…the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California issued the following statement:
The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California announced that agents of the FBI and FDA Office of Criminal Investigations executed two search warrants today on Growers Express in Salinas, CA, and Natural Selection Foods in San Juan Batista, CA, in connection with the September 2006 outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 that the FDA has traced to spinach grown in the Salinas area.
“FDA continues to work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI to determine the facts behind this outbreak,” said Dr. Robert Brackett, Director of the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
United States Attorney Kevin V. Ryan stated that "I want to reassure the public that there is no indication in this investigation that leaf spinach was deliberately or intentionally contaminated. We are investigating allegations that certain spinach growers and distributors may not have taken all necessary or appropriate steps to ensure that their spinach was safe before it was placed into interstate commerce. Moreover, the investigation has not revealed any evidence of a new or continuing threat to public health in connection with the matters under investigation."
The affidavit in the case is under seal, so we don’t know what is in it. Natural Selection Foods issued its own statement on October 4:
A statement from Charles Sweat, COO, Natural Selection Foods (2 pm, PDT)
SAN JUAN BAUTISTA; CALIF; October 4, 2006: This morning, officials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived at the San Juan Bautista facilities of Natural Selection Foods. According to federal officials, today’s visit is part of the ongoing investigation that the FDA has been conducting related to the e coli contamination of spinach. It appears that the focus of this latest stage of the investigation continues to be on the fields where the products are grown by third party growers. As we have from the start, we will cooperate completely with this phase of the investigation.
The documents requested today included those that have been previously provided to both the FDA and the California Department of Health Services in the course of the investigation, as well as additional information that investigators believe will be helpful in their investigation. We will continue to cooperate fully with the investigation and welcome all efforts to trace this problem back to its source.
All tests performed on our processing facilities, both those done by independent scientists and government investigators, have been negative (clean). We continue to believe that the source of the contamination was in the fields from which we buy our spinach. While we have always maintained the highest level of food safety standards, last week we implemented a set of aggressive and unprecedented measures to help assure that no contaminated product, spinach or anything else, will enter our processing operation again. We have begun to set in place a program of rigorous testing and analysis of field operations from the seed through to the harvest. Finally, and most importantly, we are testing every lot of fresh product before it enters our processing stream. If contamination is found, the product will either be refused or destroyed. Essentially, we are raising the bar on food safety for any grower whose product will be washed and packaged in our facility.
We will continue to provide relevant updated information as it becomes available.
Employees at the facilities advise they were banned from the premises during the search. This is standard procedure. In fact in multi-story buildings, they evacuate the floors above and below during a search even if those floors are occupied by unrelated companies.
It feels a little melodramatic to me, like when the district attorney in Manhattan liked to get on TV by dragging guys from their Wall Street offices in handcuffs, although he knew a simple phone call to their attorneys would have sufficed.
I’ve been listening to the FDA briefings since the beginning of the crisis and the “briefers” were asked many times by the press some questions similar to asking if the FDA was getting full cooperation. There was never an indication that the FDA thought anyone less than 100% cooperative.
If the FDA had requested every hard drive in the place, I think they would have gotten them on a silver platter. So the need for the grand raid is uncertain. Still, there is always the possibility of evidence tampering, so sometimes you don’t want to tip your hat as to what you are looking for. In any case, the raid was done.
What could the case be? Well, everything is under seal so we don’t know. Since most of the produce safety rules are voluntary, there is no case there so they would have to rely on either general violations of law related to selling adulterated product in interstate commerce or claiming criminally negligent homicide, which is defined as an unintentional killing in which the actors should have known they were creating substantial and unjustified risks of death by conduct that grossly deviated from ordinary care.
I’ve known many of these players my whole life and I don’t believe for a minute that they would be involved with anything like this. But, of course, there can always be a disgruntled employee.
The standard of proof on criminal cases is much higher than on civil cases. Usually you need to prove something “beyond a reasonable doubt” as opposed to “by a preponderance of the evidence.” It is hard to see a case that is going to stick. But it could exist.
We can’t speak out of turn here. There must be an accusation that someone knew or should have known something was wrong and didn’t act to stop it. Whether there is evidence to support such an accusation, we will know soon enough. But, certainly, the elevation of the situation to a criminal investigation is very bad news for anyone who winds up being accused.
