The Pundit has always thought well of Wayne McKnight, Wal-Mart’s Vice President of Global Procurement. His announcement that Danie Kievet will join Wal-Mart, heading up its South African Procurement Operations, is a coup for Wal-Mart, the realization of a life-long dream for Danie and proof that great minds think alike.
In September 2006, after the Pundit returned from South Africa, the Pundit’s sister magazine, PRODUCE BUSINESS, published a column in which we wrote the following:
What is really needed is for some corporate giant, a Wal-Mart, a Costco, a Kroger, a Supervalu, etc., to step up to the plate and locate a global procurement office in South Africa.
Let them procure fruits and vegetables, but also wine, seafood, canned goods, juices and many more things. I think the company that does this can make a buck. But, beyond that, the company would be serving both American interests and the hope for future world peace.
And by the way, I have just the guy for the job. A gentleman named Danie Kieviet showed me around South Africa. He is a member of the board of directors of PMA. He also is the founder of the modern South African retail produce industry, as he built from scratch the procurement arm for Africa’s largest supermarket chain, the Shoprite/Checkers group. He pioneered direct procurement for retailers and built up supply chains where there were none.
Now, he has built an organization, known as Freshworld, involving his two eldest sons, that champions the interests of the Sunkist brand, and he has built a substantial counter-seasonal market share in Asia. He is knowledgeable and modern, up on RFID, category management and all the latest technologies, but he is also old school. Like a great African bull elephant, he cannot be stopped.
Danie travels across the country and around the world to create opportunities in South Africa. If some giant organization, with stores that could sell product, gave him a shot, he would not only make them plenty of money but also open up opportunities for producers all across South Africa and into the recesses of the continent.
He could identify not only traditional exporters but also new farmers being assisted by empowerment programs. To give him a shot would be a contribution to peace and prosperity for a continent with precious little of either. Who will step up to the plate?
Since that column was written, Danie’s term on the PMA board has ended, but he was appointed as Chairman of PMA’s International Council.
Wal-Mart has done a good thing. For itself, it has secured the single top man in the South African deal. For the world, it has done something special by putting such an effective executive in such a crucial position. You can be sure that exports from Africa will receive a boost. To help such a country as South Africa and a continent such as Africa is a very good thing indeed.
Although initially the South African product is likely to go to traditional South African markets, such as Wal-Mart’s ASDA subsidiary, Danie is not the type of guy who accepts convention as a limitation. He will find wine and seafood, produce and ethnic products, and he will in his own persuasive manner have Wal-Mart buyers from China to Mexico convinced they must have South African product.
The Pundit had an opportunity to visit South Africa earlier this year. You can learn about the trip here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
We learned a great deal during our travels and, mostly, what we learned is due to Danie’s rigorous scheduling and fine tutoring. Doubtless Danie’s new position as wine buyer will send him back where he took the Pundit in The Cape Winelands and to Mountain Pass Road in Franschoek and specifically to a restaurant called Haute Cabriére. The accompanying photo shows Danie and the Pundit resting as we prepared for several hours of rigorous wine tasting.
The right man, the right moment and the right opportunity have certainly met. The Pundit congratulates all concerned.
The expansion of Wal-Mart’s global procurement operation to South Africa raises the larger question of what global procurement and other initiatives affecting procurement might imply for the future of Wal-Mart procurement.
In produce, Wal-Mart has worked on a division assignment system. Unlike most supermarkets that bought each day from whatever company they chose to buy from, Wal-Mart assigned each product category at each distribution center to a different vendor.
So one company might provid carrots, another citrus. These vendors are responsible for meeting various metrics 365 days a year. And these vendors take their responsibility seriously… or they are not vendors for long.
From time to time, especially when there are major crop failures or horrible weather, the Pundit gets calls from these vendors as they look, almost with panic in their voices, to make sure Wal-Mart has produce. We’ve helped people find pineapple in French West Africa, green beans from North Africa, citrus from Gaza, eggplant from the French Caribbean, all to meet their obligations to Wal-Mart.
