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Town Hall Spinach Meeting:
Unanswered Questions

The Produce Marketing Association held its “Town Hall” meeting on the spinach/E.coli crisis on Saturday, and it certainly was valuable to provide an opportunity for the trade to hear a kind of recap of what happened and what the issues are that need to be dealt with. It also provided a forum for individuals to ask questions on issues they were concerned with. PMA deserves kudos for putting it all together so quickly…still, I think there were difficulties with the format that prevented the forum from being as valuable as it could have been.

PMA got three high powered government officials (Robert Brackett, Director of Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA; Kevin Reilly, Deputy Director, Prevention Services, California Department of Health Services, and Eric Stein, Policy and Legislative Deputy Secretary for the California Department of Agriculture) and three top association executives (Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United Fresh Produce Association; Tom Nassif, President and CEO of Western Growers Association, and James Bogart, President and General Counsel of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California) to speak on the subject and then took audience questions. Bryan Silbermann, President of PMA, served as moderator, but didn’t speak too much since he was going to include a great deal about the spinach crisis and food safety in his luncheon remarks.

I felt Bryan’s contributions were missed on the panel. This was an audience at PMA and thus had a disproportionate number of PMA members in the audience and everyone in the audience, just by virtue of being at the convention, had some kind of connection to PMA. To the extent they wanted to hear from association executives, they also wanted to hear from Bryan and possibly from other PMA executives who were involved in different aspects of the crisis, such as Kathy Means, Vice President of Government Relations, and Nancy Tucker, Vice President of Global Business Development. Part of what PMA members I think wanted was to judge if their association had represented then effectively in this crisis and the format didn’t allow for that.

More fundamentally, I’m not sure we should have had association executives up there at all. This is nothing against associations, and perhaps a second workshop focused on their response to the crisis and vision for the future would have been more appropriate. The basic difficulty with the format used is that trade association executives, as part of their long term responsibilities, have to work effectively with these government regulators. This makes it very difficult for them to question publicly the actions of the regulators or to identify incompetence at regulatory agencies.

You really wanted to get those government officials there in a format where they could be questioned politely, but sharply, and forced to explain and justify their actions and to elucidate what requests they are actually making from the industry.

Momma Pundit taught me that you can break your arm patting yourself on the back, but I’m pretty certain that if given an hour to interview those regulators, I could have elicited a lot more valuable information than came out of the discussion and brought to a head many of the issues facing the industry in the days ahead.

There was valuable information that came out. Of the three association executives participating, Tom Stenzel seemed the one most willing to, at least obliquely, challenge the decisions of the regulators as he kept pointing out that based on what we know now, there was one day, at one processing plant, in which there was a problem. He identified the core problem for the industry as being that regulators did not have confidence in the safety of our products and thus moved to impose the recommendation not to consume.

There was also a lot of emphasis on the fact that since we sell a product designed to be consumed raw, we have to all be perfect in all stages of production, processing and distribution. This struck me as problematic for several reasons: First, basing a food safety plan on human perfection seems ridiculous, as we will not be perfect. The issue is how can we have acceptably safe food acknowledging that human error will be part of life? Second, in this particular case, we still have no finding that anyone did anything wrong. Third, Tom Nassif was the bluntest of the panelists when he said that even if 100% of the people perform 100% of the time, there may still be outbreaks.

Kevin Reilly of the California Department of Health Services was probably the most specifically helpful of the regulators. He praised, without naming them, Natural Selection Foods for running a “state of the art” processing plant and maintaining incredible records in a computerized easy-to-access format. He also provided the only really specific advice on what needed to be done to improve the situation in the future. He pointed out that many of the documents that are designed to guide producers in producing safe product, such as our “Good Agricultural Practices” (GAP) guidelines, are vague, with references to things growers should be mindful of rather than specific rules.

