The Pundit will be in San Diego for the Produce Marketing Association convention, where we’ll have the privilege of hosting the annual invitation-only “Rising Star Reception,” honoring the recipients of the Annual PRODUCE BUSINESS 40-under-Forty Award and welcoming to the industry the 2006 Pack Family/PMA Career Pathways Fund Fellows. This year we will also be welcoming a special group of young vegetable farmers from Australia and New Zealand.
I want to thank everyone for the, literally, hundreds of invitations to parties, receptions, to do interviews and view products. We’ll try our best to do as much as we can. Pundit special projects editor and investigator, Mira Slott, will be there as well as the PRODUCE BUSINESS staff to help see everybody and everything.
A Pundit Policy: We politely decline all offers to attend events “off the floor” that conflict with official PMA activities, including the trade show. These vendors paid a lot of money to exhibit, and our trade associations depend on these shows as modes of support — we should support the enterprise. Besides, if we are really paying attention to the opportunities available, you can’t possibly finish the show in the allotted hours.
If you only bought a floor pass to the show, here is a tip: Upgrade to a total access pass so you can see everything. General sessions, workshops, seminars and networking events are really the key to getting the most out of the event. It is penny-wise and pound-foolish to invest your time in San Diego but not give yourself total access.
The Pundit will be at the PRODUCE BUSINESS booth # 4341 a great deal during the show so, please, feel free to drop by and say hello. If you would like to make a formal appointment, just send an e-mail and we’ll try to work it out. I’m staying at the Marriott Marina on Harbor Drive right next to the convention center.
The Pundit will continue on its normal publication schedule during the show.
We’ve been swimming in all the news about seafood this week. In a preemptive strike, before anything was even published, the Pundit started getting announcements designed to discredit a big report expected to come out on the risks and benefits of eating seafood. We viewed these types of announcements as immediately suspect because they consisted of ad hominon attacks, rather than substantive objections to either the report or to the work of the people on the panel.
You got things like this:
“…the panel appears to be biased toward nutritional benefits of fish, as evidenced by its makeup. The 13-member panel includes several members of the Institute of Food Technologists, a group whose board is heavily dominated by industry representatives. Only one member is recognized as a practitioner in the field of mercury toxicity.
That member, Dr. David Bellinger of Harvard University, was an author of a report last year funded largely by the U.S. tuna industry. While the report itself clearly showed that women and children should avoid high mercury fish and consume low mercury fish, this finding was ignored in favor of a sensationalized media strategy suggesting only that avoiding fish could do more harm than good. According to CSPI, Bellinger’s conflict of interest “violated any reasonable interpretation of the National Academy of Science/Institute of Medicine’s conflict of interest rules.”
On its face these objections seem frivolous. The Institute of Food Technologists is just a scientific society with no position on seafood, and even if it had such a position, the board members are researchers, professors, scientists, etc., who are not obligated to agree with all IFT policies.
The comments about Dr. David Bellinger are, well, a red herring — he did a study funded by tuna people — and that means, what, that he sold his soul to Chicken of the Sea? They literally can’t even find a quote from the report that they want to indict; instead they attack a “sensationalized media strategy,” which, even assuming this charge is correct, means nothing. The author of a report isn’t responsible for the fact that interests pluck out their favorite parts of a report to emphasize in their public relations efforts.
The Institute of Food Technologists apparently agreed with me as they shot out a press release of their own. Among the highlights:
“Contrary to a claim made earlier today, the Institute of Food Technologists does not have several of its members serving on an Institute of Medicine panel. The two IFT members serving the 13-member panel are employed as professors at flagship research universities in Nevada and Florida. Each is respected for his scientific knowledge and demonstrates integrity to science.
“To further clarify, the IFT Executive Committee is comprised of individual members, each selected by a worldwide vote of IFT’s membership. Like IFT, this committee is comprised of individuals who are — or have been — employed in academia, government and industry. Their service to IFT as volunteer leaders is irrespective of their employment. Any description otherwise is not factual. IFT had no influence on the IOM panel’s appointment.
Finally, the Institute of Medicine, which is part of The National Academies that advise the nation on science, engineering and medicine, came out with its report. You can read it here. The name of the report is Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks and, from its very name, we knew good stuff was included.
