The Centers for Disease Control estimate that there are 70,000,000 individuals who get foodborne illness each year.
Divide 70 million by 365 days a year and we should be seeing 191,790 cases per day.
However, on a major foodborne illness outbreak, such as the spinach/E. coli outbreak, we barely identify 200 affected people. Most weeks, on all food products we don’t have even 200 known illnesses.
Assuming the CDC number is remotely correct, as the technology advances for identification we can expect massive increases in the reporting of foodborne illness even if the actual incidence of foodborne illness declines.
Of course, this CDC number may be wrong.
Robert A. LaBudde, an Adjunct Professor of Food Science at North Carolina State University and President of Least Cost Formulations, Ltd., a food industry consultancy, published a paper that says the number may be way off. About 80% of the foodborne illness outbreaks the CDC identifies are due to unsubstantiated “unknown causes” and thus may not exist at all.
The paper was done in 1999, so the data is a little old but this section seemed relevant as the industry discusses the issue of food safety. After dismissing the 80% of cases attributed without reason to foodborne illness… :
There are approximately 266 million Americans, so an incidence of 14 million illnesses per year corresponds to one foodborne illness per 20 Americans per year, a believable number. This also corresponds to one illness per about 20,000 meals eaten per year, also a credible number. This is also the level of safety expected from traditional food safety practices. A bout of diarrhea once in 20,000 meals seems an acceptable risk, given that one in 28,500 Americans die from lightning strikes each year.
This CDC study makes it very clear that the US food supply is remarkably safe. Why then such concern for food safety in the press and politics? Well, there’s ‘lies, damned lies and statistics.’ CDC, FDA, USDA, news reporters and even food safety consultants like myself benefit by exaggerating the situation. By concentrating on the large numbers involved, it makes the problem appear large. When the numbers are examined per person (1 mild foodborne illness per 20 years) or per eating occasion (1 mild illness per 20,000 meals), the problem appears in its proper proportions.
The CDC even admits in its assessment that two-thirds of the total disease resulting from these etiological agents are not even foodborne, but instead are transferred by water, person-person contact or other means. Thus even a miraculous improvement in food safety could theoretically only reduce total morbidity by 35% at the most. It’s important to keep all of this in perspective, especially when allocating our public health resources.
Did you know that one in 28,500 Americans die from lightning strikes each year? Certainly we want to make our products safe as can be — but it sort of makes you feel that public health policy is a little wacko, urging the expenditure of limitless funds to achieve small improvements in public health and then doing nothing about major problems.
A hat tip to Lou Cooperhouse, director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, for passing along this slideshow entitled: “Spinach Outbreak as Part of Broader Concerns about Producer Safety — An FDA Perspective.” It is by Robert L. Buchanan of the FDA’s Center For Food Safety And Applied Nutrition.
Take a look at this presentation here.
During the course of the spinach/E. coli outbreak, we wrote several times that there was a real lack of coordination between the public health authorities of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The Produce Marketing Association has long been interested in expanding internationally both to better serve its U.S. membership, which is now so involved with items that trade internationally, and to learn how PMA can be helpful to companies outside the U.S. borders.
As part of this effort, PMA has long had executives from other countries on its board of directors. At the recent PMA Convention in San Diego, California, PMA announced that Rob Robson, Chief Executive Officer of OneHarvest, Carole Park, Queensland, Australia, will be the first non-American to serve as a member of the executive committee of the PMA’s board of directors.
Because of the need for quick response on many issues and the necessity of giving the full board recommendations on many subjects, a great deal of very important work is done in the executive committee of the board.
My wife and I have had the pleasure of spending some time with Rob and his wife, Pamela. Rob is a true visionary in the industry, having transformed a family-owned market wholesaler into a marketer of innovative products and the leading fresh-cut manufacturer for retail on the continent… and both Rob and his wife are a lot of fun.