Yet how the global procurement process can mesh with this is uncertain. If a citrus company has a DC assignment, it builds up an infrastructure of procurement personnel, facilities and overhead to meet Wal-Mart’s needs. What happens to all this if Wal-Mart calls and says they have their own buyer overseas and so they won’t need any product from you for the next ten weeks?
The trucks sit idle, the warehouse empty, the buyer staff has nothing to do. One wonders if this won’t add costs to the system rather than reduce them.
There are ways to deal with the subject. Wal-Mart could pay their DC vendors a set amount to handle the imported product through the system, but it won’t be easy to negotiate asset amounts.
And who will Wal-Mart hold responsible if there is a crop failure overseas for keeping its stores supplied?
To the vendors the Pundit has worked with for years, the whole global procurement system is unfathomable, as the vendors thought it was their job to make sure Wal-Mart always had produce from wherever it should be acquired.
To add insult to injury, global procurement isn’t the only change affecting Wal-Mart’s vendors. Wal-Mart recently set up a new system to do “Special Buys” and it has Wal-Mart vendors in an uproar.
We’ve dealt with the issue previously here. Now Wal-Mart has set up four regional buyers for the purpose of doing special buys. Special buys are purchases outside of the DC assignment system. In other words, a vendor has an agreement to provide and be responsible for a product at a fixed price. Then, all the sudden, the vendor is told that another party is going to provide product at a cheaper price.
Once again this means that assets that were dedicated to selling Wal-Mart are now underutilized. It means that the costs associated with unpredictable procurement are getting added back into the system.
Wal-Mart executives think they save money with the Special Buy system. The Pundit is not so sure. Vendors aren’t stupid. They know what costs they will have to carry and if dealing with the inefficiency of special buys is a cost, then the contract price is higher than it would have been had special buys not existed.
Today, with so many food safety concerns, buying from people outside one’s dedicated supply chain might be downright dangerous.
What is certain is that between Global Procurement, Special Buys and Store Level Procurement, the likelihood of vendors taking a “what is good for Wal-Mart is good for me” philosophy is far less than it was. If it loses the passion of its supplier base, Wal-Mart may lose a most valuable asset.
With the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative attracting so much attention, we thought it worth talking to some buyers who didn’t think it was a good idea. Yesterday we ran a piece in which buyers who declined to sign focused on the public nature of the project, including outreach to the consumer media, as a mistake. Today we share a more substantive complaint from a buyer:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if spinach is now “safe”, because we are carrying it. My answer is simple: we carry it because the FDA has removed their warning! I don’t get myself in a position to qualify whether or not the product is safe. I expect the government to do their job in that regard. What I have a problem with in Tim York’s approach is that it doesn’t get to the real issue, namely federal regulation in areas of production agriculture. This isn’t a spinach issue, or a California issue. That only happens to be “cause du jour”.
Industry needs to do the heavy lifting with regards to GAPs, and those GAPs may differ between some commodities. But once they are established, the FDA needs to give them the impact of federal regulation. In this way, ALL players need to participate. If you want to grow spinach, these are the things you need to do, period. It’s not about buyers, or groups of buyers, trying to make a statement as to who to buy from or not. Food safety should not be open to discrimination. And the federal government should always be the source of food safety regulation. If not, you get into a situation that exists in Western Europe, namely that the public loses faith in the government to regulate food safety. Not a good place to be!
It strikes the Pundit that this buyer is making three different points:
That food safety protocols should be mandatory, national and have the force of law.
That it is the FDA’s responsibility to determine what is safe and what is not; this is not the job of retailers.
That the respect of the public, in America, for what the FDA and public health authorities say is a precious resource that should be protected.
These are reasonable positions, but they may raise as many questions as they answer.
Perhaps food safety protocols should be mandatory, should be national and should have the force of law — but they don’t right now. Other than vague federal laws related to adulterated food, the FDA has no authority or mechanism for mandating that farms not be operated within a thousand feet of a cow or any of the other minutia that make up food safety protocols. If they did get laws and regulations passed, they have no staff to enforce the rules. And if they did have the rules and did have a police force, that would only mean that people who break the rules are criminals — not that the food is always safe.
The buyers who are signatories to the initiative seem fine with the idea of federal regulation, but, in all likelihood, even if that was agreed on today — and it hasn’t been — we might be looking at three years before laws were passed, regulations written, an enforcement staff built and, basically, a new federal function was established.
