As the spinach/E. coli crisis grew, with astonishing alacrity the Western Growers Association came to the conclusion that only mandatory regulation would both solve the food safety problem and appease industry critics. So, on October 30, 2006, Western Growers Association issued this statement:
The effect of these actions, when completed, will be to impose enhanced and mandatory food safety processes on all aspects of growing, packing, processing and shipping of spinach and leafy greens. Enforcement and process verification will be overseen by state and federal government regulatory agencies.
The first step in this process is now beginning and, already WGA is being hoisted by its own petard.
The WGA-proposed legislation that has been submitted is to establish a “California Leafy Greens Products Handler Marketing Agreement,” which is to be considered at a public hearing on January 12, 2007.
The basic idea of the proposal on the table is that there will be a board approving a set of standards. Handlers of lettuce and leafy greens in the state of California that desire to do so may pay a fee, agree to follow the rules and, in turn, can use a special mark on their products signifying they are a signatory to the agreement.
The two things that stand out about this proposed “Marketing Agreement” are that A) Participation is voluntary — a word that does not appear in the WGA Press release, and B) The board will consist of between 7 and 13 growers, processors and others in the business; possibly there will be one representative of the public.
It is not shocking, then, that criticism began pouring in as soon as the hearing was scheduled:
Senator questions industry self-regulation on food safety
FLOREZ WILL INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO ENHANCE TRAINING, MONITORING AND ENFORCEMENT
SACRAMENTO — Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, who has strongly advocated for enhanced food safety laws in the wake of deadly E. coli outbreaks, says that a plan by industry to implement a “voluntary marketing agreement” does little to reassure consumers the leafy greens they eat are safe. Without state regulations and enforcement action, the proposal amounts to little more than “the fox watching the hen house,” Florez said.
Florez announced in September, following the deaths of three people across the country from contaminated California spinach, that he would develop a California Produce Safety Action Plan to introduce in the upcoming legislative session. He pledged that the measures would address all identified threats to food safety, with a focus on better training and more stringent monitoring.
Industry representatives, looking to head off mandatory regulations and the enforcement actions that come with those, have put forward a proposed “marketing agreement,” which would essentially mean that those who voluntarily chose to use the best practices adopted by the industry-heavy “Leafy Green Handler Advisory Board” and pay a fee could put a mark of certification on their produce.
The industry contends that consumer demand for certified produce would force growers to participate in the program to remain competitive, but Florez argues that “most Californians are so accustomed to buying leafy greens without a sticker they would never know something was missing.”
In addition, the proposal does not address other high-risk produce, such as onions and green onions, which also grow close to the ground and have been identified as the source of past food-borne disease outbreaks.
“There is a big difference between marketing a product to get people to buy it and improving a product so that people should buy it,” Florez said. “The public is not going to be reassured by a program that is run by a board of industry members who stand to profit from their actions, and which does not even fine those who fail to comply. We need the teeth of regulation and enforcement, covering all high-risk produce, to give them that peace of mind. With two major outbreaks in just months, the time for an industry-only response has come and gone”
Florez has many concerns with the proposed marketing agreement put forward by Western Growers, which will be considered and discussed in a January 4 hearing of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, which Florez chairs.
The proposal mentions “best practices” and “periodic” inspections but leaves both to be defined later by the Leafy Green board. That board of between seven and 13 members would be appointed and would not require Senate confirmation. If that industry-laden Board agrees, the California Department of Food and Agriculture may appoint one representative of the general public. None of these members would be required to possess any special qualifications, such as knowledge of soil science.
In addition, the board has no requirements for public meetings, and members are subject to a confidentiality agreement. Even the board’s meeting minutes would not be available for review.
Florez is moving ahead with plans for legislation to regulate growers and packers just like any industry which provides food to the public, noting that restaurants and meat distributors are not left to self-monitor with a “marketing agreement” due to the obvious health risks to consumers.
The California Produce Safety Action Plan will have the following elements at its core:
Requiring food producers to code their products so that those products can be quickly traced in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.
Requiring that food producers and processing plants have procedures in place to prevent and reduce food contamination. This would include wildlife fencing, enhanced worker sanitary procedures and water standards.
Requiring regular inspection of domestic food facilities with frequency based on risk. Additional inspection on farm, processing and retail outlets with this high-risk profile.
