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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Immigration And The Poultry Industry

Here is a piece that points out that Delaware’s poultry-processing plants depend heavily on immigrants, many of whom are suspected of being illegal. It is a useful reminder that the immigration issue, which we have dealt with here, here and here, affects more than the produce industry. But whether it is poultry or produce, the problem is the same:

The work is hard, and the poultry companies say nonimmigrants aren’t willing to take jobs that start at $8 an hour and rise to $9.70 an hour after an initial probationary period.

In Georgetown, Delaware, the focus of this story, after an initial period of upheaval, there seems to mostly be an accommodation to a massive influx of Guatemalans:

“The key is they were willing to work. People will forgive a lot if they see people are willing to work,” said Carlton Moore, a local developer and community leader who is active in building housing for the immigrants. “They have filled a need. We would have a very difficult time without them.”

And certainly the poultry industry is dependent on them:

Perdue Farms Inc. employs 1,300 workers at its Georgetown plant, and 80 percent to 85 percent are immigrants or the children of immigrants, almost all from Guatemala, said Gary Miller, regional human-relations manager for the company. At Perdue’s Milford plant, 60 percent to 65 percent of the 1,200 workers are immigrants from 15 nations.

But it is still a hot issue:

Republicans John Jaremchuck, an Elsmere councilman running for the state legislature, and Jan Ting, a Temple University law professor running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Tom Carper, have made illegal immigration prime campaign topics.

“It’s not the job of the American government to supply a constant supply of low-wage workers for big businesses,” said Ting, whose parents emigrated from China during World War II. “Big business loves illegal immigration because it suppresses the wages of American workers, too… Do we care about the less-skilled, less-educated American workers?”

Still, you listen to a local elementary school principal talk, and it doesn’t seem like these immigrants are all that different from the past:

“The parents come in and they don’t ask, ‘How are my child’s grades?’ They ask, ‘How is my child behaving?’” The school was just named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, one of three schools in the state and 250 in the country to be recognized for strong academic progress.

Many of the town’s Hispanic elementary students gather after school at La Casita, on the edge of Kimmeytown, for homework help. There, one of the parent leaders, Yolanda Diaz, an undocumented Guatemalan who has been here for 13 years, said it was important that her three sons, Jesus, Edward, and Manuel, do well in school.

“I don’t want them to work in a chicken plant like I do,” she said. “It’s hard there.”

Foie Gras, Cultural Imperialism
And Hypocrisy

Interesting piece, called I Want My Foie Grasfrom salon.com, in which two well known “foodies” — Anthony Bourdain who is the host on the Travel Channel show “No Reservations” and Michael Ruhlman, a well known author — protest against the “food police” and the society that embraces such policies as banning foie gras or trans fats:

Telling people what they should and shouldn’t eat is cultural imperialism — and deeply disturbing. That a group of people could say, “You know, how you eat and how you’ve been eating for hundreds, if not thousands, of years — traditional Jewish cuisine, Western European food since Roman times — that is wrong and should not be allowed.” I find that offensive. Ethnically insensitive, jingoistic, xenophobic, anti-human and disrespectful of the diversity of cultures on this planet, and for human history. But that’s just the kind of law that has passed — in Chicago, our second city, no less. It’s a win for the forces of darkness, willful ignorance and intolerance.

We dealt with the trans fat issue here and are in agreement with the advice given:

Look, if you don’t want to patronize a business that serves foie gras, don’t go there. Running full-page ads telling people how evil you think it is — that’s also a legitimate enterprise, in my view, and one that’s been effective in the case of anti-fur activism. But particularly as I travel so much and have come to know so many other cultures older than ours — to criminalize ways of eating, to suggest that we’ve all been wrong since Roman times, well, that kind of interference scares me. It’s like an American tourist traveling around the world stopping over in different countries, and saying, “This is wrong and you should stop that — because me and my privileged, well-fed, white friends in our comfortable shoes think so.” I respect people’s decisions. You don’t want to eat foie gras? Don’t eat it.

These guys also make the link between those looking to ban things on safety grounds, cruelty grounds and health grounds:

This reeks on so many levels. Along with other wrong-headed, easy-fix, knee-jerk reactions to perceived food scares…paints a gloomy picture of how we might be forced to eat in this country if the frightened, righteous people who want to ban everything because it might be unsafe get together with all the people who want to ban everything because it might be cruel, and the people who want to ban everything because it might be unhealthy. It’s the perfect storm.

Alas, as correct as these guys are, in this instance, I sense that the real problem is it is their own ox that is being gored:

I know I’m in peril of being thought of as some kind of culinary Ted Nugent. But for chrissake, I find hunting for sport appalling. You know how I feel about fur, about cosmetics testing on animals.

So how did I get here, defending the killing of God’s creatures? As I see it, what’s at stake is the individual’s right to choose, the future of my profession, and good taste. Not to mention a delicious organ that dates back to the beginnings of gastronomy as we know it.