Ironically, a criminal verdict of guilty for some individual actor might relieve a lot of pressure on the industry. After all, everyone understands that a malicious, evil or negligent player can pose a threat.
Food safety systems are really not designed to protect the public against criminals, so identifying criminal act as the “cause” of the problem would reduce the pressure for dramatic changes in the industry protocols.
A new name brought into the spinach fiasco by the execution of the search warrants in Salinas is Growers Express. They issued a statement as well:
Public statement regarding FDA/FBI inquiry 10-4-06 1505 hrs.
Oct. 4, 2006 (Salinas, Calif.) — This morning, officials of the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation came to the offices of Growers Express LLC, seeking information related to their investigation of a recent e coli contamination involving fresh, bagged spinach.
Growers Express cooperated fully with the federal investigators and will continue to do so. Safeguarding the health of our customers is our top priority, and we continue to do all we can to ensure our products are safe and wholesome.
It is important to note that Growers Express LLC does not process bagged spinach. The small amount of bagged spinach marketed by Growers Express is purchased from outside processors, none of which have been connected to the recent recall.
Growers Express LLC packages and markets an array of fresh vegetables under various brand names including Western Express, Farm Day and Green Giant Fresh. None of these brands have been connected to the recent recall of fresh spinach nor have they been the focus of investigations into possible sources of contamination.
Pundit investigator Mira Slott spoke with Woody Johnson, VP Sales and Marketing for Growers Express, who was kind enough to share his take with the industry:
“Growers Express is not a spinach processor. What led the FBI and FDA to us was that we provide food safety services and third party audit services to growers. We do the documentation and assembly of records and pay some of the Primus Lab fees, and because of that they came to us.
The whole irony behind this is that we are known for our model food safety program. We have been at the forefront of stringent food safety studies. That is why growers turn the responsibility over to us because this food safety program is so comprehensive with compliance and thorough audits.
All anyone had to do was give us a phone call, whether FBI, FDA or other interested parties. The sealed search warrant action — talk about overkill! What ends up happening with a story like this is it is blown out of proportion with the non-trade press not understanding the nuances of the industry.
There have been many erroneous newspaper reports. We were chastised for not making a statement immediately, when in fact we didn’t even know what was going on yet. If you don’t say anything, people assume you’re guilty. That’s why we put together a general statement. I came into work today with the intention of conducting damage control, but fortunately the press has calmed down on this issue. It appears they’ve moved on to other things.”
We will see how long that lasts.
So it seems that Growers Express provides technical services to help growers meet the food safety standards and requirements of buyers, and the company facilitates interaction with Primus to provide third-party audits of the food safety programs. So that is why they are involved.
There is, however, another link between Growers Express and Natural Selection Foods. In 1995, Earthbound Farm (Drew and Myra Goodman) and Mission Ranches (Stan Pura, John Romans, David Gill and Mike Hitchcock) formed a partnership to create Natural Selection Foods.
Back in the 1980’s, the original Growers Express partners included Stan Pura, John Romans, David Gill and Mike Hitchcock.
Some of these people are among the most reputable families in produce, and there is no reason to believe that any of them have been implicated in anything at all.
Still, perhaps the FBI or FDA found something in the overlap of special interest. Unfortunately, it will take time before all this is sorted out.
One of the Growers Express technical programs is called “Bailando Juntos”, which translates into “Dancing Together”, and they define the program as “Sharing expertise to drive excellence.”
With news reports still coming out every day, the industry will be dancing together from some time.
We’ve dealt both here and here with the issue of Botulism and the recall by Wm. Bolthouse Farms of its 100% carrot juice.
The issue is bigger than carrot juice though. The tie between the Bolthouse recall and the Natural Selection Foods recall is the inching of the fresh produce industry into a food processing industry. At the intersection of eating habits and technology, the way people consume produce is transformed. So a lettuce packingshed is superseded by a modern fresh-cut facility, and a line on which carrots were put in 50 lb. bags is now replaced by a modern plant producing fresh juices.
But the DNA of the produce industry wasn’t established with these products and, in some cases, the rigor of food safety required for processed products isn’t in the culture of the business yet. This is not an issue solely for the actual processing plant. It goes through the entire supply chain.