Giving CDFA full recall authority. If the food safety system is centralized in one agency, the agency could quickly respond to an outbreak.
Barrring the use of raw manure as fertilizer during the growing season.
Implementing more stringent monitoring of manure composting practices to make sure that pathogens are destroyed.
Requiring more frequent testing of water used for irrigation at the source and output entry ways.
We asked Western Growers Association for a response to State Senator Florez’s release, and here is what we were told:
Tim Chelling, Vice President Communications, Western Growers Association
I can only believe there is some misunderstanding with Senator Florez. The process ultimately results in mandatory regulations, enforced by the California Department of Food & Agriculture. Specifically, the proposed WGA marketing order is omitted in the press release.
There will be many comments by people in different realms related to this crisis and not all will be complete or accurate.
We’re going to proceed as responsibly as possible.
What we are proposing is basically a two-step process. The marketing agreement is more voluntary. The marketing order, which comes after — and this would be a matter of months later — is mandatory. The bottom line is there will be mandatory food safety regulations governed by and enforced by the California Department. of Food and Agriculture.
What also happens is there’s an elected board which can add more safety guidelines to the order, which is permanent..
The other WGA vote was not only for state regulations, but also for a national marketing agreement and marketing order process, which takes longer.
This is a legal process, and implementing laws takes time.
There is no fox guarding the hen house. That is why the industry is inviting the government to come in and regulate it. This is too serious a situation to play games with. The industry has no intention than doing any thing other than taking substantial and effective actions.
The release refers to the marketing agreement but neglects to mention the marketing order.
The Pundit thinks the WGA set itself up to be attacked. The WGA press release does not contain the word voluntary. So no matter how many stages there are, and what ultimately will happen, it looks like the WGA is backtracking.
In addition the key question, what standards will be enforced, is being left to the growers:
“Leafy Green Best Practices” or “Best Practices” means the commodity-specific leafy green best practices document and the requirements contained therein, prepared by industry scientists, reviewed and approved by state and federal agencies, scientifically peer reviewed by a nationally renown science panel and adopted by the board.
Note that last phrase “…adopted by the board.”
Who is on this board?
“…an Advisory board, to be known as the California Leafy Green Advisory Board, is hereby established. The Board shall consist of no less than seven (7) and no more than thirteen (13) Signatory Handler members, with the exact number of members to be determined by the Board. However, the initial board shall consist of 13 members comprised of members as described in sub-paragraph a through c, below:
The Blythe-Imperial Valley area shall have three (3) members and three (3) alternate members and shall consist of the following counties: San Bernardino, Riverside, and Imperial.
The Oxnard-Santa Maria area, shall have three (3) members and three (3) alternate members, and shall consist of the following counties: San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego.
The Salinas-Watsonville-San Joaquin area, shall have seven (7) members and seven (7) alternate members, and shall consist of all the counties in California which are north of the northern boundaries of San Luis Obispo, Ventura, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino Counties.
… In addition to the members and alternate members, and upon the recommendation of the Board, the Department may appoint one (1) member and one (1) alternate member to the Board to represent the general public.”
It is hard to believe that WGA proposed something so obviously destined to be attacked. We have a big food safety problem. Growers are perceived to have been negligent. The solution WGA proposes calls for those same growers to run the board that decides, in the end, what best practices it will adopt.
Who could have written this document? It is designed to offend. Note the one token representative of the general public and see how it is phrased. Not that the department “shall” appoint a representative, the department “may” appoint a representative — and then only “Upon the recommendation of the Board.”
In other words, whoever drafted this document was unwilling to guarantee a representative of the public even one single seat on a board that will have between 7 and 14 members.
Even viewing this proposal in the most favorable light as stage one of a three-stage proposal, with mandatory action in stages two and three, the proposal doesn’t address what it needs to.
First the government and consumers are looking to the industry for substantive changes in practices, not merely procedural proposals. In other words, if WGA wants to be effective in this arena, it needs to endorse substantive changes — for example, it could endorse: All lettuce and leafy green fields must be fenced sufficiently to prevent the intrusion of wild animals such as deer or pigs. No mere program of endorsing committees will be sufficient.
The standards to be used cannot be determined by a board of growers. Assenting to regulation is about giving up control. Anything less will be perceived as State Senator Florez said in his release as “the fox watching the hen house.”
