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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

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The Cultural Contradictions Of Food Safety

One of our most emailed pieces is called Tale of Two Buyers and it is a little story that speaks to the contradictions, both of a cultural and financial incentive variety, at the heart of our food safety problems. But these dilemmas, between profit maximization and food safety, do not only apply to buyers.

Toward the end of the spinach/E. coli crisis we were told the story of a grower, in the Salinas valley, who was growing a crop that was ready for harvest. The firm that was going to harvest the crop and buy it from the farmer sent in its machinery to do the job. The team worked all day and, as night fell, was almost done with only a small portion of the field left unharvested.

They withdrew most of the equipment just leaving what would be needed to harvest the small remainder of the crop the following day.

During the course of the night a large herd of cows somehow infiltrated the field. It was a substantial number and they were obviously defecating, belching and doing the things that cows do — things that might spread E.coli 0157:H7.

The harvesting company was a large organization and was very sensitized to food safety issues by all the news of the spinach/E. coli crisis.

As such they saw the cows, immediately withdrew their equipment and told the farmer to disc the crop under.

Then, a few days later, the farmer called the company that had halted harvesting and asked a question:

“Listen,” said the farmer “I never did disc that spinach and, just now, I got a call from another buyer who had been driving by and was looking to buy it. Any reason I can’t sell it to him?”

Of course there was a reason and he was advised not to sell it. Supposedly he didn’t but who really knows?

Now it is easy to be morally righteous and note that there was a risk of E. coli 0157:H7 contamination and that the farmer was morally obligated to disc the crop.

Yet that is easy for anyone else to say. For a farmer, that crop is his money, it is his livelihood. Maybe it pays his kid’s tuition or the mortgage on the farm or buys medicine for his sick wife. Who knows?

Yet it seems that it is expecting too much virtue from people to depend on people abandoning their money in the field on the basis of a hypothetical risk.

Obviously one answer is that if nobody will buy a crop leftover inexplicably in a field, then the moral hazard is moot.

It is also possible to contract with people on such a basis that they have no incentive to cover-up.

Yet I keep thinking that if that farmer had only gone out to that field two hours before the harvesting crew arrived, he probably would have gotten rid of the cows and sold his crop and, it would never show in any records or audits. If nothing went wrong, which is highly likely, the farmer would feel vindicated.

Food safety is a tough one for an industry because 99.9% of the time we don’t get paid for food safety so it is difficult to pay buyers or farmers for doing the right thing.

Yet it is in resolving these perverse financial incentives to take food safety risks that the real long term improvements in food safety will really be found.




Increasing Produce Consumption
At The Worksite

The Pundit extends congratulations to Curtis Granger, most recently with the Ripe ‘N Ready Tree Fruit, as he has accepted a new position as Program Manager at the Public Health Institute (PHI), Oakland, California. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to talk with Curtis and the interview is very intriguing.

The produce industry’s 5-a-Day program has been mainly a promotional program — a brand if you will. But the Pundit has always wondered if the time and money wouldn’t be more effectively invested in specific efforts to boost consumption among certain population groups.

The most important thing to remember is that you can’t increase consumption in general without increasing consumption in particular. Put another way, people have to eat more of specific items at specific times in specific places.

This type of effort has been problematic for 5-a-Day because of political difficulties. It is hard to promote specific items, specific times and specific places because different products and different organizations have different interests.

What is interesting about the public health approach that Granger is now championing is that is combines a very specific effort to change behavior with a recognition that the public health benefits of increased produce consumption are not randomly distributed through the population. We can get better bang for the buck and help people more by focusing on certain “at risk” groups.

This program and others like it have real potential to boost business and improve public health. It is a chance for the industry to do well by doing good and is well worth paying attention to:

CURTIS GRANGER
Program Manager at the
Public Health Institute (PHI)
Oakland, California

Witnessing huge gaps in produce distribution and consumption, 17-year produce industry veteran Curtis Granger has shifted over to the public health sector to advocate produce from another vantage point.

Granger will lead the statewide rollout of a California Department of Health Services (CDHS) Nutrition Worksite program. He jumps into his new role with hefty goals that are focused on California but have application across the United States and globally.

Granger is looking to buoy his extensive experience in the produce industry where he spearheaded innovative business development and marketing programs for Ripe ‘N Ready Tree Fruit, the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association and California Kiwifruit Commission. He also served as Chairman of the Produce for Better Health Foundation National 5-a-Day Program in 2003, and as a member of the California Nutrition Network/California 5-a-Day Executive Joint Steering Committee.