Tim York and Dave Corsi would argue that we need something right now. So they push this effort. Eventually, the standards established by this effort might be adopted by Federal Regulation, but surely, they would argue, we should move ahead now.
The notion that it is the FDA’s responsibility to determine what is safe and what is not has to be appealing to both producer and buyer. After all, if the FDA will take that burden off producers and buyers, it will help both.
The practical issue is that, so far, we don’t see much evidence that the FDA is willing or able to regulate. The FDA has not made a proposal to Congress requesting regulatory authority. It has not proposed any regulations. So regardless of what is right or a good idea, it doesn’t seem to be happening. The buyers leading this initiative are unwilling to not do anything while we wait, like Godot, for the FDA to do something.
The Pundit would add a more philosophical critique: In this particular arena there is no such thing as “safe” — there are only various procedures that make us incrementally “safer.” So the FDA standard, even if established, can only be a baseline. If they require a fence around a property, a more rigorous program installs double fences so if an animal gets past one, he still isn’t on the farm. A still more rigorous one digs the fence five feet underground. One can go on and on.
It is understandable that buyers would like to be able to buy from anyone, anywhere and know the product is “safe” but that minimum level of intervention may not really be possible. Even with legally mandatory standards, a buyer can only know that the standards were followed by knowing its supply chain and auditing.
Besides, there seems something odd about this expectation of being able to buy from anyone. Try and sell a t-shirt to Target or Costco or Wal-Mart and you learn they have standards, that the minimum legally acceptable standard for a T-shirt to hold up isn’t acceptable for their customers. Chain stores have these T-shirts washed and dried, they want to see if they fade or shrink or if the seams hold up. And they only sell what is good enough for their customers. Is it unreasonable to think they should do the same with food safety?
Indeed the polls show high respect for the federal health authorities, and that is a great asset to the public health system in the U.S. It may also be why the FDA doesn’t push to set regulatory standards for fresh produce. The Western European analogy is apt in more ways than our correspondent might like to think.
After all, Western Europe has significantly higher regulatory levels than does the U.S., and the big confidence-busting action was not by private industry; it was the actions of the British government related to BSE or Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis. A book, The Politics of BSE, put it this way:
It’s twenty years since reports first appeared of cattle in the UK coming down with a disease now known as BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis). The number of animals affected rapidly increased, and because the disease was both fatal to cattle and also similar to at least two diseases that are fatal to humans, Creutzfeld Jacob Disease (CJD) and kuru, people began to worry about the danger to human health. For ten years, the government kept reassuring the public that there was no risk involved in eating beef. Many of us can still remember how the Secretary of State for Agriculture John Gummer was shown on television feeding a beefburger to his daughter to demonstrate how confident he was that it was safe.
Then, on 20 March 1996, the Secretary of State for Health Stephen Dorell announced that contrary to what he and his fellow ministers had been telling us for the past ten years, BSE can be transmitted to humans and in humans, it leads to an inevitably fatal disease known as variant CJD (vCJD).
That was a bit of a bombshell, with an immediate and lasting effect on public opinion. It probably did more than any other single event to shake the public’s confidence in government pronouncements about science, and is one of the major reasons that the British public has steadfastly refused to accept GM food, despite constant insistence by government agencies that the products are “perfectly safe”.
In fact, government is strong to the extent it narrows what it does to those things it can do well. In the U.K., there were lots of regulations on meat. Some were insufficient, some were not enforced, but nobody doubted it was government’s responsibility.
Maybe the reason American consumers respect the FDA is because it is smart enough to not put its prestige on the line regulating field crops.
Sometimes the Pundit feels absolutely ancient. Perhaps we just started young, but some of the things people say are just so odd if you know the history.
This correspondent is another ancient soul on the production side who gets sick at the notion that buyers are going to lecture him about food safety. He gives a little history right here:
Glad to see you are keeping debate going about the buyer letter which really upset me.