Both United and PMA have been remarkably silent on WGA’s proposal. They were probably waiting to see to what extent WGA was actually going to propose a substantive regulatory regime.
They may have also had some concerns about the precedent being set of having some product that is marked “safe” and other product left for consumers to imply “unsafe.” What would this do to consumer perception of other products in the department that don’t have “safe” marks?
The problem here is that even if WGA has the political heft to get this through, it won’t satisfy either regulators or consumers and thus won’t build back consumer confidence.
Time to roll out Plan B.
The outbreak at the Olive Garden restaurant in Indiana has been identified as being caused by a norovirus.
As foodservice operators are quick to attack the produce industry for foodborne illness outbreaks, it is worth noting that this is a matter often in the hands of the operator. The CDC even publishes a separate Food Handlers Guide for norovirus.
Previously known as “Norwalk-like virus,” this is often implicated in illness on cruise ships and it is highly contagious. It is the second most commonly reported illness, after the common cold, in the United States — around 23 million cases of acute gastroenteritis each year.
Prevention is pretty clear:
Can norovirus infections be prevented?
You can decrease your chance of coming in contact with noroviruses by following these preventive steps:
Frequently wash your hands, especially after toilet visits and changing diapers and before eating or preparing food.
Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and steam oysters before eating them.
Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.
Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).
Flush or discard any vomitus and/or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.
Persons who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness. Food that may have been contaminated by an ill person should be disposed of properly.
Note the requirement that sick employees ought not to prepare food while sick and for three days after. Think about the economic situation of most low wage restaurant workers. How many are going to voluntarily lose income for a week while they recover?
The PR strategy followed by both Taco Bell and Taco John’s seems to be from the same playbook and mostly focuses on impressions rather than substance. Start with the fact that both fired their produce suppliers, although neither is accused of doing anything wrong, then they replaced them with other firms, although they did not articulate any higher standards they would expect these new firms to meet. Then both used their daughters as fodder for their PR wars:
First the President of Taco Bell used his daughter to publicize the chain’s recovery:
In an open letter to customers published in the USA Today, The New York Times and other newspapers, Taco Bell President Greg Creed said he would support the creation of a coalition of food suppliers, competitors, government and other experts to explore ways to safeguard the food supply chain and public health.
The executive underscored the safety mantra in media interviews, telling Associated Press Television that he had assured his daughter, a college freshman in New York, and her friends that Taco Bell food is safe.
“I can assure you, I would not tell my daughter that unless I absolutely believed it,” Creed said.
Then the President and CEO of Taco John’s used his daughter to the same purpose:
Paul Fisherkeller, president and CEO of Taco John’s, was recently quoted: “My daughter called and said, Dad I am going to Taco John’s with friends,” said Fisherkeller, “Is it safe to go there?” and I said “Dear, of course it is!”
Unfortunately, the PR geniuses behind all these things have short memories. For to anyone involved in food safety, this trotting around of daughters reminds one of John Gummer, then Agriculture Minister in the U.K., who trotted out his daughter, Cordelia, and had the four-year-old little girl eat a hamburger for the gathered television cameras to assure all citizens that beef was “perfectly safe” and there was no need to be concerned about Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or any relationship to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Since we now know that John Gummer was wrong, that there was real danger and that the Minister was, unknowingly, putting his daughter at risk, the episode is remembered as a vivid illustration of the need to separate PR fluff from substance.
The mistrust of the government that focused around Mr. Gummer’s action resonates to this day:
The burger episode turned him into a figure of fun and led to a lasting public mistrust of government pronouncement on food scares — notably Tony Blair’s reassurances on genetically-modified food.
The decision of both Taco Bell and Taco John’s to use their executives’ daughters in this matter isn’t just a matter of poor taste, it is an obfuscation. It is an attempt to provide a reassurance that isn’t justified by the facts.
If the problem was caused by a supplier, as is suspected, and no changes have been made to the standards by which supplies are acquired, why is it suddenly “safe” today and was “unsafe” yesterday?
I’m betting one of these daughters will wind up like John Robbins, the Baskin-Robbins heir who rejected it all to pursue other values.
Is there not some irony that the British Minister’s daughter is named Cordelia — from Shakespeare’s King Lear, which revolves around filial ingratitude?
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!
Perhaps those who use their children as props for their own benefit shall yet learn.