There are real reasons for this vagueness. In a sense, these GAP documents are guidelines for producers to use in developing their own HACCP plan based on their own specific circumstances. But from a regulatory point of view, they make regulation almost impossible as they make it into an idiosyncratic question as to whether this particular producer “considered” properly the location of cattle in preparing his HACCP plan and whether he “considered” water quality sufficiently.

Some compromise needs to be struck between the truth, which is that each situation is different, and the regulatory need for uniformity in order to efficiently confirm compliance. The answer is obviously minimum standards.

So, everyone will still need to do their own HACCP plan and consider these issues — after all, it makes a big difference if a farm is located next to a farm with two cows or 2,000 cows — but, maybe under all circumstances, we can agree to a minimum buffer between farms that grow greens and cows.

Every farm needs a HACCP plan to look at things like wildlife, and the specific needs vary by location — but every farm could be required to meet a minimum standard — for example, a requirement for all fields to be surrounded by a fence going a set amount underground to discourage animals.

I have not been impressed with most of the grower HACCP plans I’ve seen. An awful lot of them look like photocopies of other farmer’s plans rather than plans developed for a specific location. A combination of minimum standards and a requirement that, much as architectural plans typically need a stamp from a licensed architect, HACCP plans need a stamp from a certified party that this plan was, in fact, developed after a careful analysis of this particular situation would go a long way toward improving the situation.

Tim York with the Markon Cooperative, and a former chairman of PMA, performed an invaluable service and asked the most trenchant question as he broke up the love fest and inquired as to whether the regulatory agencies felt comfortable now advising consumers that our products are safe. When Bob Brackett of the FDA replied that the agency had selected its language carefully and had said that “the product is as safe as it has ever been”, Tim York responded by quoting from an exchange in the movie Ordinary People between the characters played by Mary Tyler Moore (Beth Jarrett) and Donald Sutherland (Calvin Jarrett):

Calvin “Cal” Jarrett: “… Tell me something. Do you love me? You really love me?

Beth Jarrett: I feel the way I’ve always felt about you.

Which is pretty much what the regulators were telling the produce industry.

Unanswered Questions

The truth is that there were questions that needed to be put to the regulatory agencies and issues that needed to be discussed and they were not. Among these:

  1. We now know that not only was it one processor on one day, as Tom Stenzel said,but it was only bagged product and it was only Dole brand. This means that the FDA decision to issue a recommendation on all spinach in all forms from anywhere was wildly disproportionate and incorrect. They needlessly deprived people of healthy food and decimated an industry. They need to be held accountable for this. And the FDA, specifically, needs to be held accoutable for the flaws in the FDA’s own systems that produced so many “false positives” in the form of reports of people getting sick from other brands, from bulk product, from organic product, etc.
  2. It was shocking and unacceptable that these government officials spent two hours demanding that the industry “do better” without one single note of humility, one single acknowledgement that they made errors and without a scintilla of indication that they have any intention of trying to “do better” themselves so they will not unnecessarily bankrupt people and close down industries.
  3. In trying to explain, at an earlier point in the crisis, why the government made a recommendation not to eat spinach as opposed to confining the issue to a particular brand or processing plant, the analogy was given of 9/11 during which the government, uncertain of the safety of the air system, grounded all flights.

    The analogy always was overwrought, and the comparison between the intentional killing of thousands of people in an act of war and the accidental introduction of a pathogen into the food supply is not appropriate as these are not analogous situations.

    There is another way the situations differ: The government ordered all planes down and prohibited new ones from taking off — it didn’t issue a public recommendation to consumers not to fly.
  4. The FDA claims they didn’t have the authority to order a mandatory recall in this situation but did have the authority to advise consumers not to eat spinach.

    From the point of view of the industry, an advisory to consumers not to eat a product and a mandatory recall of that product are the same thing. Retailers won’t sell product that the FDA deems dangerous so a consumer advisory is a de facto recall.

    The only difference is that many vendors have insurance policies that cover mandatory recalls, but there is no such thing as a policy to cover consumer advisories. There also are no criteria that have to be met for FDA to announce an advisory.