The Worksite initiative is part of a larger, multi-faceted program started within the California 5-a-Day for Better Health Campaign, which teams with local, state and national partners to increase produce distribution and consumption in tandem with physical activity in underserved communities across California. It is currently called the California 5-a-Day — Be Active! Worksite Program.

The worksite program is jointly funded through USDA Food Stamp Nutrition Education, with matching dollars from a vast 11-region local network of public health, nonprofits, private businesses, etc., according to Granger. Take Action, a 10-week plan, is the worksite program’s base template designed with produce and activity modules.

Currently, they are just completing pilots with six businesses, and the general feedback is that employee participation is above average, and employers are very encouraged about how a lifestyle and “stage of change” approach has engaged their employees.

The Take Action plan is web-based and has already been accessed by 40 countries just since May.

The USDA funding targets low-income employees, many of whom don’t have health insurance, to boost produce consumption and physical activity as a means to reduce risks of chronic diseases and other health problems. In addition, businesses may see benefits from improved health that positively affects company morale and job performance, lowering absenteeism, turnover, and disability days, while attacking burdensome medical costs.

According to Granger, once the employer gets an engaged employee to participate, the employer’s biometric measurements will be an effective tool to go back to their insurance provider and begin negotiating some reductions in premiums.

In the following interview, Granger shares his thoughts about his new role:

Q: What triggered you to jump outside the produce industry to work in the government arena? You seem highly ambitious in terms of what you hope to accomplish.

A: I haven’t left the produce industry. I’m trying to help take you guys to a new place. Produce executives need to step out of the box. We must carve out new approaches to address epidemic health issues and skyrocketing health care costs. We are missing a lot of opportunities by just focusing on the top five retailers. Everyone uses the same old channels. How many relationships have we overlooked?

The bottom line is for us to really impact health and lifestyle. We have to be as pervasive as Coke, Pepsi and McDonald’s, be everywhere they are and taste better consistently. That’s how we’ll drive produce consumption and overcome these health problems and better manage health care costs.

Q: How do you achieve these aspirations through Worksite and its sister programs? Government agencies have been known to be fraught with bureaucratic red tape.

A: This is not your traditional government agency; this is an active program. We need to do a better job of tying back to the industry, taking unconventional paths to increase access and consumption. This worksite program has been going well for a while in pilot form, yet the produce industry hasn’t been paying attention to it. The corporate channel we’re going into can afford produce.

But beyond that, I’m being given latitude within the organization to work with other program managers and the media. Food stamps pay for produce. That’s seven million customers. Terminal markets need to open their eyes a little and connect to WIC and food stamp programs. We need to link growers directly. We’re looking to talk to commodity boards to tie in to school retail programs.

Physical activity is a big part of this program. Produce companies should be connecting to organizations like parks, fitness clubs, you name it. If you look at NANA, the National Alliance of Nutrition and Physical Activity, there are a lot of partners, and I’m not sure we’ve leveraged these in the produce industry.

Q: Could you talk about the need for the work you’re undertaking?

A: Economic studies estimate that physical inactivity, obesity, and being overweight cost California more than $28 billion in direct and indirect medical care, workers’ compensation, and lost productivity costs annually, and that number is only increasing. The state budget is a pie and gets cut up for education infrastructure, etc. People don’t get the fact we have to provide the tools to change the environment we’re in. We have to create a system of motivation for self care. The precedent for change is dire in California, but the annual national impact is $259 billion in health care expenditures, medications, lost productivity and death.

Q: Who does the program target specifically and why?

A: Stipulated by the USDA, those within 185 percent of poverty level, roughly $34,000 annual income and under. The Nutrition Network has focused on populations where we find the most incidence of chronic disease. There is a disparity in health problems and rates of disease based on economic and ethnicity factors. For example, studies show that diabetes in African Americans is 2.9 times higher than in Caucasians, and 1.7 times higher in Latino populations, and when accounting for socioeconomic factors, the disparities widen.

Q: Are there other programs in the pipeline?

A: We are also piloting a new Asian/Pacific program, neighborhood and lingual specific, to really fit the culture, focused on reducing chronic disease by increasing fruits and vegetables and physical activity.

Q: For perspective, what percentage of people will Worksite affect? And are there long term goals of expanding the program?

A: With the launch of the program, we will be reaching at least 20,000 employees at 220 companies, many of which don’t provide health insurance. Targeting 11 regions, the statewide rollout will get underway between February and April, but pilots have already shown successful results. This is just the tip of the iceberg. We have to start somewhere and then scale. In California, roughly 5.5 million to 7 million are underserved in our demographic. That’s 18 percent of the state’s population. But our program can go anywhere. It’s available and others are testing it and finding it very effective.

Q: How unique is your program?