It reminds me of Irving Kristol’s famous observation on liberals and pornography:

“The liberal paradigm of regulation and license has led to a society where an 18-year-old girl has the right to public fornication in a pornographic movie — but only if she is paid the minimum wage. Now you don’t have to be the father of a daughter to think that there is something crazy about this situation.”

Irving Kristol in the Wall Street Journal, 1975

What these guys don’t realize is that their desire to protect the future of chefs is no more convincing than someone else’s desire to protect the future of hunters. And the fact that they identify “good taste” with foie gras and a nice Riesling carries no more weight than those who identify good taste as wearing a divine sable shawl.

They know they don’t like these laws, these restrictions on their freedom, but they don’t really know how to construct an argument for why it is wrong. This is because they are unwilling to extend the same freedom of choice to others as they demand for themselves. For example, here is what they have to say about Ann Coulter:

“I may find Ann Coulter utterly loathsome and reprehensible on every level, and I would greatly enjoy throwing a [expletive deleted by Perishable Pundit] pie into her face…”

Not exactly the spirit of multi-cultural understanding we might hope for based on their argument.

Read the whole article here.

Closure For Nunes

Well at least one of these situations is over and done with. The Nunes Company issued a press release:

FDA Tests Show Foxy® Lettuce Safe
Released: 3:00 p.m.

The Nunes Company President Tom Nunes, Jr. announced that FDA sampling of water, and California Department of Health Services extensive green leaf lettuce testing found no pathogenic E. coli, confirming earlier results from two other independent laboratories.

“Repeated tests, by multiple independent laboratories, and the government, have shown that there is no pathogenic E. coli either in the water or on our product. From the beginning, we have had as our only goal — to protect the consumer. We are confident we accomplished this goal.

We have been commended by the FDA for our prompt action, and the precautionary recall shows that self-regulation in the produce industry works.”

“We would like to thank our employees, retailers and wholesalers for their dedication and hard work during the recall. We also thank the many consumers who called with their heartfelt wishes,” Nunes said.

Consumers with questions may contact the Company at 1-800-695-5012.

We dealt with the Nunes issue here and here. Hallelujah that there was no problem and, yes, praise belongs to Nunes for taking steps at a sensitive time. But we still don’t know if we should recall product, as a matter of policy, because the water supply tests positive for generic E. coli.

We can’t depend on every grower or shipper deciding to do the right thing.

Partial Closure In Mexico

Mexico has announced that it has decided to allow the import of U.S. lettuce but not spinach. The United Fresh Produce Association sent along the news:

October 19, 2006

The Mexican border opened for the California lettuce

The Secretariats of Health (SSA) and of Agriculture, Livestock and Rural Development, Fishery and Food (SAGARPA), inform:

After evaluating the available information regarding the possible contamination of lettuces coming from the United States of America, both Secretariats determined the non-existence risk to public health due to the consumption of this type of products.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) informed to the Mexican authorities about the results of the performed investigations regarding the possible contamination of products and assured that the analysis performed to water and lettuce samples were negative to E. coli O157:H7.

Nevertheless, FDA informed the Mexican authorities that five fields irrigated with contaminated water were disabled for production; the remaining product obtained from these fields was destroyed. Furthermore, FDA informed that no products have been cultivated in the involved fields nor in California or any other state.

As of today, the sanitary and epidemiological surveillance activities have not registered any case of disease associated to the consumption of lettuces coming from the United States of America. For the above-mentioned, the government from Mexico, through the appropriate authorities, has determined the complete border opening to this product.

Also, both Secretariats reiterate that in the case of the spinach, the ban to enter to the Mexican market is maintained. This restrictive measure, established by the Secretary of Health, is enforced at border points by the SAGARPA through its surveillance infrastructure in the ports, airports and borders.

Lastly, the Secretary of Health reiterates the population the importance of the appropriate handling and disinfection of fruits and vegetables before its consumption.

Just as we can’t depend on business to always do the right thing, so we need standards. The same applies to governments. We need standards and procedures that allow quick appeal of these decisions for perishable products. There’s too much risk of protectionism or political infighting motivating non-science-driven decisions.

SIAL Representation

Although the Pundit has to miss SIAL this year due to the timing conflict with PMA, some of the Pundit’s sister publications will be represented. Mark Gold will represent AMERICAN FOOD AND AG EXPORTER, and Lee Smith, who is traveling with the Cheese Importers Association of America, will represent DELI BUSINESS.

If you are in Paris and would like to touch base, please stop by our booths: # 3D122 at the NASFT Pavilion within the USA Pavilion, or at SIAL International Press Stand #5b X192 . It is a big show so if you want to be certain about setting up an appointment, just e-mail the Pundit here and we’ll try to arrange it for you.

And if you haven’t booked yourself yet, a last minute jaunt to Paris to see SIAL is exposure to a whole world of the food industry. Highly recommended to broaden one’s perspective.

Botulism And Carrot Juice Summary VII

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.

Spinach Crisis Summary Rewind XVII

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.

The piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouses and Vertical Farmingexplores the potential of greenhouse and hydroponic growing in the light of the spinach/E. coli crisis. The article also explores the potential for vertical farms in urban neighborhoods. 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.

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.

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