As has been completely lost in, for example, the recent spinach crisis, most things in life involve both benefits and risks, and we have a significant problem when we try and assign words such as “safe” to products.
In addition, the report acknowledges what so many advocates don’t like to acknowledge — imperfect knowledge. In a press release announcing the report, such humility was clearly in evidence:
Much of the evidence on seafood’s health benefits and risks is preliminary or insufficient, the committee found. Reliable data on the distribution of some contaminants is lacking, and there is little evidence on how beneficial effects of seafood might counteract some of the risks from contaminants. Evidence suggesting that people who have suffered heart attacks can reduce their risk of future heart attacks by eating seafood is weaker than previously thought, the committee concluded. It is also not clear whether consuming seafood might reduce people’s risks for diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or other ailments.
Even when there is some evidence, the actual causal link is typically a mystery:
However, the committee confirmed that eating fish and shellfish may reduce people’s overall risk for developing heart disease. It is not certain whether this is because substituting the lean protein of seafood for fatty cuts of meat reduces consumers’ intake of saturated fat and cholesterol or because of the protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in relatively high amounts in many fish species. Americans generally consume too much saturated fat and cholesterol and too little of “good fats” such as the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in fish.
There are risks to seafood:
Seafood is the major source of human exposure to methylmercury, a contaminant that accumulates in the muscle of animals over time. Because evidence suggests that methylmercury can disrupt neurodevelopment in the fetus, the report supports current recommendations that women who are pregnant or wish to become pregnant avoid consumption of lean, predatory fish such as swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish, and limit their consumption of albacore, or “white,” tuna. Other potential risks associated with seafood are exposure to persistent organic pollutants, such as dioxin and PCBs — though there is not clear evidence on the adverse effects associated with these compounds — and microbial infections, which are contracted mainly through the consumption of raw or undercooked fish and shellfish.
And certain subgroups of the population need to take special care:
POPULATION GROUPS AND APPROPRIATE GUIDANCE
Females who are or may become pregnant or who are breast-feeding:
May benefit from consuming seafood, especially those with relatively higher concentrations of EPA and DHA.
A reasonable intake would be two 3-ounce (cooked) servings, but they can safely consume 12 ounces per week.
Can consume up to 6 ounces of white (albacore) tuna per week.
Should avoid large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, or king mackerel
Children up to 12 years of age:
May benefit from consuming seafood, especially those with relatively higher concentrations of EPA and DHA.
A reasonable intake would be two 3-ounce (cooked) or age-appropriate servings, but they can safely consume 12 ounces per week
Can consume up to 6 ounces of white (albacore) tuna per week.
Should avoid large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, or king mackerel.
Healthy adolescent and adult males and females (who will not become pregnant):
May reduce their risk for future cardiovascular disease by consuming seafood regularly (as suggested by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans).
Who consume more than two servings a week should ensure that they select a variety of seafood to reduce the risk for exposure to contaminants from a single source.
Adult males and females who are at risk of coronary heart disease:
May reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease by consuming seafood regularly.
Although supporting evidence is limited, there may be additional benefits from including seafood selections with high levels of EPA and DHA.
Who consume more than two servings a week should ensure that they select a variety of seafood to reduce the risk for exposure to contaminants from a single source.
But, in balance:
The report supports current dietary guidelines and seafood advisories. However, the committee’s interpretation of the risks and benefits differs in that it consolidates information on both risks and benefits for sensitive population groups and addresses all segments of the population. And it does not support giving those with a history of heart disease advice different from that given to the general population.
Most people can gain nutritional benefits from seafood while minimizing their risk of exposure to contaminants by selecting fish and shellfish in amounts that fall within current dietary guidelines, the report says. Because seafood supplies and cultivation practices change constantly, it would be difficult for federal agencies to develop a list of “good fish” and “bad fish” that would not become obsolete in a short time. However, the benefits and risks for broad categories of seafood are relatively consistent…”
The seafood industry believes that fish consumption is being unnecessarily reduced as most consumers are not anywhere near their maximum consumption level but get scared away by confusing publicity.
And, indeed, another new study, this one out of Harvard and not considered in the Institute of Medicine report, pointed to the danger of this phenomenon. You can read an article that references it here. The article explains:
“The average person can consume more fish than they do,” says Susan M. Krebs-Smith, PhD, a panelist who is chief of the risk factor monitoring and methods branch of the National Cancer Institute.”
