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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Wal-Mart Joins Fray
In Carbon Profiling

It is no surprise that Tesco in the UK was already asking U.S. exporters to do it; now Wal-Mart is asking suppliers of select items to ascertain the amount of energy they use and their total carbon footprint:


Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has formed a partnership with the Carbon Disclosure Project to look for ways for its suppliers to better manage their energy efficiency, as part of its environmental push, the company said on Monday.

Under the partnership with the not-for-profit organization, which collects greenhouse gas emissions data from large companies, Wal-Mart will measure the amount of energy used throughout its supply chain, and use the method on a group of its suppliers to look for ways to make procurement, manufacturing and distribution more energy efficient.

The world’s largest retailer said it will kick-start the plan with a pilot group of seven commonly used products: DVDs, toothpaste, soap, milk, beer, vacuum cleaners and soda.

Suppliers will be encouraged to monitor and manage their greenhouse gas emissions and reduce Wal-Mart’s “total carbon footprint," John Fleming, Wal-Mart’s chief merchandising officer, said in a statement.

“This is an important first step toward reaching our goal of removing nonrenewable energy from products that Wal-Mart sells,” Fleming said.

Wal-Mart, under the Sustainability 360 plan, which it unveiled earlier this year, has set a goal of one day using only renewable energy and creating no waste, challenging its suppliers, customers and employees to do the same.

As part of the plan, it has constructed experimental stores to test ways to conserve water or electricity, and will ask its electronics suppliers to fill a scorecard to evaluate their products based on energy efficiency and durability, starting next year

This is one of those things that, used properly, can be helpful. After all, studying where and how one uses energy is the same as studying how one spends money.

The dangers are two-fold:

First, it must be kept in mind that all these studies depend on many subjective decisions. It is not obvious or easy to know how the fuel used by a boat should be allocated to different products. By weight? By volume? How does one calculate an issue such as if a factory has been built in a particular place to take advantage of a lot of empty backhauls?

Because of the inherent subjectivity of these decisions, the process is prone to abuse, and that abuse must be guarded against.

Second, reducing energy use is not inherently good. If you spend more money to reduce energy use than it is worth, you make the world a poorer place. Then, as we discussed here, you will make the world less able to deal with the consequences of global warming.

Why The Secrecy On
Inspection Agency Lab Results?

In analyzing our second conversation with Dole Fresh Vegetables’ President, Eric Schwartz, we commented this way:

There is something wacky with the testing in this industry. Dole isn’t speaking yet, but if CFIA tested 40 bags and found one positive — the odds are that Dole’s retention samples will be negative. This means one of four things: 1) The tests are giving false positives and there was never any E. coli 0157:H7 there to begin with. 2) The E. coli 0157:H7 may really be there but it got there through contamination in the lab or somewhere else. 3) Our washing systems are effective but not perfect and we can get rid of 99.99% but still have to deal with small residues 4) E. coli 0157:H7 is so episodic that one bird on one plant can put it on one leaf and we sometimes can’t wash it off. If, as an industry, we need to be looking for these kind of minor events, we have to rethink our food safety programs all together.

Now we get official word from Dole:

Your article was correct in that all of our retain bags from the exact same batch came back negative for any pathogen.

— Eric Schwartz
Dole Fresh Vegetables

Freaky things happen and maybe this is just a quirky Act of God and one little leaf in a field got contaminated and didn’t wash off — but this seems straining as an interpretation.

Logically, we would look to the quality of the testing: Did the CFIA use approved methods of testing? What method was used? Was there, in fact, a confirmed positive? Has CFIA looked within its own lab and sampling method to see if there might be a possible cross contamination?

Remember, as we discussed here the True Leaf/Church Brothers episode was all caused by a lab error.

Unfortunately, the CFIA won’t give out any information. They will not share test results or the PFGE strips. They just repeat like a mantra that they took 40 bags, and broke them into 8 samples of 5 bags each.

This is a very serious matter. Reputations, businesses, whole industries can be destroyed based on government reports on these matters.

It is too important a matter to allow for possibly self-serving secrecy.