Jackie Caplan Wiggins, Vice President/Secretary of Frieda’s Inc., was taken in as a stray by them when she was a kid backpacking around Australia, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship. It was Karen Caplan who introduced the Pundit to Rob some years ago.
It is an inspired choice and raises the obvious question: Is it possible to imagine a Chairman of PMA from so far away?
I still remember leaving Australia some years ago after having been brought down by the Woolworths Supermarket Chain to give the keynote address for the United Fresh Association meeting in Newcastle. The night before my plane left, hundreds of people held a banquet in my honor and they sent me off with a rousing rendition of Waltzing Matilda.
Congratulations to Rob Robson and to PMA for this breakthrough.
Want to know more about Rob’s Company, OneHarvest? Here is the way they define themselves:
The OneHarvest Values are:
Family is a Priority
A safe and healthy environment for our people
Learning, innovation and teamwork
Community and environmental responsibility
Relationships with partners, which are customer focused
Reward and recognition that is linked to Business Value
Quality and safety of processes, product and services
Today, OneHarvest is a 100% Australian owned, third generation family business, continuing to support regional and rural Australia.
You can search the OneHarvest website here.
We highlighted an intriguing new product — the first blue cheese made on the US West Coast — and had a laugh over the fact that the producer was named Rogue Creamery. These folks had the audacity to bring Oregon Blue Cheese to display at the SIAL exhibition in Paris, France.
Well they may be audacious, but they seem to have some pretty good cheese:
Makes History in Paris
Central Point, OR (November 1, 2006) — Oregon’s Rogue Creamery is the first American cheese company to be awarded an Innovation in Excellence award at the prestigious SIAL trade show in Paris. The Creamery is also the first American artisan cheese company to be certified by the EU and the first Raw Milk Cheese to be imported into the EU.
“Our cheese was very well received because of its uniqueness and our innovative flavors,” says David Gremmels, co-owner of Rogue Creamery. “We were hoping for a good reception but the overwhelmingly positive response was tremendously affirming.”
Oregon Blue, Smokey Blue, Oregonzola and Rogue River Blue were singled out in the blues category. Several flavored cheddars were recognized, including Rosemary, Chipotle, Lavender, Cumin and Rogue Chocolate Stout.
SIAL, held October 22-26 in Paris, is the world’s premier industry food show, attracting more than 135,000 trade professionals worldwide.
“The French said we were courageous to show our products in France, and were then taken by surprise when tasting our uniquely original raw milk cheeses,” says Gremmels. “To be given the nod in this exclusive region historically known for the finest cheese is a tremendous honor.”
Rogue Creamery cheeses will soon be found in cheese shops and white linen restaurants from France, UK, Spain, Greece, Norway, Denmark, Ukraine and Italy this holiday season.
Rogue Creamery is dedicated to producing classic and original cheese in the finest tradition of artisanal cheesemakers — by hand with passion, using the highest quality ingredients. As we like to say, our cheese delights the palate and fills the soul.
We got a chuckle but bet they are not laughing in Paris now. Congratulations and bon fromage to the people of Rogue Creamery.
Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, was kind enough to take a moment from his busy day, during these busy times and send the Pundit a letter. The letter mentioned both issues related to the possibility of a merger between PMA and United and addressed the Pundit’s analysis of government relations as it applies to food safety.
In order to keep things clear, we will address his letter in two separate parts. Today, we’ll deal with the part of Tom’s letter that dealt with the issue of PMA/United merger:
We are certainly in full agreement that it is the boards and the membership of the trade associations who, ultimately, must make the decision as to whether United and PMA should merge. Here at the Pundit, we brought up the issue because many industry leaders — board members of PMA, United and members of the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Advisory Board, as well as other important industry participants — raised the issue with the Pundit at the recent PMA convention.
We’ve never particularly pushed this issue. In fact, in extending the Pundit’s best wishes to the newly named United Fresh Produce Association, we expressed our opinion on the issue as follows:
Over the years, many people have bandied about the idea of a merger between PMA and United. It may happen one day. It is not a better-or-worse situation. These things are often matters of timing and personality, and perhaps one day the timing and personalities will be right.