I was reminded of this when, once again, the Pundit turned to our guru on these subjects, Lou Cooperhouse, Director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, for information. The Bolthouse recall is built around the idea that consumer abuse of the product — specifically failure to refrigerate — is the cause of the problem.
Yesterday, we pointed out that there is a dispute as to what the proper temperature should be to keep carrot juice and similar products safe. We also pointed out that many retail cases as well as home refrigerators are not maintained at the proper temperature to safeguard this product.
As follow-up I asked Lou to express the margin of error. Specifically I asked, “If a consumer does refrigerate properly but has the juice in a hot car trunk for 20 minutes, is this enough to create a danger?” Here is what Lou said:
The answer to your question is of course: it depends. As you know, microorganisms can multiply very quickly under optimum conditions. The time it takes for a microbial cell to reproduce is called the generation, or doubling, time. The type of microorganism, type of food, type of technologies that may have been used in the formulation and process, and the storage conditions determine the generation time.
At optimum conditions (like the trunk of a car on a warm day), most microbial generation times range from eight to 45 minutes. At refrigeration temperatures, generation times can be slowed to one to 10 days, if the cells reproduce at all. For spoilage organisms, a slime or odor may begin to appear at one to 10 million microbial cells per gram of food.
For pathogens, the hazardous dose varies. Clostridium perfringens requires 10 to 100 million cells per gram to cause disease, whereas just 10 Listeria monocytogenes cells can cause disease. Therefore, it is important to restrict all microbial growth as much as possible, but you can see how temperature abuse can quickly make a huge difference.
As an example, if the generation time of a bacterium is 20 minutes at 98°F (the car trunk example), then just one cell will generate more than one million cells in less than seven hours at this temperature. The initial contamination level affects how rapidly the food will spoil or become hazardous to humans. The more microbial cells that are initially present, the less time it takes to reach spoilage or hazardous levels.
As you know, the product’s temperature must be maintained at each of the following 12 links in the cold chain:
From the agricultural field to be hydrocooled immediately and shipped under refrigerated conditions to the further processor
Immediately following the processing and packaging process at the factory (which is influenced by the temperature of the room in which product is packaged, whether a continuous chilling process exists, and the length of time it takes for product to reach a refrigerated holding cooler);
In the manufacturing plant’s holding coolers;
At the loading docks of the manufacturer, which can be influenced by the presence of a refrigerated room or the use of insulated packaging and pallet wraps;
During transportation in refrigerated trucks, where pallets of product may go cross-country to a regional distribution center;
On the loading dock of the regional distribution center;
In the cooler of the regional distribution centers or warehouse;
During transportation in refrigerated trucks to the retailer or foodservice operator;
On the loading dock of the individual retail store or foodservice operator;
Inside the holding coolers of the supermarket or foodservice establishment;
In the merchandiser or display case of the supermarket; and
Between the store and home
Your question just had to do with this last link in the cold chain, which is very important, but the actual total time that may occur during this visit from store to home may be just a small percentage of the total shelf life of the product. So as you can imagine, it is easy for the cold chain to be broken. Education initiatives about proper storage conditions are minimal, and there is no consistent and mandatory labeling by our government authorities regarding the recommended storage temperature, the size of the font on packaging to disclose this information, etc.
As a result, various surveys have shown that temperatures of foods in U.S. chilled food distribution channels are frequently in the range of 45F-55F, and much higher during defrost cycles. Coolers are commonly overstocked, and the actual product temperature is far warmer than the thermometer in the case, which is commonly located right near the blower.
The FDA says that a woman is paralyzed from this botulism. Looking at the 12 links in the cold chain, I would speculate that, although it is possible that the failure was in the home, it is exceedingly possible that the product entered the home with too high a bacteria count for comfort.
Attention retailers: Now that you know a slip-up on the cold chain can paralyze a woman — are you really comfortable with the integrity of your cold chain? Not on average, not what the thermometer says but that each item — — no matter where placed in the case, even during defrost cycle — is actually maintained at proper temperature?
And, do you double-check manufacturers’ recommendations? Manufacturers need to sell product. They may have an inclination to be on the outer edge of the safe range especially on minor products where if they make the retailer’s job too tough, he won’t carry the product.
You should be getting advice from guys like Lou Cooperhouse. I have his phone number.