I distinctly remember being in a meeting at the old NAFPP [Editor’s Note: National Association of Fresh Produce Processors which became the International Fresh-cut Produce Association which merged into the United Fresh Produce Association] and all the major processors were talking about ‘best if used by’ dates and how we needed to be responsible because if someone put 18 days versus another at 16 days just to compete — knowing they couldn’t realistically get 18 — then it would kill the entire category and future sales because consumers would have a bad experience. So we all agreed on the 14-16 day range and now today you can see most of us even put it in the right, upper hand corner to ease rotation for store personnel and consumers.
The retailers balked big time! They were furious and wanted NO expiration dates anywhere. Better yet, some told us to use a Julian Calendar date. Now what shopper walks around with a Julian Calendar?
My point is — it was the processors that drove this initiative and we were met with tremendous reluctance from buyers. They didn’t even want to buy the proper upright cases to merchandise the product in. They wanted us to buy them!
Granted the signatories of today’s letter probably weren’t around to remember this, but I was and I do.
It is clear that the buyers don’t really perceive how offensive to many on the production side their efforts are. This is partly because of the implication that buyers care about food safety and producers do not and partly because the history of these issues is that the buyer community has traditionally, as the story above points out, resisted all efforts to increase safety that might increase retail shrink or cost retailers money.
The Pundit sat through plenty of meetings hearing retailers not trying to enlighten consumers but, instead, trying to trick them.
By the way the Pundit remembers Dave Stidolph preening with pride as he told the Pundit years ago that it was none other than Joe Nucci who originated the idea of putting that date in the upper right hand corner of the package.
There is an ad-hoc group that started it all, the National Restaurant Association has its group working on a program and the Food Marketing Institute has a conference planned. All these buyer-led initiatives can get confusing, so to assist the trade in keeping track of them all, we are publishing this recap of coverage all in one place.
As new developments, occur we will continue to update this recap to help keep the trade organized on this important subject.
On September 25, 2006, in the midst of the spinach crisis, we published The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that it is the “representations and warranties” that buyers demand that define the food safety programs we get:
“…in the end, the strength of our food safety systems is at least as dependent on what retailers demand as they are on what the government does for the simple reason that what retailers pay for is what they are going to get.”
Then in the issue of the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, which was unveiled at the PMA Convention in San Diego on October 21, 2006, we published Food Safety Is A Retail Issue,which pointed out:
“…what holds suppliers back is not that they need an FDA regulation — it is that they need to see a willingness on the part of buyers to pay more to obtain a higher level of food safety and security. So far that is missing.”
The Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety was then announced. In time it came to be signed on to by nine important buying organizations:
Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Tim York, Markon Cooperative
Here at the Pundit, we applauded the buyer-led effort but on October 30, 2006, ran a piece entitled Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question Of Buyer Commitment, in which we pointed out:
“What would be helpful from these buyers is…a reassurance to the grower/shipper/packer/processor community that investments in food safety will be protected.”
As Gene Harris of Denny’s added his endorsement to the Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety, we published, Pundit’s Mailbag — Denny’s Weighs In On Food Safety Efforton November 1, 2006, and we pointed out that the Western Growers Association was now looking for mandatory standards:
“Buyers can impose standards on their suppliers, but it seems as if the big grower members of WGA are more inclined to go with a mandatory program. Perhaps because this is more easily “saleable” to consumers, perhaps because the growers have no confidence that buyers will ever agree to a uniform standard on food safety and, perhaps, because growers know that buyers today can have the best of intentions but situations change and buyer’s change — and if legal product is available for much less money, that will put a lot of pressure on an organization to change its standards.”
On November 2, 2006, we highlighted an Opportunity For Buyers’ Food Safety Initiative, where we wrote the following:
“Here’s the Pundit’s suggestion to the buyers: Don’t wait for the deadline to pass. Withdraw the letter to the associations, which can only lead to endless negotiations with grower/shippers and watered-down food safety standards. Instead, create a temporary ad hoc consortium to spearhead the quick development of science-based food safety standards.
In the short term, these will be enforced by buyer demand, hopefully including other buyers who will buy into the plan; in the medium run the plan will be turned over to state authorities in California and federal authorities in Washington, D.C., as the basis for new mandatory regulation.”