Monday’s Wall Street Journal editorial page spoke out in favor of irradiation:
Says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota: “If even 50% of meat and poultry consumed in the United States were irradiated, the potential impact on foodborne disease would be a reduction in 900,000 cases, and 350 deaths.” A 2005 CDC assessment agrees: “Food irradiation is a logical next step to reducing the burden of food borne diseases in the United States.”
We asked several leading health scientists whether food irradiation could have prevented the E. coli outbreak at Taco Bell restaurants. “Almost certainly, yes,” says Dennis Olson, who runs a research program on food irradiation at Iowa State University. A recent study by the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service confirms that “most of the fresh-cut (minimally processed) fruits and vegetables can tolerate a radiation of 1.0 kGy, a dose that potentially inactivates 99.999% of E. coli.”
And the editorial concludes:
Over the past 50 years, the U.S. has reduced by roughly half the death and illness from foodborne disease. Yet 325,000 Americans are still hospitalized and 5,000 die each year from contaminated food. Today only about 1% of our meat and produce is irradiated, though the technology was invented here. Such nations as India, Mexico and Thailand are starting to irradiate most of the food they export to the U.S., which means that produce from abroad could be safer than that grown here. The real scandal of these E. coli outbreaks is that public safety has taken a back seat to political correctness and bureaucratic delay at the FDA.
Here at the Pundit we’ve discussed irradiation, most recently here. In fact almost ten years ago the Pundit wrote a column in the Pundit’s sister magazine PRODUCE BUSINESS that pointed out:
Did your mother ever tell you to finish your dinner because there are starving children in the world? Well, if your mother was right, we just did a horrible thing. You know the 25 million pounds of meat the government just ordered destroyed because it may have been contaminated by the deadly Escherichia coli 0157.H7 strain? The meat could have been made edible with irradiation. Not saleable in the U.S., of course, after all the bad publicity, but the meat would have been fully edible and no more irrational to consume than it is to consume milk, which in the raw state is often filled with contaminants but made completely safe by pasteurization….
Perhaps, today, this isn’t the produce industry’s battle, but nasty bacteria can live on produce, too, and as we move into a brave new world of produce, one with fresh-cut fruit commonplace, the environment becomes better for malicious bugs to grow.
So our turn will come, too, unless we can first change the political and cultural environment of our society so that malicious ideas can not take root so easily. What we need is one brave supermarket executive to state the truth: Irradiation is important for food safety, and we are going to try our best to offer our consumers a choice of irradiated products.
When the history of irradiation is written, that executive will be the true hero of food safety reform in the United States, for that person will stand out as the one executive with the courage to speak the truth that others dared not speak. Is there a hero reading today?
And, increasingly, it seems like this is the only “solution” that will meet the “problem” as defined by the FDA.
One of the most thought-provoking Mailbags we ever published at the Pundit (see it here) dealt with risk and contained a letter from Bob Sanderson of Jonathan’s Sprouts, in which this veteran of the food safety wars on sprouts pointed out the problem:
Specifically, the problem is how “critical control” is understood. The FDA and USDA both define it as eliminating a risk or reducing it to an acceptable level. Since no one in any public position can ever propose that there is an acceptable level of illness, what this means is that there is basically a zero tolerance for risk.
In the same Pundit Mailbag, Rick Russo of Tanimura & Antle pointed out that this contrasted with the way the commercial air industry operated in which the FAA has defined an acceptable failure level:
When you mentioned the “analogy” to 9/11 and the uncertainty of air safety, it made me think. The commercial aviation industry operates under federal regulation with a permanent uncertainty of safety. In fact, the target rate of fatal incidents established by FAA is .018 per 100,000 departures….
Based on your estimate of a trillion serving of lettuce and spinach over the last ten years, and a known fatality rate of 5, our industry’s fatality rate per 100,000 servings is .0005, or 360 times lower. Never mind the fact that FAA is measuring “incidents” vs. individual fatalities.
The core problem with ALL food safety initiatives currently being proposed for the industry is that NONE of them guarantee against another outbreak. Since this is the case, and no outbreak is acceptable, the only possible answer is we need a kill step.
The only viable one is irradiation.
Right now irradiation is not approved for processed produce. An application has been sitting there since 1999. We are told that the FDA considers action on it a “no win” for the agency. If they approve irradiation, they get protests and problems, but there is no scientific basis for rejection, so it just sits.