“…a new Harvard University study, published in this week’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, concluding that regularly eating salmon and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids can cut risk of death from heart disease by more than a third.
The study, based on a review of previous research, also concludes that the benefits of eating salmon on the heart greatly outweigh what some studies have pegged as an increased cancer risk owing to dioxin contamination found in farm-raised fish.”
But the industry may not see the bump in consumption it would like from this report because some people are not as worried about the health of people as they are focused on the health of the world fisheries:
“What we’re finding is that the fish that are highest in contaminants such as sharks, bluefin tuna and swordfish also tend to be unsustainable under current management practices,” said George Leonard, the science manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program.
The aquarium has been a leader in promoting commercial fisheries that don’t deplete a fish population beyond its ability to recover. The Seafood Watch Program includes an extensive list of marine species ranked according to sustainability. The list also notes health risks associated with specific species.
Under the aquarium’s criteria, several species are strongly discouraged. Patagonian toothfish — more popularly known as Chilean sea bass, a favorite of upscale restaurants — is chief among them.
“The fishery is in steep decline, and about half of the catch is illegal,” Leonard said.
But the savior of the fisheries may be that unexpected ally of the environmentalists, Wal-Mart:
“Most recently, Wal-Mart announced they will (identify the) source of all their seafood in three to five years,” Leonard said. “That’s huge. We’re at the tipping point. This is going to proliferate throughout the business community.”
You can learn more about the Wal-Mart initiative here.
A very difficult, but very important thing to do is to look at the industry not only as it is, but also as it could be. When I proposed that the industry push a guest worker program that would phase out over 40 years, it was a way of looking at the situation and saying that while we may need this solution today, we can change and do things differently so we won’t need the same solution in 40 years.
Politically these things are difficult to get through because the future has no political constituency. But the future has the Pundit on its side:
So, as soon as the spinach crisis broke, we asked about the viability of greenhouses right here. Then Lou Cooperhouse, Director, Rutgers Food innovation Center, helped us further the discussion here.
Now Marvin N. Miller Ph.D., market research manager, Ball Horticulture Company sent on some additional information:
I forwarded news of your hydroponic story to a friend at Cornell University who I knew had worked on hydroponics for some time. He passed on my email to another professor, Louis Albright. Though they are not growing hydroponic spinach, they have been successfully growing hydroponic lettuces at the edge of the Cornell campus in Ithaca, NY, for many years.
You may want to check out http://www.fingerlakesfresh.com/ for more information about their project.
A hat tip to Marvin for passing this one along. It is a fascinating project. Begun as a research project for Cornell University, the greenhouse is now operated by a non-profit corporation that employs disabled people. Production has increased sufficiently that they explain they are now able to not only sell locally but into the regional distribution centers for Wegmans, Price Chopper and P&C.
But Marvin wasn’t done. He also passed along a note from Bob Langhans with this explanation:
Bob Langhans is a Cornell professor that I’ve known for years through his work on Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). Though a floriculturist by training, his last years at Cornell before retirement were largely involved in hydroponic systems for greenhouse vegetable production. The CEA approach determines optimal conditions for maximizing plant production and then supplies them, whether that means augmenting light, temperature, fertilization, carbon dioxide or whatever is needed to achieve maximum growth. Though Bob is retired and spends part of each winter in Florida, he returns to Ithaca for most of the year and works with Lou Albright on the CEA approach.
Below, you will see an email from Bob. My back and forth yesterday got him excited and his comments clarify some of yesterday’s discussion.
Indeed they do. Bottom line: they believe they can commercially produce spinach and other field greens and: “We can produce crops without the inherent dangers found in fieldgrown crops.” Here is Professor Langhans’ note:
I noted in one of your emails to your friend Jim Prevor, you indicated we are not growing hydroponic spinach. We are and have been doing so for the past 6-plus years.
We felt it was the next crop for us to research after our success with lettuce. Spinach is an excellent product for our system and a very popular product with consumers, because of its high nutrient value.
We first started to grow spinach using the lettuce system, ie., producing heads. Head spinach is the low-value part of that market and is centered in Texas and Colorado.