Both the companies involved and the public at large are entitled to complete transparency so that the possibility of error or malfeasance can be considered.

How do we know that CFIA isn’t covering up for the incompetence of its own lab? Perhaps one day a lab technician will be paid off by a competitor. The process has to be transparent or people will lose confidence.

There is not a reason in the world why CFIA doesn’t release the PFGE strips and the test results so other experts can at least review them for anomalies.

Inspection Agencies Could
Assist In Traceability

Public health authorities have been critical of the industry for failing to maintain suitable traceability systems. As a result, millions have been spent and countless efforts are underway to enhance traceability. But the public health authorities could assist the effort.

Turns out that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does its tests on blends in such a way that the source of the pathogen cannot be ascertained and that traceback thus becomes a massive and probably fruitless exercise involving field investigations of three states (at least in the recent case of the Dole recall).

Concerned with the source of the outbreak, in our first report on the Dole recall, we asked about the source of the product used. Here is what Eric Schwartz, President of Dole Fresh Vegetables, explained:

Q: I understand this product was a blend. Could you delineate the raw ingredients, and where they were grown and processed?

A: There were three raw ingredients. The primary ingredient was Romaine. Most Romaine came from California. A little bit of the Romaine from Colorado. Butter Lettuce came from Ohio and the green leaf came from California.

Yet it turns out that the way the CFIA set up its test will not allow the agency to have any hope of identifying exactly which ingredient may have been carrying the E. coli 0157:H7.

Instead of separating the three types of leaves — butter, romaine, and green leaf — and testing them separately, CFIA simply took 40 bags and then broke them into 8 samples of 5 bags each.

There was no attempt to segregate by product, thus there is no possibility that CFIA will ever be able to tell which leaf from which growing area caused the problem.

Now testing individual components of a blend may not prove anything — but it may. The logical thing to do would be to pluck out romaine — test that, butter lettuce — test that, and green leaf — and test that.

Everything might show up with pathogens — after all, it is all blended together in one bag.

It is also possible that all the, say, butter lettuce will show up with pathogens, and the other items will not or will do so much less frequently. It might give us a lead on where the likely source of the contamination is.

CFIA, FDA, state agencies, private companies — everyone needs to be looking at separate testing protocols for blends that maintain component integrity through testing. Everyone should be thinking about what would help traceability of a pathogen if it was found.

Green Homes As Status Symbol

If you want to know the degree to which “greenness” has become a status symbol, just take a look at this house being built not far from Pundit headquarters. CNN did a story pointing out that luxury home buyers now want environmentally friendly estates:

After 20 years of building multi-million-dollar mega-mansions, real estate developer Frank McKinney is betting $29 million that what luxury home buyers want now are environmentally friendly estates.

His speculative 15,000 square foot mansion in Manalapan, Fla., will be the first home of its size to be certified green by the U.S. Green Building Council and the Florida Green Building Council

In addition to eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, two elevators, two laundry rooms, two wine cellars (one for red, one white), a movie theater and guesthouse, the house will also have a state-of-the-art air purification system and eco-friendly light fixtures that will reduce energy consumption by 90 percent.

Making this mansion green, probably tacked on additional costs of between 7 and 10 percent for McKinney and, ultimately, his buyer. It also required him to explore using different materials than he normally might.

For instance, instead of using a rare Brazilian cherry for the home’s hardwood floors, he’s using reclaimed teak — thus sparing 7.5 acres of Brazilian rain forest, he said.

The house will also have a massive solar panel system (price tag: $120,000), a water system that uses “gray water” from the showers and sinks to irrigate the lawn and gardens, as well as a series of pools, reflecting ponds and water gardens to cool down the 1.5 acre property by 2 to 3 degrees.

The house includes many “green” features:

Enough solar panels to cover a basketball court, generating enough energy to run the entire home on certain days, also generating enough electricity to run 2 average sized homes.

A water system that collects enough “gray” or runoff water to fill the average swimming pool every 14 days. The water is treated, then used to fill the water garden and irrigate the landscape.