If there is a silver lining in disasters, it is that they stress out systems and thus reveal internal weaknesses. For example, we’ve learned that the traceback systems we trumpet so proudly are only half of what is needed. We need a way to quickly trace forward where bad product may have wound up so that we can get dangerous product off the street and so we don’t have secondary recalls dribbling in for a week or longer.
Another area that has shown severe weakness is the relationship between the FDA and the Canadian Food inspection Agency.
When the FDA said that spinach from all but three counties in California were OK, you might think that announcement would have allowed for New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado and other spinach growing areas to sell spinach everywhere. But it didn’t. You surely think that now that the FDA has said that all spinach is back to normal that one can sell it anywhere.
But this is not true. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) maintains a ban on importing U.S. spinach. You can read its policy right here.
As an American, it is easy to blast the CFIA, but other countries are not obligated to parrot whatever the FDA says and, if anything, the CFIA is guilty of taking what the FDA says more seriously than the FDA does.
One day the FDA is saying that things are so dangerous with spinach that nobody should eat it from anywhere — a week later everything is safe, although nothing has changed.
How does the CFIA know that the FDA didn’t bow to political pressure and there isn’t still danger?
Now some of the things the CFIA complains about make no sense at all, including an inability to ascertain where the spinach comes from. Countries all over the world, including Canada, rely on a system of phytosanitary certificates to certify that something is enterable, and there is not a reason in the world why that system shouldn’t satisfy Canada as to the origin of the spinach.
But on the bigger issue, Canada is really telling its U.S. counterpart to explain itself. It is not an unreasonable request, and the whole area of cross-border consultations is something we should develop a new approach to.
Canada should change its policy right away. It is hurting spinach farmers and consumers for no reason. Spinach is not now, and never has been, “unsafe” in any reasonable statistical sense.
But the FDA should pay attention too. Throughout this process, FDA has behaved arbitrarily and the CFIA is letting the FDA know that it won’t be played for a song.
To understand better the exact situation in Canada, Mira Slott, our ace reporter and special projects editor here at the Pundit, interviewed Danny Dempster, President of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA), and Heather Holland, CPMA’s Senior Technical Manager, Food Safety and Government Relations:
Q: Why is Canada still banning all U.S. spinach imports?
DEMPSTER: As of now, CFIA will still not allow imports of U.S. spinach. We still do not know what propelled FDA to make its decision from the start to ban all U.S. spinach products, acting on behalf of U.S. citizens. CFIA has had no choice. One wonders how FDA made such a sweeping decision to impact the whole sector. Once FDA did that and implicated all U.S. spinach, it then required the Canadian government to determine how to deal with it.
The CFIA, the regulatory enforcement body for food safety and standards, essentially had 15 minutes’ warning before FDA went forward with its announcement. CFIA had to determine appropriate steps needed to protect Canadian citizens. With all U.S. product implicated, we had to examine our domestic spinach industry here. We went down that road, and there wasn’t anything suggesting Canadian spinach was a problem. We didn’t want to hurt domestic production, but the media and consumers wanted answers and wanted to know why the Canadian government wasn’t doing something more.
Q: But now FDA is telling consumers it is OK to eat U.S. spinach again. Hasn’t the word spread to Canadian consumers?
DEMPSTER: Obviously we impart U.S. messages. We know the FDA is saying Americans can eat fresh spinach. However, in Canada our hazard alert put out by CFIA is still in affect. The general media on Friday reported that FDA issued a statement clearing all spinach, including that grown in California, for consumption. There was a huge headline on the second page of our local newspaper saying it was OK to eat.
Q: So, CFIA is not in agreement with the FDA?
DEMPSTER: CFIA has still not cleared the way for U.S. spinach to enter into Canada. Consumers are receiving two different signals because CFIA’s message is not consistent with the FDA’s. This tends to be confusing for Canadian citizens.
Q: What is the root of CFIA’s disagreement with FDA recommendations?
HOLLAND: CFIA doesn’t want any California spinach. The dialogue between CFIA and FDA has come down to CFIA asking, “What assurances can you give us that spinach coming from the U.S. is not grown in California fields or repacked from California?” FDA couldn’t give CFIA satisfactory assurances.