Yet, despite the fact that multiple associations inevitably drain industry coffers, decades of carefully watching industry trade associations have not convinced me that one association would really be better.
Partly it is the capitalist in me talking. In every other facet of our economy, we find that competition produces better outcomes. Why should association management not also benefit from robust competition?
In addition, this is a substantial industry, filled with passionate and devoted people who want to be part of industry leadership. The Pundit’s mailbag overflows on this subject. We have dealt with it here, here and here, and there is much more to come.
Maybe a second national association serves as a kind of escape valve for the pressure that would build up otherwise when someone is denied a seat on a national association board or denied a chance to go on to become chairman.
If there was a monopoly, all that person could do is fume, or be destructive. Now that person can take his business — and his passion, leadership and willingness to work — elsewhere and contribute to the industry in another way. This is a big win for the trade, perhaps more than enough to compensate for some operational inefficiencies.
Still, despite that opinion being the product of over two decades of reflection on the issue, the Pundit remembers the words of John Maynard Keynes: “When my information changes, I change my opinion. What do you do, Sir?” And so we are open to ideas, which is precisely the course we would urge on the boards of the two national produce associations.
As the Pundit has spoken to many influential members of the industry, including many board members at both PMA and United, it has become quite clear that, with a few caveats, there is substantial interest in exploring a merger.
For many, the issue is waste of industry resources via duplication of efforts; in other cases people feel that two associations inevitably make us seem divided in Washington, D.C.
As always, though, the devil is in the details. One issue is the question of grower representation. What mechanism can be established that would provide a way of insuring that grower interests, even if they conflict with retail interests, would be represented?
Obviously this is a subject for discussion. The Pundit can remember many discussions on this issue back 15 years ago. The most viable was the creation of a kind of “Congress” of regional grower groups. The idea was that the national produce trade association would handle the general interests of the trade, but that a Congress of local grower groups would be able to represent growers when their interests conflicted or they had particular interests that didn’t apply to the industry at large.
Funding was always an issue, but the gist of the proposal was that the National Produce Organization would provide office space and some staff support to this Congress of Grower Groups and would work to develop in every region a viable organization.
Beyond this specific problem the bigger issue regarding how to approach a merger is philosophical. One group would like to start with a blank piece of paper and design an organization as if the trade never had one before. Another group says that in the real world mergers don’t happen that way.
Thomas Paine said, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” There is something in that thought very appealing to Americans who, after all, settled a “new world.” Yet it isn’t really so.
We can only deal with the world we are given. Tom Stenzel has done a phenomenal job at United. He came to an association with a very uncertain future, stabilized it and began building it up again, including merging with IFPA.
Now the changes at FMI are threatening a major funding source and element of participation for United.
Bottom line: PMA has a phenomenally successful business model, and it is unlikely that any board would ever junk that model in exchange for an untested plan. It might even be irresponsible of them to do so.
It is interesting that Tom mentions the boards and members of the associations as key in these discussions. For in speaking to industry leaders, what we heard over and over again was that, though typically they relied on the paid professional staff of the associations to guide most decisions, this particular decision had to be driven by the industry.
Staff desires for position and compensation are understandable and reasonable and, indeed, must be dealt with in any final agreement. But the industry will be living with the results of this discussion long after all current staff members are retired.
The Pundit is pleased to publish our first letter from outside of the United States:
I have been reading the Pundit religiously, I find the editorials very interesting and thought provoking — at least to me anyway!
I wanted to just clarify one point in the article, U.S. Spinach Still Banned In Canada, dated October 5, 2006. In the piece you reference an interview with Heather Holland and me, conducted by Mira Slott. Twice in the article, Mira quotes Heather Holland as referring to interactions between USDA and CFIA. The protocol in matters such as these is that CFIA deals with USFDA, which would be the federal body with the most similar mandate and jurisdiction.