Enough reclaimed and renewable wood to save 7.5 acres of Brazilian rain forest.

Renewable woods that regenerate every three years vs. every fifty years for other hardwoods

Enough pools, reflecting ponds, water gardens, misters, water walls, etc. to drop the site temperature by 2-3 degrees over neighboring properties, reducing cooling costs.

During construction over 340,000 pounds of debris and trash will be recycled, the equivalent of two super bowl’s worth of trash generated. Nearly 80% of all debris will be diverted from ever reaching a landfill.

Green light fixtures that cut down on lighting consumption by 90.

Air conditioning and purification systems that make air quality 2x cleaner than an operating room at the Mayo Clinic.

But as Robert Frank of The Wall Street Journal’s “Wealth Report” points out:

The 15,000 square-foot home (pictured here, photo courtesy of Mr. McKinney) has everything you’d expect from a fine beachfront estate inspired by the huts of Tahiti: swimable water gardens, water palapa, waterfall spa with fire feature, 24 foot interior water walls, exotic interior tropical hardwoods (coconut, bamboo, etc.), eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, two elevators, two laundry rooms, two wine cellars (one for red, one white) and marble garage.

But that’s not all! It’s also eco-friendly. McKinney says it will be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council and the Florida Green Building Council. How does a 15,000-square-foot mansion become green?

Apparently with “enough solar panels to cover a basketball court, a water system that collects enough ‘gray’ or runoff water to fill the average swimming pool every 14 days and enough reclaimed and renewable wood to save 7.5 acres of Brazilian rain forest.”

That assumes of course that if they didn’t use reclaimed wood, they would use 7.5 acres of Brazilian exotics. And even with all the solar panels, I guarantee the home will use up more electricity than two or three average ranch houses combined.

Being green is commendable, and perhaps even urgently necessary. And we should be thankful for any steps that the wealthy make to shrink their carbon footprint. At the same time, if someone wants to build a 15,000 square-foot house, fine by me. The wealthy have the right to live large. They earned it.

Just don’t try to call it environmentalism.

Perfectly said.

Pundit’s Mailbag —
False Positives
Not Surprising

Our discussion of the recent Dole recall, which we covered both here and here, and especially our exasperation on the testing, brought this pointed letter:

We’re not surprised by any of these findings.In fact this is what we would consider the norm.When pulling a second sample from a bag where a PCR presumptive positive has been found and running a second PCR test we will rarely find a second positive.So, not finding a positive in many other bags from the same lot comes as no surprise, and as we’ve discussed earlier for every 8 or 9 PCR presumptive positives we confirm a single finding.

Although it should be noted that the level of confirmations moving from a PCR test for E. coli O157:H7 to the classical confirmation tests are not the same as for Salmonella.

For Salmonella we are confirming less then 12% of our PCR findings.

For E. coli O157:H7 we are working with a much smaller population (fewer positive PCR findings) but our confirmation level is closer to 40%.

What appears to be emerging here is a clear example of why recalls are handled by producers not regulators; a regulator can err on the side of caution without consequences, the producer is impacted regardless of the end result.The looming presence of the regulatory authority has a way of pushing the producer to a more conservative decision.

Following the two high profile fresh produce cases in 2005 and 2006 folks have come to expect that health officials will solve every case as if it were CSI.The 2005 and 2006 outbreaks were atypical. They will become case studies showing how everything is done properly from a regulatory perspective.Future cases will depend more on the statistics generated from the epidemiologist than on the test results of the laboratories, and their conclusions will not be as clear cut.

The fresh produce industry needs to continue emphasizing basic HACCP principles.That means focusing on preventing the introduction of possible physical, chemical and microbiological contaminates.

— Robert F. Stovicek, PhD
Primus Group

So we are brought back to basics. Positives seem to happen without explanation and without being part of a broader contamination. We will probably never know why or trace back a source.

The only solution is old-fashioned vigilance, as Bob tells us: “…focusing on preventing the introduction of possible physical, chemical and microbiological contaminates.”

Many thanks to Bob and to Primus for keeping us on the straight and narrow.

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