Baby leaf spinach was just starting along with mixed greens for salads. Vegetable growers in the Salinas Valley started to grow Baby Leaf Spinach and production grew rapidly. Now there are literally thousands of acres of this crop. Production is highly automated and the system does a very commendable job.
That is until E. coli showed its ugly head. They are always going to be vulnerable to this problem, especially if the dairy industry is located right next door. Cows fed grains are real manufacturers of E.coli.
As a side issue re: E. coli, Maurico Salamancia, a graduate student in the 90’s, was interested in food safety with CEA. He preformed a challenge test to demonstrate E. coli does not do well in a CEA hydroponic system. A sterile nutrient solution was added to a petri dish and nutrient solution from an existing lettuce solution (i.e., with all its micro-flora) was added to a second petri dish. He added a known amount of E. coli to each dish and inspected in 10 days. E. coli in the sterile nutrient solution was still alive. In the solution with existing micro-flora, E. coli was no longer present. We were very elated with this result.
We were able to grow spinach with little cultural problems, however, we had a major problem with disease. Pythium was the culprit. Pythium is a water mold and very happy in a hydroponic nutrient solution. It is spread by a special organ called zoospores. These small few-celled organs are produced by the millions, have small tails and move through the solution quickly to infect the whole root system. When we first discovered this problem, it was clear we needed to solve it or there was not going to be a commercial application of our CEA system. It was a potential “Show Stopper”.
Leslie Katzman, another graduate student, studied pythium and produced a thesis on the subject. We learned a number of important things about the life cycle of the disease.
A parallel research program was continued to study “baby leaf” production. Great success here under the efforts of David de Villers and graduate student, Tim Shelford. They were able to produce plants large enough to harvest in 14 days from seed, using CEA technologies. Disease was quickly their limit that prevent commercializing this technology.
They used knowledge learned from Katzman’s work and developed a simple solution (not using any pesticides). We can produce “baby leaf spinach” continuously in the same solution, i.e., have a unit produce a crop every day of the year, with no down time or need for sterilization, etc. The system is commercial.
We are looking for funding to support a commercial demonstration of this technology. A grant has been submitted to NYSERDA.
This comes at a opportune time. We know we can obtain HACCP approval for this process. We can produce crops without the inherent dangers found in field-grown crops. This technique will also work for most other leafy greens. As you know, this product has become a very important part of the vegetable industry. This latest scare does not help.
In addition to all of the above, we are extremely productive. We can produce orders of magnitude greater tons per acre more than the best fields in California. CEA does have large costs; however, CEA avoids the large transportation costs and gives the consumer about as good a product as can be produced (fresh, long lasting, safe, and nutritious). From my perspective, it can’t get much better and everyone wins — the grower, retailer and consumer.
It is time growers on the West Coast begin to talk to us, if they are interested in their future. Their time is limited. Land values are rising, water quality is poor, safety problems will continue, government will get involved and transportation will continue to rise.
You probably got more information than you bargained for, but you asked.
Basically the professor is saying that the higher costs for growing in CEA, or Controlled Environment Agriculture, may be offset by higher yields and reduced transportation costs as growing facilities can be located near the point of consumption. I agree that the big players should be talking to the professor. Although they have applied for a grant to prove the commercial viability of the project, maybe a private sponsor would like to get in on the ground floor.
And I literally mean the ground floor because the whole talk of greenhouses and hydroponics brings to mind Dr. Dickson Desponmmier, a Professor of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences and Microbiology at Columbia University. He has been working on a project called “The Vertical Farm Project: Agriculture for the 21st Century and Beyond,” and it is fascinating stuff. His basic thesis:
By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices. What can be done to avoid this impending disaster?
A Potential Solution: Farm Vertically
The concept of indoor farming is not new, since hothouse production of tomatoes, a wide variety of herbs, and other produce has been in vogue for some time. What is new is the urgent need to scale up this technology to accommodate another 3 billion people. An entirely new approach to indoor farming must be invented, employing cutting edge technologies.
The Vertical Farm must be efficient (cheap to construct and safe to operate). Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world’s urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.
Here is what the farm might look like
Or like this:
Check out The Vertical Farm Project website right here.
We’ve been asked to make available in one place our coverage of the recall by Wm. Bolthouse Farms of certain 100% carrot juice products and the broader implications of this issue for food safety. This piece is updated regularly and will be re-run to include new coverage of this outbreak and issue.