    Maybe the industry would be better off with legislation that gave FDA mandatory recall authority, defining a “finding of fact” that FDA has to make before it could implement a mandatory recall. The same legislation would ban FDA from issuing “advisories” not to consume any product for which it had recall authority.

    In other words, the industry may be better off giving FDA authority to order mandatory recalls and being able to hold FDA accountable for its decisions. If it starts issuing erroneous findings of fact, maybe some people at FDA need to lose their jobs.

    There is something wrong with a system in which a government agency can be so wrong, with such great consequence for innocent growers around the country and so little consequence for anyone at the FDA.
  5. What, precisely, is the food safety standard that the government wants the industry to implement? As public health authorities, the regulators can’t be “special prosecutors,” consumed with spinach as the only threat to public health. They need to be mindful of the allocation of funds in society. They also need to be mindful of the substitution effect. As prices rise for an item such as spinach, an item recognized by public health authorities as healthy, people substitute other foods. If those foods are less healthy than spinach, then we could reduce fatalities from spinach and increase total fatalities as people die from the consequences of eating unhealthy substitutes.

Beyond lip service, however, the regulators showed no willingness to wrestle with these hard questions. Five people are believed to have died in the last ten years as a consequence of these matters in lettuce and spinach. In the same period, however, the industry produced over a trillion servings of these products — so by any reasonable standard, the product is enormously safe.

It can, however, always be made safer. And the question is what is the regulatory position on additional expenditures to achieve safety?

If we determine that by spending an extra $100 million a year, we can reduce fatalities by 20% — so spend a billion dollars in the next ten years and four people will die. Should we do it? What do the regulators want? What if we determine that by spending $250 million a year or $2.5 billion over the next ten years, we could reduce deaths by 40% — so three people would die over the next decade? Is that the regulator’s preference? Suppose the only way to get deaths down to zero is to grow everything in greenhouses. And imagine this costs $500 million a year or $5 billion over the next decade. Is that what the regulators want?

And how do they know that when the spinach industry is finally getting awards from the FDA for food safety that the higher prices of greenhouse-grown produce won’t lead more people to eat hamburger or chicken and that total fatalities in society won’t increase as people sometimes don’t cook these things properly and they die from E. coli and Salmonella and obesity-related diseases?

The regulatory community has a responsibility to not merely express generalized desires for “safe” product but to express, clearly, how they want these necessary trade offs to be made. They didn’t do this at the “Town Hall” meeting and, absent such an explanation, the industry has no reliable guide to making the real-world decisions that have to be made.

Dulcinea/Rosemont Alliance
Premiers New Supply Chain Model

First out of the gate with a major corporate announcement of industry significance at the Produce Marketing Association convention is this intriguing combination:

Dulcinea Farms, LLC and Rosemont Farms Corporation Announce New Business Alliance to Better Serve the Produce Industry

Dulcinea Farms, home to Fruit of Legendary Perfection, and Rosemont Farms, a leading grower, shipper and importer, announced today a growing, distribution and marketing partnership to increase production, distribution, sales and consumption of Dulcinea brand fresh fruits and vegetables.

Consumer research indicates significant unsatisfied demand among consumers for mini-seedless watermelons and other produce items that are specifically developed for taste and freshness. “This new strategic partnership will result in expanded production of Dulcinea Farms’ proprietary melon varieties on the East Coast, in the Midwest and in Central America. This increase in production, combined with current West Coast production, creates a geographic diversification which will allow us to provide a consistent supply, 52 weeks a year, for retailers and foodservice operators throughout the U.S. and Canada,” said Keith Kato, general manager of Dulcinea Farms.

“By combining Dulcinea Farms’ proprietary products and expertise in consumer research and marketing with Rosemont Farms’ supply chain expertise and logistics capability, we will create an efficient model to meet both customer and consumer needs,” said Andrew Schwartz, president of Rosemont Farms.