We pointed out that this initiative may not stay in the hands of the ad hoc group leading the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative when, on November 7, 2006, we announced: National Restaurant Association Forms Produce Safety Working Groupand pointed out:
“What we should have learned from the FDA loss of confidence in the industry is that food safety is not something that we negotiate over. It has to be driven by the best scientific knowledge we have.”
Mark Munger of Andrew-Williamson Fresh Produce, a grower/shipper, pitched in his thoughts on the important role buyers play in the food safety arena and, on November 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Grower, which specifically praised one foodservice customer:
I also have to commend one of our customers, who I believe demonstrates the value of collective partnerships between growers and customers. Two years ago we began working with Darden Restaurants. Darden takes food safety very seriously. They have empowered a food safety team that must approve each and every supplier. They have inspectors in the field who make weekly random inspections of growing operations, picking and packing programs. When problem issues are identified, they work closely with our food safety team to help educate our team and to ensure that collectively we fix the problem. The knowledge that an inspector can be in any field or packing shed at anytime has forced us to treat every day as an inspection day.
Additionally, Darden’s food safety team is separate from their buying team. If a farm is not up to par, they have the authority to stop all transactions until the problems are fixed. They truly put their money where their mouth is and have helped us become a markedly better company. I cannot think of a better example of the power of collective thinking between suppliers and customers. I think the industry would be well served to learn more about their programs and create similar models.
Not surprisingly, the Food Marketing Institute was not going to be content to sit this one out and, on November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into The Food Safety Fray,which detailed a conference scheduled for December 5th at which FMI would host representatives from industry, associations, academia and government to advance food safety issues. Unfortunately, FMI decided to exclude the media and we pointed out:
“…if the goal is to build public confidence in the process the industry is going through, you not only open it to media, you send a velvet invitation to the big consumer media groups.
It smells of smoke-filled rooms where deals will be cut in secret. If you let in some light and air, everyone will have more confidence in the final product.”
On November 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag: Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer Led-Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower/shipper pointed out that “This is where the retailers must step out of their ivory towers and get their walk (vendor relationship) to match their talk (aligned supply chain)… If those who signed on to this letter would get committed to buying only from “qualified suppliers,” the laws of supply and demand will drive the solution and we will quickly catch up with the rest of the world in this critical area.”
On November 17, 2006, we featured Tale Of Two Buyers, in which we pointed out: “If the VPs are sincere about wanting the buyers to place food safety first, the VPs have the responsibility for changing the culture and the economic incentive systems.”
On November 21, 2006, we published Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which features an extensive interview with Tim York of Markon Cooperative as well as the announcement that the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative gained ten new retail signatories:
Mike O’Brien, Vice President Produce & Floral, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, Missouri
James Spilka, Vice President Produce, Meijer, Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan
Mark Vanderlinden, Vice President Produce Merchandising , Price Chopper, Schenectady, New York
Greg Corrigan, Director Produce & Floral, Raley’s, West Sacramento, California
Craig Carlson, Vice President Produce, Pathmark Stores, Carteret, New Jersey
Don Harris, Vice President Produce & Floral, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colorado
Bryan Gannon, Director Produce & Floral, Big Y Supermarkets, Springfield, Massachusetts
Jim Corby, Vice President, Produce Merchandising. Food Lion, Salisbury, North Carolina
Roger Schroeder, Vice President Produce, Stater Bros., Colton, California
Craig Ignatz, Vice President Produce Merchandising, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Despite the impressive show of buyer support, we expressed some concern: “…it is also pretty clear that the prospect of one unified food safety standard acceptable to every one of the signatories, much less to those who have declined to sign, is somewhere between nil and nothing.”
On November 28, 2006, we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative, and in this piece we added Mark Hilton, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Harris-Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, as a signatory to the letter.
We also quoted buyers who had declined to sign the letter mostly due to their objection to the public nature of the initiative. We also pointed out how vendors were thinking:
Pundit Note: Many growers and shippers are irate over the effort as they see it as an evasion of responsibility. These buying organizations get exactly what they value enough to pay for. All too often, some of the same companies who signed the letter on Monday will, on Tuesday, buy some product without the slightest knowledge of where it came from.
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 Initiative, which raised the idea that not involving growers in setting food safety standards was a good idea. Read it here.