A: There are other programs with physical activity components but not one focused on increasing produce consumption at the worksite, certainly nothing wide scope like this. Studies of corporate wellness programs average 35 to 40 percent engagement, but our pilots show 66 percent participation.

Q: Why is that?

A: The strength of this program is that it’s an employee-driven, team-based approach. That’s where you see the most impact. In order to develop a total health program, first it is critical to build trust with employees, including their input in the design and execution, otherwise they won’t participate. Getting initial health risk assessments and tracking cholesterol and weight reductions can be challenging because employees are worried their companies will use the data for other purposes.

Different modules range from instituting a farmer’s market to adapting meals in the cafeteria following nutritional guidelines, to putting fresh produce in vending machines, to onsite physical activities. (See www.ca5aday.com for more specific examples).

Q: What can the produce industry do to get involved?

A: Companies should be having conversations with corporate chief financial officers on how to reduce health care costs, offering intervention strategies to increase productivity. Produce suppliers all have relationships with distributors. The way I see the produce industry coming at this is through a different avenue. Instead of talking to the foodservice distributor, go to the company executive overseeing employee health.

To push more fruits and vegetables into the worksite environment, the discussion needs to come at a different level. The CFO is saying profitability is eroding and turns to the medical director or human resources/benefits director and asks how to get health care costs under control. Labor and training issues are a hot button, and here’s a way to attract and hold employees.

We can insert ourselves into the dialogue. The bottom line is that once they develop the program and get the health risk assessment done, the intervention program can begin to change the work environment and translate those behaviors back home.

Q: What challenges do you face? Especially in adults, eating habits are engrained. Aren’t long-term behaviors difficult to change?

A: Yes. That’s why our Nutrition Network’s Power Play program targets children up to 11 years old, the last time you really have a strong influence to change eating habits, and ideally it’s best to try and get through to kids earlier at age 5.

I look at Worksite as a bridge program. The percent of overweight or obese people has hit epidemic levels. There is a big push to put more of the health care cost burdens back on employees. And the message is negative all around. Companies institute a health promotion that is lifestyle-behavior based, employees own it, health risks are reduced, and it’s a win-win situation.

Q: Could your Worksite program link back to retailers?

A: We’re working on that right now. When retailers go to negotiate with unions, the big issues are health care costs and wages. Could you imagine the strides one could make by taking health care costs off the table? The program starts at the corporate headquarters. The challenge is making the program stick at the store level. Top down mandates don’t work. Employees have to own it.




CDC, EFORS And Holiday Hours

As usual the people at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are being coy, but it seems likely that the sudden spate of produce-related foodborne illness outbreaks can be accounted for due to the summer upgrade of CDC’s Electronic Foodborne Outbreak Reporting System, or EFORS.

You can see a presentation here that was done some time ago but gives a basic overview of EFORS and plans for the project.

For now, CDC sent us a note providing the following information:

We are continually working to improve our systems in order to learn how to reduce the burden of foodborne disease. CDC has collected information on foodborne outbreak investigations done by state and local public health officials for over 30 years.

Since 2001, state and local health departments have reported the results of their outbreak investigations through a web-based reported system, the Electronic Foodborne Outbreak Reporting System (EFORS). EFORS has been updated to make reporting of outbreaks by state and local investigators even easier than it was before and to store and manage the data in a way that facilitates analysis and reporting of the important information we gather regarding foodborne outbreaks.

A listing of foodborne disease outbreaks reported to CDC can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/ MMWR/preview/mmwrhtml/ ss5510a1.htm Data on outbreaks reported from 1998-2002 were recently summarized in the MMWR http://www.cdc.gov/ foodborneoutbreaks/ outbreak_data.htm

We tried to get more information and actually speak to someone, but the CDC said nobody is available due to the holidays.

We wrote about the CDC extensively in our analysis of PulseNet: pulseNet Ups Ante In Food Safety Battle, pulseNet Explains Why It Doesn’t Work Weekendsand then in pulseNet Redux, again in pulseNet Asleep At The Wheel and again in pulseNet, And The Pundit, In The News. Much of this coverage was focused on the fact that the CDC doesn’t keep PulseNet staffed during all the hours the state laboratories are open, much less 24/7/365.

We thought that buttressing this system by keeping PulseNet monitored all the hours the state labs are contributing to it would be a wise investment of public funds.

There is something funky about this agency, though. First we question them because the staff isn’t working when it needs to be to get info from the states. Then we go to talk to them about something completely different and we are told they don’t have anyone to talk to us because it is the holidays!

This agency is supposed to be our nation’s bulwark against not only illness but bio-terrorism. One would think they would need plenty of staff year-round. Something just isn’t right. The public is not being informed about what seems to be intense budgetary pressures at CDC.