We initiated our coverage on October 2, 1006, by publishing the FDA notice to consumers warning them not to drink the product, and we inquired as to the margin of safety on the product. You can find the piece, entitled Oh No! Another Outbreak, right here.
On October 4, 2006, we published Bolthouse And Juice Refrigeration, which analyzed the proper standard of refrigeration for vulnerable products and the ability of both the trade and consumers to maintain that cold chain. Read it here.
October 5, 2006, we ran Botulism III, which detailed the 12 steps in the distribution chain that the industry needs functioning properly in order to maintain the cold chain. The piece challenged retailers to evaluate the integrity of their own cold chain. You can find the piece here.
In The Botulism And E. coli Connection, which we ran on October 6, 2006, we noted similarities between the botulism outbreak on certain Bolthouse carrot juice and the spinach/E. coli outbreak. The piece is right here.
On October 10, 2006, we noted, in Bolthouse Botulism Case Hits Canada,that two Canadians were now victims of this botulism case and noted that it was an unusual cluster to occur at one time if the problem was solely temperature abuse by customers. You can catch it here.
October 11, 2006, we ran Carrot Juice Still On Canadian Shelves, we noted that Canadians were getting upset over the inability of Canada’s public health authorities to execute a simple product recall and that the frequency of recalls was raising questions over the safety of California produce. Read it right here.
On October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration urging industry lobbyists to work on legislation to make sure consumers have the tools they need to keep product safe at home. The article is here.
October 18, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, disagreeing with our urging of legislation regarding thermostats and refrigeration. You can read the piece here.
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.
October 5, 2006, we analyzed the implications of the FBI raid in Salinas with Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… You can read the piece here. We also explained on October 5, 2006, the involvement of Growers Express in the FBI raid in a piece entitled Bailando Juntos (Dancing Together), which you can find right here. What’s more, we discussed on October 5, 2006, why Canada is still banning U.S. spinach and what that implies about relations between the FDA and CFIA. The piece is called U.S. Spinach Still Banned in Canada, and you can read it here.
On October 6, 2006, the Pundit pointed out the importance of considering the human costs of our actions in A Look At The Faces, which you can read here. Also on October 6, 2006, we analyzed how increased use of a federal network was bound to mean the recording of more frequent food safety outlets in a piece entitled PulseNet Ups Ante In Food Safety Battle, which can be read right here.
Although not strictly speaking spinach-related, when one company voluntarily recalled certain green leaf lettuce, it was a decision affected by the overall environment caused by the spinach/E. coli situation. In Nunes Recall Reveals Testing Dilemma, published on October 10, 2006, we analyzed how stricter standards may lead to more frequent recalls. Catch the piece here.
October 11, 2006 we pointed out that the Center for Disease Control was beginning to see fresh-cut in a whole new light. You can read CDC’s Aha! Moment right here. Also on October 11, 2006, we offered Heads Up — Political Posturing On Spinach Begins, pointing out that the a State Senator in California was going to start some hearings. Read the piece here.
On October 12, 2006, in PulseNet Asleep At The Wheel, we detailed that the nation’s food safety bulletin board likes to take off on weekends. Read this astounding piece here.
Dangerous E. coli Found On One Ranch ran on October 13, 2006, and points out that this finding doesn’t tell us much. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Fast Testing For Pathogens Necessary, which pointed out that product testing is bound to happen and discussed options and obstacles. You can read it here.
October 18, 2006 the Pundit ran a piece in which PulseNet Explains Why It Doesn’t work Weekends. You can find the piece here.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE CRISIS
In addition, the Pundit has done several smaller pieces that touched on various aspects of this crisis. On September 18, 2006, we raised the issue of whether food safety outbreaks such as this raise long-term issues about the viability of cartoon character tie-ins in Who Has Marketing Fortitude? You can read about it here. Also on September 18, 2006, we wrote Fit To Be Tied, which dealt with the way some companies have little sense of decency when it comes to marketing their products in the midst of a crisis. You can read this one right here.
Additionally on September 18, 2006, our Pundit’s Mailbag focused on letters received by United President/CEO Tom Stenzel and incoming Chairman Emanuel Lazopoulos of Del Monte Fresh, which dealt with the confluence of United’s Board Meeting and the spinach crisis as well as issues of industry leadership. You can find this one here.