So we need our government relations efforts to move this ahead quickly. The science is there, with no justification for delay.
Many fear consumer acceptance issues but those have not proven to be major problems when consumers are given information about irradiation. The biggest problem has been retailers that allowed themselves to be bullied by threats from activists.
But the whole attitude toward things nuclear has been changing. Many environmentalists that were ready to go to the mat to fight nuclear power plants now see them as the best alternative to prevent global warming. Equally, the recent spate of illness and death from foodborne illness may open a door to let people see irradiation as a reasonable alternative.
In any case, the best way to start dealing with those issues would be to start marketing some product made safe through irradiation.
Let us push the FDA to give the go-ahead so at least we can begin some test marketing in this direction.
A pointed letter responding to Jeff Hitchcock’s letter regarding organic production and the possibility that the land on which the tainted spinach was grown was, in fact, organically grown and marketed as conventional due to the three-year time passage required for the conversion of conventionally grown land to organic production:
The Pundit agrees that temperate language is very desirable in our industry debates. We all have to know how to disagree vigorously and then how to cooperate productively, and the use of pejorative words doesn’t serve that purpose.
At the same time, those weren’t the Pundit’s words, and we try to provide wide latitude for people to speak their minds, especially if they are willing to sign their names to their opinions.
On the substance, it does seem highly pertinent whether the land in question was, in fact, grown with organic methods. At this point, the investigation could not be harmed by the release of such information and so it is time for the government, Natural Selection Foods and the grower, himself, to speak to this point.
The issue of manure in agriculture is both substantive and a public relations issue.
Substantively, if we are going to use manure in agriculture, we have to change standards dramatically. It is not sufficient to prove that if everything is done perfectly, everything will be OK. We need a system that anticipates human error and sometimes malice.
An obvious thing: All composted manure ready to be used needs to be tested for generic E. coli by an independent third party. If any is found to survive, the manure is not ready for use. We should use generic E. coli as a marker for inadequate composting.
We think the whole notion of using manure in this day and age is somewhat barbaric, and the most effective consumer confidence building techniques are simple ones. So we would think the wisest course is for the industry to agree to ban the use of manure, composted or not, in commercial agriculture.
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 held a conference. 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.
On November 29, 2006, we ran Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which gave voice to the thoughts of some non-participating buyers that only mandatory government regulation is the way to go. Also on November 29, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, in which a processor there at the beginning of the national fresh-cut industry reminded us how uninterested in food safety most retailers were at the time.
On November 30, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers were declining to join the buyer-led initiative with Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives. Also on November 30, 2006, we received a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group, which we focused on in Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulation. We pointed out: “In terms of the difficulties on spinach and leafy greens, the key buyers are missing from the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. The buyers of the produce, in this case, are the processors.”
On December 1, 2006, we published Spinach And The Consequences Of Buyers’ Action, in which buyers who hadn’t signed on to the buyer-led food safety initiative pointed out that rigorous food safety systems will restrict supply and raise prices.
As we explained: “It is unknown if those who don’t buy spinach because of high prices will buy healthy alternatives. They may buy candy bars and die of complications of obesity. It is a completely open question as to whether safer spinach won’t cost lives in the end.”
Also on December 1, 2006, we responded to industry feedback claiming that foodservice did a better job than retail when it came to food safety by beginning a series of Pundit Pulses focused on foodservice. The first two, pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, dealt with how smaller buyers deal with these issues.
On December 5, 2006, we continued our discussion with buyers who refused to sign the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative by noting that some of them weren’t thrilled with the Western Growers Association proposal either. Our Piece Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job?dealt with the problems created for the industry when one region is declared “safer” than another and with the difficulty of utilizing a marketing order to legislate world class food safety practices.
On December 6, 2006, we ran Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline), which dealt with what will happen if the trade associations do not meet the deadline set by the buyers. Also on December 6, 2006, we continued our series on foodservice and food safety by running pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Of Diversified Restaurant Systems.
Additionally on December 6, 2006, we ran a letter from Tim O’Conner, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board in our Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing Worldin which Tim explained: “Given my experience with government inspection and regulation, I place much more value on a supply chain-led initiative to deliver meaningful long term results.”
On December 7, 2006, we ran FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered, which looked at the contribution of FMI’s effort to play a role in preventing a future leafy green crisis.