Whether we may have stated it erroneously or it was possibly misinterpreted, I just felt it was important to clarify that CFIA was principally speaking with USFDA, not USDA. Ultimately, while CFIA did indeed interface with USDA, and California for that matter, the basis of the ultimate decisions the CFIA made were based upon the USFDA feedback. I wouldn’t want folks in industry down there (In the USA) to possibly think the CFIA decisions were totally rested upon USDA shoulders. To be fair to Mira, we were throwing USFDA, USDA and CFIA around in our discussion.
At this point, it is rather moot as much has transpired since, but I wouldn’t want to convey the message that whatever CFIA decided was the end result of USDA interaction with the CFIA. Having said that, in the longer term, it is important to understand this relationship. Beyond that I feel Mira captured our discussions very accurately.
I also have now the time to read your editorial on the town hall spinach meeting held during the PMA. I was quite impressed, as you outlined many significant points. In my opinion, the USFDA needs to be asked some serious questions, in a manner that promotes transparency and facilitates working relationships between industry and government.
We are finding that there is a need to increase the transparency and sharing of information and communication in order to ensure that all parties have the same knowledge to work with. In this case, FDA shaped the framework for everything that followed, including as previously mentioned, the action by the CFIA in Canada.
One thing I would hope does not get lost is the opportunity and need to have a full dialogue with our two governments — both in the same room, for them to outline exactly how they make their decisions and how they involve other federal departments or state departments in their decision making. I know their priority is public health, and not business and trade impacts, but, the risk exists that useful input from other federal (or state/provincial) agencies that would help them in their decision process is being lost.
Perhaps with that input, they might have been able to minimize the broad negative coverage across the whole US industry, which then forced the CFIA action. These wide-ranging actions have had a negative effect in the Canadian marketplace also, and while this may not be an issue for USFDA, it is important to recognize. It is sometimes difficult to dialogue with governments in these situations due to the misperception that industry doesn’t care about public health, (which we do) and only cares about trade.
Consumer health protection should not be an argument against the need to have frank and open discussions between governments and industries. Hard questions are not meant to question the legitimacy of government responsibility; they are meant to seek answers so that we can solve problems.
Industry absolutely has some key issues to address. We have been working on them for some time, and will continue to do so. I also know we all are concerned about the health of our consumers, and the tragic consequences of this past event. Having said that, the message the mainstream media often leave with the public is that we are a high risk industry with a huge and growing problem.
Consider this…from 1990 — 1999, Canada averaged about 106 reported food borne illness cases per year linked to produce. These cases were associated with a restricted number of commodities (mostly imported). With the average Canadian consuming 4.3 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day, between all 33 million of us, that is around 52 billion servings a year. While the number of cases is growing and there may be cases not reported, overall it is still an impressive positive performance. It will be increasingly important to begin to quantify food borne illness in North America in order to better assess our performance and where we need to focus our efforts.
My hope is that we can park all of this and work together for meaningful solutions, so we can avoid, to the best of our collective abilities, this type of situation in the future; not only for the public but also the many innocent industry folks who got hurt badly. But, as you said, this does not mean that there may not be other cases in the future. This is an imperfect world, and the pursuit of perfection is a lofty goal.
I only wish we could gain as much attention from the public and our governments for all of the positive contributions this industry makes to the health of Canadians and Americans. Maybe the governments will help us to get that message across; the one they currently appear to be leaving with the public seems awfully skewed to the negative side of the ledger!
I also just noted the Pundit’s assessment of the recent announcement of CFIA’s opening of the market to US spinach. Notwithstanding the fact that some might feel that it was protectionist, I can honestly tell you with 99.99999% certainty that that was never factored in. The rollout here related to dialogue between CFIA and the USFDA.