On November 7, 2006, we ran a piece entitled NRA Forms Produce Safety Working Group that discussed a new National Restaurant Association initiative to impose standards on suppliers to foodservice. You can find the piece here. Also on November 7, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — United’s President/CEO Responds (Part 2), which dealt with the question of how much difference a good government relations program can be expected to accomplish at a time of crisis. Read it here.
November 8, 2006, we ran a valuable Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Growerthat focused on the value buyers can bring to food safety programs. You can read it here.
On November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into Food Safety Fray, which details the role a food safety conference FMI is organizing might play in helping the industry develop new food safety protocols. You can find the piece here.
November 14, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower pointed out that growers needed retailers to walk the walk not talk the talk. Read it here.
On November 15, 2006 we published PulseNet, And The Pundit, In The News, which linked to a TV station that picked up on our reporting on ways to improve PulseNet. Read it here. Also on November 15, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Westborn Markets, Schnucks, Wal-Mart, in which these retailers updated us on how the market for spinach and bagged salads is recovering. You can find the piece here.
November 16, 2006, we had a piece entitled Pundit’s Mailbag — Kill Steps And Irradiation that dealt with the industry concern that no matter how we strengthen our agricultural practices, only a “kill step” can really solve the problem. Read it here.
On November 17, 2006, we published GAPs/GMPs And HACCP Plans, in which United Fresh President/CEO Tom Stenzel gives his take on what happened during the spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 17, 2006, we ran Tale Of Two Buyers, which pointed out that culture and compensation may matter more than intent when it comes to food safety. Find it right here.
November 21, 2006, we ran Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which updated us on the progress of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. Read it here.
On November 22, 2006 we presented The Perishable Pundit’s Unsung Heroes Awardto Hank Giclas of Western Growers Association, David Gombas and Jim Gorny, both of United Fresh Produce Association. Read all about it right here. Also on November 22, 2006 we reported the explosive news that the whole consumer advisory not to eat spinach might have been avoided had certain processors cooperated with the FDA. The piece is called Spinach Farmers Won’t Be Thanking Certain Processors This Holidayand you can read it here. Additionally, on November 22, 2006 we explained that restricting product usage could reduce the impact of future outbreaks. The article is called If You Are Eating Out For Thanksgiving… and you can find it here.
November 28, 2006 we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative that explained one objection to the way the initiative was being handled. Read the piece here. Also on November 28, 2006 we wrote Don’t Forget The Regional Spinach Processors which showed how Aunt Mid’s Produce Company in Detroit, MI was communicating with its customers. Catch 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.
November 3, 2006, we published Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t, which dealt with the way enhanced detection technology is likely to increase reports of foodborne illness — even as the food supply gets safer. Read it here. Also on November 3, 2006 we ran a brief note entitled Broader Concern For Food Safety, which linked to an FDA-produced slide show on the spinach outbreak as part of a broader food safety perspective. You can catch it right here.
Additionally on November 3, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — CPMA’s President Sets The Record Straight, in which CPMA’s President Dan Dempster addressed the importance of communication between the public health authorities in the U.S. and in Canada. Find the piece right here.
On November 7, 2006, we ran FDA Focuses On Retail And Foodservice Food Safety which gave news of an FDA satellite broadcast for retailers and foodservice operators and addressed the general issue of buyers and food safety. Read it here. Also on November 7, 2006, we ran an Erratum correcting some calculations in our previous piece Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t. You can find it right here.
November 9, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Bigg’s Marvin Lyons, the first of a series of retail interviews looking at how sales at retail are going post-spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 9, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sticking Up for the Pundit, in which an industry leader wrote in to support the work of the Pundit. You can find the piece here.
On November 10, 2006, we highlighted a quick directory of Farm-to-Fork Food Safety Resources. Catch it here.
November 21, 2006 we ran Capitol Report: United Helps Coordinate ‘Spinach Fest’ which focused on an event in D.C. reintroducing spinach to consumers. Read it here. Also on November 21, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Woeful Costco Experience, which detailed the difficulty of getting accurate information down to store level personnel. You can find the piece here.
On November 22, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Thankfulness in which Harris Cutler of Race-West Company offered a common sense perspective on food safety. 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.