It’s frustrating, because the information we have received from FDA says that California spinach is OK to eat because the products subject to the recall all expired on Oct. 1. Technically speaking, there shouldn’t be any more affected product out there anyway. CFIA is verifying that there is no product from the affected areas being produced at this time.
Q: How does this impact your market?
DEMPSTER: Just as retailers you’ve interviewed have been hesitant to start selling spinach again, response from retailers here is similar. Some retailers are even wondering whether they should sell domestic Canadian spinach.
HOLLAND: There’s been a 30 percent decrease in fresh spinach sales since the outbreak. Our market for U.S. spinach is actually much smaller in the summer months because Canada produces its own at this time. This is problematic for us because we want fresh spinach on the shelf. We are seeing spinach from Canada in supermarkets now. By the end of the month the frost comes and our season is over. If the Canadian ban for U.S. spinach is not lifted, we won’t have spinach for Canadian consumers. We need to base this on science. FDA is saying one thing, CFIA is saying another, and the Canadian consumer is left to wonder what’s right.
Q: What can be done to alleviate this problem?
DEMPSTER: Right now we are in the middle of the crisis, but at end of the day, we need to do a wrap-up on how these decisions got made. The future strategy needs to involve us. FDA called the shots and CFIA responded with different health messages.
Q: But even in the U.S., the FDA has been giving consumers mixed messages throughout the ordeal…
DEMPSTER: You’ve been unraveling the FDA’s handling of the spinach outbreak daily in the Perishable Pundit, but there is another part of the novel. There’s a chapter on how the handling of the outbreak rolled out in Canada. How do FDA and CFIA communicate, particularly when we have products moving between the two countries, and what does that mean to the bottom-line impact?
Q: Based on the FDA go-ahead, U.S. spinach is available for sale, so isn’t it now in CFIA’s hands to give Canadian consumers the OK?
DEMPSTER: Now the industry down in the U.S. is saying, “How come Canada is not letting our spinach in?” The fresh fruit and vegetable industry needs to understand that issues in the U.S. have strong implications in Canada. The root cause of the contamination is still under investigation. We need to know that. CFIA is very challenged to put protocols in place. It risks putting resources in the wrong areas. FDA still has not put the CFIA at ease.
Q: What are some steps that can be taken?
HOLLAND: What Danny is proposing is a post mortem opportunity to improve commercial relations between the U.S. and Canada and understand that this will impact upon business in the future. The FDA’s recommendations resulted in CFIA taking actions it deemed appropriate, but now it remains at odds with FDA.
Q: Do you believe basic communication gaps are a source of the problem?
DEMPSTER: FDA was often providing information to our CFIA guys late on Friday when they couldn’t take significant action on the weekend. Then there are the unanswered questions that concern to us. Why would FDA say it’s OK to eat spinach, and CFIA says it’s not, and why are the messages changing? What is the message?
Q: Getting a consistent message out seems prudent.
HOLLAND: Because FDA made the outbreak such a broad issue to start with, millions of dollars in produce sales were lost. A critical component of any wrap up is assessing the power of what FDA says and the implications. How do we minimize negativity and the type of response? The industry needs to take responsibility in educating consumers. CPMA wants to work on mitigating concerns, teaching consumers about recalls and food safety issues.
Q: Do you have any sense of when U.S. spinach will start flowing through Canada again?
DEMPSTER: It depends on the results of CFIA discussions with FDA, and resolving the disconnect between the two organizations. Two countries very similar in approach need to get some cohesion. And it doesn’t end there. The U.S. government runs into conflicts with the individual states, and we can only hope the provinces don’t deviate from the Canadian federal mandate.
Many have expressed a desire to really study the Pundit beyond what they can do at work.
A tip of the hat to Frieda Caplan, dean of specialty food trade and inspiration to all women in produce, who asked us to provide a better printing functionality. We had received several other such requests, but what Frieda wants, Frieda gets. I am pleased to announce that function has been up and running for several days.
We needed it because the Pundit is now being used in meetings on every continent, save Antarctica. Plus, many were looking to print out the entire Pundit so they could conveniently read it on an airplane or take it home for further study. One fellow on vacation couldn’t get good wireless reception on the beach so asked for a convenient print version! I’m sure his wife will be simply thrilled with this breakthrough.
You could always print any individual article merely by clicking on the “Print Article” button at the bottom of each piece. We have enhanced that capability by creating a new “printer-friendly” version that will format better and be easier to read.