All I can say is that it goes back to earlier points for an open dialogue between industry and our governments about this whole episode. Perhaps there can be educational learning opportunities on both sides, so we both can do the correct thing in the future? Industry is responding quickly to this crisis. Industry is always willing to help government make better decisions also, if they are open to it. By no means do I mean to imply that they “erred” in their judgment, but at this time without a better understanding of the processes, protocols and inter governmental cooperation (perhaps even stateside), I am somewhat concerned.
A situation like this should not be a government vs. industry issue. Food safety is our number one objective as an industry. If perceptions within some in government are different, then that view should be corrected, as it is unfair to so many out there. The challenge is how to do the very best job we can to address any and all of the real food safety issues that occur.
Cheers, and keep punditing.
— Dan Dempster, President
Canadian Produce Marketing Association
Much appreciation to Dan for helping to inform us on this range of issues.
First, apologies for the mix up on the acronym. Through the miracle of modern technology, it is all fixed in the archives.
Second, if the spinach and Nunes lettuce situation taught us nothing else, it taught us the danger that can happen when the NAFTA nations aren’t communicating. Dan’s idea for “…a full dialogue with our two governments — both in the same room…” is a great start.
Third, yes, the industry has to address food safety seriously but, as Dan points out, 52 billion servings a year (in Canada) and 102 reported foodborne illness cases is very safe. It means that massive improvements in industry food safety can only have a modest impact on public health.
Fourth, yes, it would be nice to have our accomplishments praised as quickly and loudly as our flaws are attacked. I always try and remember to do that with my children. It doesn’t always work, so we probably shouldn’t hold our collective breath.
Fifth, these things are always complex. The FDA had a basically ridiculous claim and the CFIA called them on it. That was easier to do at a time of year when other spinach was available than it would have been at a time of year when nothing else was around.
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, 2006, 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 Confidence that 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.
On October 19, 2006, 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.
On October 24, 2006, we published Town Hall Spinach Meeting: Unanswered Questions, in which we analyzed what we learned and what was still a mystery after attending a Town Hall Meeting on the spinach crisis at the PMA Convention in San Diego. You can find this piece here.
October 27, 2006, we ran a piece entitled PMA Commits $1 Million To Food Safety Fixes and you can read it here. Also on October 27, 2006, we thought part of the fallout from the crisis would be a reexamination of the industry’s government relations efforts and so wrote PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds. You can read it right here. Additionally on October 27, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouse Solutions dealing with whether Controlled Environment Agriculture might be the solution to the trade’s food safety issues. Read it right here.
On October 30, 2006, we responded to a very important proposal from several leading members of the buying community with Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question of Buyer Commitment.You can read the piece here. After the government announced that it was looking at wild pigs as the culprit in the E. coli contamination, we ran, on October 30, 2006, a piece entitled Now We Know Why Spinach Salad Is Served With Bacon Dressing. Read it right here.
On October 31, 2006, we published Western Growers Association Calls For Mandatory Food Safety Standards, in which we discussed the epochal change taking place as the industry looked to move to mandatory, as opposed to voluntary, food safety standards. You can read it right here.
November 2, 2006, we published Opportunity For Buyer’s Food Safety Initiativewhich raised the idea that not involving growers in setting food safety standards was a good idea. Read it 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.
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.
On November 1, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Canada Opens Door To More, But Not All, US Spinach.You can read it right here. Also on November 1, 2006, we had an interesting Pundit’s Mailbag — The Acceptance Of Risk, which included a fascinating comparison on how the FAA views safety in airlines as opposed to the FDA looking at food. Read it here.
Several additional pieces appear in the Perishable Pundit today, and they will be incorporated into future iterations of this Spinach Crisis Summary.
In addition to our own work, there are many excellent sources of information out there that do not require payment, membership or registration. Three of the Pundit’s favorites:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has offered daily information on the crisis right here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deal with the outbreak here.
The Produce Marketing Association has maintained an excellent industry resource on the subject right here.
Please feel free to write or call if you are looking for specific information not included here. Note that many of the articles and websites have links to other resources.