understandably, this customer informed A&P that she would not be shopping in its stores in the future owing to the repulsive acts depicted and performed by defendants in the rap video. Given the false and disparaging statements and depictions concerning A&P and its products within the rap video, it is likely that numerous other customers of A&P will have similar reactions.”
Claiming that one of the brothers dons an A&P hat in the video, the grocer has also accused the two of trademark infringement. “[The brothers] are aspiring rap artists whose use of the A&P logo and on the Califon A&P premises in the rap video to promote their rap video, and market their rapping abilities, is likely to cause confusion.”
With their “Produce Paradise” video — available on YouTube as well as their personal website — the D’Avellas spend four minutes and 16 seconds rapping about, well, produce. Billing themselves as the “Fresh Beets,” they lay down rhymes like “Produce. Produce. What you see is what you get, except the cut fruit, now that’s some nasty shit” and “Excuse me sir, where did this grow? Bitch, do I look Mexican, I don’t know.” In addition to licking some fruits and vegetables, they seem to urinate on others. “But don’t come up to me acting all rude because I won’t be afraid to pee in your food,” they chant.
A&P’s suit demands that the D’Avellas remove the video from the web — and fork over $1m and damages. The company seems to ignore the video’s claim that one brother was a two-time employee-of-the-month.
Meanwhile, the suit has ensured that “Produce Paradise” has now been viewed at least 41,000 times. And counting.
That 41,000 number was way up from the 6,000 that it had been seen before news of the lawsuit got out:
The rap never mentions the food chain, but A&P said several lines were “disparaging and disgusting,” including, “it ain’t safe in our produce paradise.” The song also uses an obscenity to describe cut fruit.
The video was posted Aug. 6; the brothers were fired Aug. 23, and the lawsuit was filed Aug. 24 in state Superior Court in Flemington. The lawsuit was first reported Tuesday in the Courier News of Bridgewater.
“Producing a video that intentionally and unjustly depicts our company in a negative light, and utilizing company facilities without management knowledge of the specific content involved, is obviously a blatant violation of our policy,” A&P spokesman Richard De Santa said in a statement.
The brothers worked part time at the store in Califon, near their western New Jersey home in Glen Gardner. Their father is the produce manager.
“This is just crazy that we put so much dedication into the company and they just stab us in the back,” said Matthew, 19.
“We’re making fun of the outlandishness of gangsta rap,” said Matthew, who produced the video in anticipation of submitting it for a class project at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, where he has started his sophomore year majoring in mass communication.
Mark, 22, said he doubted the video, which had been viewed more than 6,000 times on YouTube as of Tuesday afternoon, caused any harm to A&P.
“If they lose any sales, it will be because of the way they treated two students,” said Mark, a junior at the University of Delaware who is majoring in leadership.
The video itself is mostly filled with goofy stuff, but has some clever and some disgusting moments. We finally saw a hat with an A&P logo, but only after the lawsuit pointed it out to us, and even then it is not something we caught in several initial views of the video.
The truth is A&P handed the kids a publicity bonanza, and the D’Avella brothers will probably ride this to fame and fortune. Whatever negative aspects the video has, not one person in a thousand would have associated them with A&P until A&P associated itself by filing a public lawsuit.
Now the college students, who explain “We give new meaning to JERSEY FRESH,” gain sympathy through their blog.
Had A&P handled the situation differently, it would have just gone away. One even wonders if they couldn’t have used the guys. After all, they have worked at A&P for years and their father is an A&P produce manager. They could help attract a younger, more hip clientele.
Yes, though most of the video is just juvenile — the guys hang bananas out of their pants and drop their trousers — some of it, if accurate, would be horrible. Yet it struck us as more of a parody than a documentary. It is unfortunate that A&P in its anger took a step that has led to it being e-mailed around the world.
It certainly won’t make people feel better about eating produce from chain retailers. Among other things:
- They claim to urinate on produce whenever they are treated poorly by customers — though they say it is a joke.
- They lick some items.
- They warn about the fresh-cut fruit, presumably in-store processed.
- They say the bathroom is bad news.
- They respond with contempt to the idea they should know where things are from.
- They show contempt for motivational schemes such as "Employee of the Week"
All pretty disgusting and we are sure not common, but we worked in retail and knew some employees who would do similar things. It is one reason having happy employees at retail is not just a nice thing — it is an important thing. We wonder if A&P sat down with the guys to ascertain how much, if anything, was based on things they observed while working there.
Many times, retail employees are of an age, culture, ethnicity, economic status, etc., very different than their customers. It makes it easy to feel that it is OK to do disgusting things.
Here are the lyrics, but you need to watch the video to get the effect so click “the arrow” on the video:
Drop the beat. Oooo Yeah. Your boy Razor Blade.
Double D up next. Whatchya got baby?
We got the veggies to boot, salad to celery root
This is the produce paradise here goes our salute
The Fresh Beets baby ya know what I mean
Supplying the highest quality of every green
If you want oranges or apples that’s what we got
From sour to mild peppers or even real hot
But don’t come up to me acting all rude
Because I won’t be afraid to pee in your food
Don’t be scarred child I’m only teasin’
Unlike our fruit my body’s always in season
Supplying organic, rabe or just plain broccoli
Some may say I don’t give a shit-ake (mushroom)
But I’ll tell ya what, its realer than real
If you want to prepare a heart healthy meal
It’s all about the…
Produce, Produce we don’t like to kid
It’s lower middle portion of the food pyramid
Produce, Produce what you see is what ya get
Except the cut fruit, now that’s some nasty shit
I said it’s all about the…
Produce, Produce we don’t like to kid
It’s lower middle portion of the food pyramid
Produce, Produce what you see is what ya get
Take a deep breath in cuz baby this is it.
Prepare to be squashed!
They call me Razor Blade cause I cut veggies with precision and skill
Cut the roots off arugala, Italian parsley, and sometimes dill
I’m the most talented wrapper if ya know what I mean
I’ll cut you in two and then saran wrap your spleen
Excuse me sir where did this grow?
Bitch do I look Mexican, I don’t know!
Our fruit comes in all shapes and sizes
Extra large bananas, I know what mine is
Endive, escarole, chard and leek
You’re looking at a two time employee of the week
But I don’t do this for the girls I’m takin
Without produce a BLT is just bacon
When fruit goes bad we pray and mourn
Our produce display gets more views that Charlie the Unicorn
And we want more than the History of Dance
And to do it we just gotta take off our pants…
P to the R-O-D-U-C-E
The produce department is where ya find me
I got the worst cold cuz my rhymes are sick
I open and close packages just for a lick (real quick)
I got the best hands baby that’s true
I sway the ladies over with the vegetable stew
I would say honeydew this honeydew that
But I cantelope cuz girls don’t like guys that are phat
Our scallions are the freshest no need to dwell
Got these people saying no quiero Taco Bell
And if your in the store about to drop a two
The downstairs bathroom aint good for you
Now stick with your gut, take some advice
It ain’t safe in our produce paradise
We wish the boys hadn’t made the video. But A&P was ill-advised in its response. Sometimes the best solution is to laugh things off.