On September 19, 2006, we noted that there might be a Greenhouse Opportunity in all this. Read this here. Also on September 19, 2006, we noted that, though fruits and vegetables are healthy, fresh produce is not necessarily the best choice for those with a compromised immune system. The piece is called Marketing Nightmare and you can find it right here.
On September 21, 2006, we did a piece called Wal-Mart Deli/Bakery Has Crisis Of Its Own that draws a link between the difficulty of preventing a Salmonella outbreak at one store with the difficulty of preventing an E. coli outbreak on an industry-wide basis. You can read this piece here.
On September 25, 2006, the Pundit noted Another Oddity In Spinach Crisis and raised the question whether some or all of the product being marketed as conventional might not be organic. Read it right here. Also on September 25, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag which dealt both with the utility of loyalty card programs and with the nature of large, multi-line fresh-cut packing facilities. You can read this one right here. Also we did a short piece on what change was actually necessary if consumers were to be reassured of the safety of spinach. Read it here.
On September 26, 2006, we discussed the issue of recalls and how insurance plays into that. You can read this here. Also had an unrelated piece on Wegmans that included a video clip on how consumer media is dealing with the reintroduction of spinach. You can catch it here.
Additionally on September 26, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the causes of the outbreak. You can read this piece here.
September 27, 2006, we focused on a piece in the Washington Post that helps us in Putting Things In Perspective. How does the Spinach/E. coli outbreak relate to the total numbers that get sick and die each year from foodborne illness? You can read it right here.
On September 28, 2006, we published a terrific Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the frustration the buy side felt in dealing with the spinach/E. coli situation. Read it here.
October 2, 2006, we had some Questions For Western Growers that asked how far the WGA was willing to go to make sure foreign growers meet the same standards as Salinas area farmers. Read about it here. We also asked How Committed Is The Produce Industry To Broad/National Food Safety Program. You can read the piece here.
In addition, on October 2, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Another Despicable Marketing Attempt that pointed out how a seed company was taking advantage of the situation and, possibly, leading to harm, by pushing its products. Read about it here.
On October 4, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Primary And Secondary Suppliers, which details how this food safety crisis has to impact retail vendor selection. Catch it right here. Also on October 4, 2006, we discussed how to help innocent spinach farmers who were victimized by this crisis in Everyone Needs to Do A Little Bit. The Pundit pledged to do its own bit. Read it right here.
October 5, 2006, we ran a piece focused on another outbreak of foodborne illness — in this case, botulism in carrot juice. The focus, however, was on the necessity to change attitudes as the produce industry becomes less a packing industry and more a processing industry. It is called Botulism III, and you can read it here.
On October 6, 2006 we pointed out The Botulism And E. coli Connection where we explained that our focus on pathogens at the product source, though important, is insufficient. Read it here. Also on October 6, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: What Are The feds Up To? This answered a reader’s letter inquiring as to whether the FBI being in Salinas implied industry members weren’t cooperating. You can find this item here.
Food Safety, Good Delivery And Temperature Monitoring was published on October 10, 2006, and pointed out that old temperature recording devices have to be superseded by new temperature monitoring technology on all trucking of vulnerable products. Catch the piece here.
On October 11, 2006, we ran a piece that grew out of the decision of Publix to stop giving some perishables away because of food safety concerns it is called Culture of Risk-Aversion Hurts the Poor and you can read it here.
Nunes Tests Negative on October 13, 2006, raises the question of the appropriateness of recalls for generic E. coli in irrigation water. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration, which pointed out that consumers are not given the tools needed to be vigilant at home. Find it here.
In addition on October 13, 2006, we published PulseNet Redux pointing out, once again, that this outbreak could have been caught earlier had the government not taken off for the weekend. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006 we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Population Inured by Recalls? This piece raised the possibility that frequent recalls, with no subsequent illness, would rebound to the benefit of the trade. Please read it here.
On October 17, 2006, we ran Will Hydroponics Be A Solution To Spinach Woes? and analyzed the potential of hydroponics to head off future outbreaks. Read it here.
October 18, 2006, we had a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, in which the Pundit was challenged for urging excessive governmental interference. You can find it right here.
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.