It is a shame, too, because the public would support much more money for this cause.




Listeria Video Available

The Association of Food and Drug Officials, an organization of regulatory officials, is making a video available at no charge called Control of Listeria Monocytogenes in Retail Establishments.

Produced by the The Department of Food Science at Penn State, the program is heavy on the deli side but valuable for all perishable departments. The Pundit thinks it underemphasizes the risk on raw produce, especially processed product, almost defining “Ready to Eat” as deli products.

The truth is that concern over this pathogen is one of the major obstacles on fresh-cut fruit programs. It is a nasty bug too. It is estimated that 20% of the people who get Listeriosis die from it.

The video is available in English or Spanish, you can view it right here.




Pundit’s Mailbag — WGA’s Ambiguities

We published a piece entitled WGA’s Food Safety Plan Gets Attacked that detailed California State Senator Dean Florez’s attack on WGA’s proposal. The Pundit opined that WGA had basically set itself up to be attacked, as the proposal was neither what WGA had promised nor a solution that any critic of the industry will find acceptable. We received a helpful letter that in some ways reaches the crux of the problem:

I can understand some of your concerns regarding the Board of Directors and their decisions, but you are misrepresenting this Board. It will be made up of “purchase” industry representatives, (handlers) not necessarily growers! (WGA’s summary does not define “handlers”).

The only thing growers will do on their own is vote on the marketing order, which gives CDFA the authority to inspect our records and operations. We growers have been at odds with many of the unwarranted demands of these buyers regarding food safety metrics. This is definitely NOT a situation of “foxes” guarding the henhouse!

Also, we are very adamant about the development of a “common sense” set of guidelines that are based as much on science as possible. We have been living lately with purchaser guidelines that are more window dressing and fluff that give the perception of food safety at a high cost to growers without any scientific basis. These “buyers” have stated that they are willing to pay extra for costly mandated food safety protection. Bunk! They are not willing to pay one cent more for raw product! We are being led down the road to bankruptcy.

We all know that Dean Florez’s efforts are self serving. How is government going to regulate food safety at the farm level? FDA and CDHS staffs are reluctant to give any advice to our growing industry. I know because I have been at the table with these people, and when asked what we should be concentrating on regarding food safety on the farm, they just sat there with dumfounded looks on their faces! No commitment on their part that could backfire in their faces! They’re perfectly contented with throwing rocks at us and demanding that we find the answers. Hell, we’re not even sure what the questions are!

Lately, CDC and FDA have proven their inability to protect their credibility regarding these recent outbreaks, which has both good and bad ramifications. Is it a good thing that consumers won’t seriously consider anything these agencies have to say in the future? Good for the industry, bad for consumers!

Keep up the good work!

— Bob Martin
General Manager
Rio Farms
King City, CA

Bob’s letter is thoughtful and appreciated. The issue of representation on the board is unclear but enough is clear to know that many will see it as unsatisfactory. We know that with the possible exception of one representative of the public, the board will be composed of “signatory handlers”:

“Handler” means any person who handles, processes, ships or distributes leafy green product for market whether as an owner, agent, employee, broker or otherwise. This definition does not include a retailer except to the extent that such a person is a handler.

This is still a little unclear, but we do not read this as excluding growers, and the fact that the board is composed of regional representatives seems to argue that growers are expected to dominate the board. Just read the excerpt from the WGA-proposed legislation below:

However, the initial board shall consist of 13 members comprised of members as described in sub-paragraph a through c, below:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Perhaps one could argue the board will exclude small farms that only grow product but, certainly, large growers that ship product are clearly included as “handlers” within the meaning of the proposed legislation.

In any case, the very ambiguity gives consumer advocates the willies as it is so easy to make clear. One line written into the document, such as “A majority of the Board of Directors shall be composed of processors,” would suffice. It is so easy and so obvious a fix that one has cause to assume it is not there because someone didn’t want to make that commitment.

In any case, it is a little unclear why only processors should be on this board. Why should retailers or foodservice operators be excluded? Why shouldn’t scientists and food safety experts be on the board? Why shouldn’t the consuming public have guaranteed representation? If you are going to use processors, why should they have to come from these regional areas? How about some processors from out of state?

These are not unique insights of the Pundit or subtle unpredictable questions that we have discerned from extensive textual study of the proposed legislation. These are the highly predictable questions that arise from a quick perusal of the proposal.

If there are good answers to any of these questions, WGA should clearly have gotten them out there simultaneous with, or in advance of, release of the proposal.