The new functionality is accessed on the bottom of the front page of every issue of the Pundit. You will now see a line that says: “Perishable Pundit’s Print Friendly Page”. Simply click on that line and print that entire day’s Pundit.
Perfect reading material ready made for that Business Class jaunt across the pond and, with careful study, bound to make you the life of any party.
With so much having been written in so short a time, thought it would be helpful to publish a sort of round-up of available material to help people understand the whole situation regarding spinach and this E. coli breakout:
The Perishable Pundit itself has dealt extensively with the subject in several major pieces. On September 15, 2006, we published Spinach Recall Reveals Serious Industry Problems, which addressed the implications of this crisis for the fresh-cut industry. You can read the piece here.
On September 18, 2006, we published Organic Dodges a Bullet, which deals with the implications of the outbreak for the future of organic farming. You can find this piece here. Also on September 18, 2006, we ran a piece called Ramifications and Reflections on the Spinach Recall, which provided our first 10-point analysis of the situation. You can read it here.
September 19, 2006, we asked Is FDA’s Concern Now an Obsession? — a piece in which we assessed whether a national recommendation to not eat spinach made any sense. You can review this here.
On September 20, 2006, we noted 10 Peculiarities about the E. coli Outbreak and reviewed why certain aspects of the situation are unlike past food-safety challenges and other unanswered questions regarding the outbreak. Read this one right here. Also on September 20, 2006, we did our third 10-point list, calling this one “Spinach Recall Begs for Solutions”, where we reviewed how the trade can deal with this issue for the future, including looking at the meat industry, the prospect of universal testing and the use of RFID and GTIN. You can read all this here.
On September 21, 2006, we asked Is FDA Causing Long-term Damage? Here we posed the question of whether punishing the innocent and the guilty alike doesn’t reduce incentives to invest in food safety. You can read this piece right here.
The September 25, 2006 edition of the Pundit includes our fourth 10-point list entitled Though Not ‘All-Clear’, Consumers Can Eat Spinach Again, which reviewed many issues facing the industry as spinach begins to reenter the market, including the FDA’s announcement, PMA consumer research, the behavior of industry association, battles over fresh-cuts and organics, the reintroduction of Salinas Valley production, the FDA’s capabilities, and more. You can read this piece here. Also on September 25, 2006, we reviewed The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that buyers have an important role in insuring food safety. Catch this piece here.
Additionally, on September 25, 2006, we ran the Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industryin which a panel of retail pundits gave us insight into the way the spinach issue played in store and with consumers. You can read it here.
The Pundit on September 26, 2006, included an articled entitled The California Department of Health Services Owes People An Explanation in which the question was raised whether certain parties received preferential treatment in the current spinach/E. coli outbreak. Read it right here. Also on September 26, 2006, we did a piece questioning the efficacy of our trace-back systems. The piece was titled More Recalls Trickle In, and you can read it here.
On September 27, 2006, the Pundit analyzed the bad publicity that the Salinas Valley has received and asked Is Salinas Getting A Bum Rap On Food Safety? The piece can be read right here.
September 28, 2006, the Pundit included a piece entitled Call For Stronger FDA that analyzed the demand of some in the food industry for beefing up the FDA and its budget within the context of the spinach/E. coli situation. You can read it here.
On September 29, 2006 we did a piece called Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics that explored the contradiction of modern life that has led things to seem less safe, even as they are actually safer. Read the piece here.
October 2, 2006 we ran The FDA Needs to Reexamine Its Methodology, inquiring why it was necessary to shut down a whole industry when, as far as we know, it was only Dole brand bagged spinach that was implicated? Read it here. Also on October 2, 2006, in a piece called Needless Recalls, we examined how even if many of the recalls were unnecessary, the recalls revealed big flaws in the trade’s traceback systems. You can find the piece here. Another piece October 2, 2006, entitled Deconstructing FDA, analyzed the FDA’s statement regarding the end of the spinach crisis. The piece is right here.
The Pundit also ran a piece entitled Action Plan to Regain Consumer Confidencethat 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.
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.
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.
In addition, 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.
Several additional pieces appear in the Perishable Pundit today, and they will be incorporated into future iterations of this Spinach Crisis Summary.
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.