Dulcinea is owned by Syngenta, the Switzerland-based agribusiness giant employing over 19,000 people, and so has as backing resources rare in the produce industry. They’ve so far introduced four proprietary products: the Dulcinea PureHeart seedless watermelon, the Dulcinea Extra Sweet Tuscan Style cantaloupe, the Dulcinea SunnyGold Sweet Golden honeydew and the Dulcinea Rosso Bruno premium vine-fresh tomato. All these products were developed with traits that correspond to consumer desires for attributes such as better taste and sizes more easy to handle or use.

Alas, in the produce industry, merely having a great product is, most decidedly, not sufficient to secure ultimate success. Someone has to produce it in multiple places, it has to get where it needs to be in sufficient quantity and with good quality, and there are many obstacles. Rosemont Farms, a firm I know quite well as they are based in my home town of Boca Raton, Florida, is an interesting choice for Dulcinea to partner with and shows that someone in Switzerland must have a keen appreciation for the realities of our business.

Rosemont is the power behind many a throne in this industry. They don’t have a big name, but they do the work: Carefully putting together networks of growers, developing facilities across the country for pre-positioning/quality checking on product and integrating it all with a separate logistics organization. It used to be called the produce industry — now we use words like supply chain integrators.

This kind of alliance is going to be more common in the produce industry. In a sense, it is a compromise between the grower-shipper-packer that tries to do everything itself and the newfangled non-transactional produce companies, such as Green Giant or Disney Gardens that try to strictly segment what different parts of the supply chain do.

Grower-shipper-packers doing everything themselves is rapidly becoming impossible and the non-transactional model makes multi-product sales and marketing programs difficult. Combining the expertise of two wildly different players, the Dulcinea/Rosemont model is likely to be a productive collaboration.

SIAL Innovations

Over at SIAL in Paris, Mark Gold, Publisher of the Pundit’s sister magazine, AMERICAN FOOD AND AG EXPORTER, sends word of an interesting approach to promotion on a trade show floor:

The California Show Kitchen, featuring dishes prepared with California’s bounty

Pavilion visitors will have more than one opportunity to experience firsthand the quality and versatility of California food products. They can attend culinary demonstrations and tastings staged in the pavilion at the California Show Kitchen on booth # 3C142. Renowned Chef Daniel Isberg, private chef to the entertainment industry based in Beverly Hills, California, will create original dishes from the food products exhibited by the 12 California Market Sponsors (California Agricultural Export Council, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, California Medjool Date Commission, California Olive Oil Council, US Cranberry Marketing Committee, Jewel Fruit COOP, Meridian Nut Growers, California Olive Ranch, California Magazine, Noberasco Company, United Airlines and Viking Europe).

Visitors can also order special dishes being offered at the nearby Cellier Restaurant, whose chef will be incorporating products sampled each day on the pavilion.

So often we focus on selling our products and forget that they are often only useful to consumers when turned into meals.

A Rogue Cheese

Also at SIAL… an intriguing new product:

Smokey Blue Cheese from Rogue Creamery in Oregon, booth # 3D122: the first blue cheese made on the U.S. West Coast, it is cold smoked for 16 hours over locally grown hazelnut shells

We dealt with the explosion of specialty cheese in the very first edition of the pundit. Part of the special nature of this market is that cheeses of all types are being made all across America in areas where they were never made before.

These folks from Rogue Creamery must be properly named as they have the audacity to bring Oregon Blue Cheese to France. I wonder how close they are to the Roquefort booth! The Pundit can’t wait to try it. Best of luck to these pioneers.

Botulism And Carrot Juice Summary VIII

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 XVIII

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.

October 20, 2006, we had two pieces related to the Nunes recall on Green Leaf lettuce. First, in a piece entitled Closure For Nunes, we detailed that the product had been declared clean by the FDA. You can read it here. Second, we had a piece entitled Partial Closure In Mexico, which explained that Mexico had decided to allow the import of U.S. lettuce but not spinach. You can find the piece 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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