To some extent WGA has to make dramatic changes to its own way of operating. It has always been a quiet, highly effective group that works behind the scenes. But the food safety issue is too high profile for that approach. The very fact that we learned about WGA’s submission of the legislation from a California Legislator and not from the WGA indicates a need for a reassessment of WGA’s outreach program.

Bob’s point about “science-based” food safety protocols is completely sensible and completely unlikely to happen in this environment. The truth is that our science isn’t that good here and that it will take years of research to know what we really have to know.

But we don’t have years. There is a political imperative to act now.

Then the problem is that from a rational cost/benefit perspective, nothing we are going to propose will make much sense. How can it? With so many servings made every day, the number of deaths or illnesses is so small that even enormous improvements in food safety procedures can have only tiny benefits in terms of reducing the number of sick or dead in the future.

When the Pundit proposes we agree to ban the use of manure in commercial agriculture or require that all fields be fenced sufficiently to stop wild pigs or deer from entering, it is not that we are saying we have done a careful study of the cause of foodborne illness and determined that these are the most cost-effective methods to solve the problem. What it means is that these things seem like rational approaches that might help and are the kinds of simple pronouncements that might rebuild consumer confidence.

By the way, the fact that these food safety protocols will not be based on sound science will come back to haunt the domestic industry. Our international treaty obligations restrict our ability to require other countries to follow rules that are not science-based. This means that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to restrict entry into the country of produce that does not follow these arbitrary rules.

Perhaps the most salient point in Bob’s letter is this:

We have been living lately with purchaser guidelines that are more window dressing and fluff that give the perception of food safety at a high cost to growers without any scientific basis. These “buyers” have stated that they are willing to pay extra for costly mandated food safety protection. Bunk! They are not willing to pay one cent more for raw product! We are being led down the road to bankruptcy.

We can pretty much count on the fact that all buyers — retailers, foodservice operators and processors, alike — will look to buy the cheapest product available that meets their specs. For retailers and others buying “at market,” it is also reasonable to think that only a percentage of producers will be willing or able to meet stiff food safety specs. This constrained supply base should lead to higher prices for growers. For those buyers that purchase “on contract,” obviously growers shouldn’t sign contracts on which they will lose money.

In other words this business of getting buyers to “agree” to pay more for better food safety is silly. What buyers need to do is define the food safety standards they want met and then “agree” not to abandon those standards because the product turns out to be more expensive.

Bob also makes a strong point on our government regulatory bodies:

FDA and CDHS staffs are reluctant to give any advice to our growing industry. I know because I have been at the table with these people, and when asked what we should be concentrating on regarding food safety on the farm, they just sat there with dumfounded looks on their faces! No commitment on their part that could backfire in their faces!

Yes, it is sad to say, but true. The regulatory agencies have zero desire to regulate field crops. Most produce growers are so fed up with all this talk that they would gladly do whatever the government wants if that would satisfy them. Unfortunately, as one food safety expert told the Pundit:

FDA is very generic in their terms of what to do. I’d bet all of my cash including retirement money, equity in my house, and every penny that I can borrow that FDA will not now or in the future provide a regulation that says for example: “Fields shall be fenced with a maximum of ¾-inches opening woven wire fence extending five feet under the ground and five feet above the ground.”

Simply because they will not deliberately put themselves in a position where the producer can say “we followed the federal regulation, it’s not our fault.”

This is why those buyers whose reason for not joining the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is that they prefer mandatory FDA regulation probably need to reassess their position. It will only happen if a law passes both houses of Congress and is signed by the President. That is very hard to make happen.

Bob’s final point about CDC and FDA losing credibility is a mixed sword. In the U.K., the government agricultural and food authorities so lost credibility that people are being swayed by charlatans, frauds and scaremongers on issues such as GMO foods. Credible government agencies can be a very useful resource for reassuring the public when reassurance is needed. If their credibility goes, it can be difficult to reassure consumers at all.




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Recap XX

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.




Botulism And Carrot Juice Summary XXXVIII

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.




Spinach Crisis Summary Rewind XLVIII

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.

On December 19, 2006 we published Irradiation Will Prevent Future Outbreaks which dealt with the need for a “kill step” in produce. You can read it here. Also on December 19, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Organics And Manure which dealt with the issue of the use of manure in modern agriculture. You can find the piece right 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.

RESOURCES
In addition to our own work, there are many excellent sources of information out there that do not require payment, membership or registration. Three of the Pundit’s favorites:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has offered daily information on the crisis right here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deal with the outbreak here.

The Produce Marketing Association has maintained an excellent industry resource on the subject right here.

Please feel free to write or call if you are looking for specific information not included here. Note that many of the articles and websites have links to other resources.

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