On December 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costs, in which a letter from Jack Vessey of Vessey & Company clued us in to the specific cost implications of food safety initiatives.
On December 12, 2006, we ran Taco Bell Makes Ready Pac Its Scapegoat, which explained that the attitude of shared responsibility for food safety that is essential for success can’t be sustained if a buyer dumps an innocent vendor at the first sign of trouble.
Also on December 12, 2006, we published New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety, which dealt with the way a cultural imperative to low prices could lead food safety to be sacrificed.
Additionally on December 12, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Aligned Supply Chains And Statistical Quirks, which analyzed the way the tyranny of large numbers can impact our perception of the food safety problem.
On December 13, 2006, we published Wholesalers, Independents May Get Windfall From Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out that a buyer-led initiative would likely leave lots of growers looking for homes for their product and that wholesalers and independents could benefit.
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, Michigan, was communicating with its customers. Catch it here.
On November 29, 2006, we ran a piece called Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative that focused on the thoughts of some buyers that only mandatory government regulation would help the industry. Read it right here.
On November 30, 2006, we published Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives, a piece that continued our series on why some buyers don’t wish to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. You can find the article here.
On December 1, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers elected not to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative with Spinach And The Consequence Of Buyers’ Actions, a piece that looked at how food safety might impact prices and public health. Read it here.
Also on December 1, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, which explored how smaller foodservice operators were looking at food safety. Catch it right here.
Additionally on December 1, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sprout Lessons Echo Food Safety Dilemma, which pointed out what the broader produce industry can learn from the food safety woes of the sprout industry. You can find the piece here.
On December 5, 2006, we asked Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job?This piece discussed both the difficulties of setting different food safety standards in different regions and the difficulty of establishing food safety standards through a marketing order. Read it here.
On December 6, 2006, we ran Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline), which dealt with what will happen if the trade associations do not meet the deadline set by the buyers. Read the piece here. Also on December 6, 2006, we continued our series on foodservice and food safety by running Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Of Diversified Restaurant Systems, and you can find this article here.
Additionally on December 6, 2006 we ran a letter from Tim O’Conner, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board in our Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing World, catch this piece right here.
On December 7, 2006, we ran FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered, which looked, from a retailer’s point of view, at the contribution of FMI’s effort to play a role in preventing a future leafy green crisis. Read it right here.
December 8, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costsin which a letter from Jack Vessey of Vessey & Company detailed some costs being incurred as a result of buyers’ demands for various food safety efforts. Read it right here.
On December 12, 2006, we published New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety, which dealt with the way a cultural imperative to low prices could lead food safety to be sacrificed. Please read it here.
Also on December 12, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Aligned Supply Chains And Statistical Quirks, which analyzed the way the tyranny of large numbers can impact our perception of the food safety problem. You can catch this right here.
On December 13, 2006, we ran Wholesalers, Independents May Get Windfall From Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out that a buyer-led initiative would likely leave lots of growers looking for homes for their product and that wholesalers and independents could benefit. Read it here.
Also on December 13, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Eliminating E. coli 0157:H7, which argued that we should look for legislation to prevent cattle from polluting with E. coli 0157:H7 and look to eliminate E. coli 0157:H7 from the food chain. Catch the piece here.
On December 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Ground, which dealt with the food safety implications of the presumption that the spinach implicated in the spinach/E. coli outbreak was grown with organic methods on ground being transitioned to organic. Read the piece right here.
On December 15, 2006, we published the Pundit Special Science Report: Part 1 — Food Safety Vulnerabilities in Yuma And Salinas; Part 2 — The Science Of Waterborne Bacteria; Part 3 — Product Testing At Natural Selection Foods & McEntire Produce. The whole report can be found 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.
November 29, 2006 featured Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, which reminded us that retailers weren’t always focused on consumers or safety in the early years of the national fresh-cut industry. You can find the piece right here.
On November 30, 2006, we published What’s In A Name, recognizing the birth date of Theodor Escherich, for whom the genus Escherichia of which Escherichia coli is the most common member. Read it here.
Also on November 30, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulations, which dealt with a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group trying to find a reasonable proposal on food safety. Catch it here.
On December 1, 2006, we ran Speaking Of Produce Washes, which revealed a study that found that washes and water are all about the same. 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.