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Bailando Juntos (Dancing Together)

A new name brought into the spinach fiasco by the execution of the search warrants in Salinas is Growers Express. They issued a statement as well:

Public statement regarding FDA/FBI inquiry 10-4-06 1505 hrs.

Oct. 4, 2006 (Salinas, Calif.) — This morning, officials of the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation came to the offices of Growers Express LLC, seeking information related to their investigation of a recent e coli contamination involving fresh, bagged spinach.

Growers Express cooperated fully with the federal investigators and will continue to do so. Safeguarding the health of our customers is our top priority, and we continue to do all we can to ensure our products are safe and wholesome.

It is important to note that Growers Express LLC does not process bagged spinach. The small amount of bagged spinach marketed by Growers Express is purchased from outside processors, none of which have been connected to the recent recall.

Growers Express LLC packages and markets an array of fresh vegetables under various brand names including Western Express, Farm Day and Green Giant Fresh. None of these brands have been connected to the recent recall of fresh spinach nor have they been the focus of investigations into possible sources of contamination.

Pundit investigator Mira Slott spoke with Woody Johnson, VP Sales and Marketing for Growers Express, who was kind enough to share his take with the industry:

“Growers Express is not a spinach processor. What led the FBI and FDA to us was that we provide food safety services and third party audit services to growers. We do the documentation and assembly of records and pay some of the Primus Lab fees, and because of that they came to us.

The whole irony behind this is that we are known for our model food safety program. We have been at the forefront of stringent food safety studies. That is why growers turn the responsibility over to us because this food safety program is so comprehensive with compliance and thorough audits.

All anyone had to do was give us a phone call, whether FBI, FDA or other interested parties. The sealed search warrant action — talk about overkill! What ends up happening with a story like this is it is blown out of proportion with the non-trade press not understanding the nuances of the industry.

There have been many erroneous newspaper reports. We were chastised for not making a statement immediately, when in fact we didn’t even know what was going on yet. If you don’t say anything, people assume you’re guilty. That’s why we put together a general statement. I came into work today with the intention of conducting damage control, but fortunately the press has calmed down on this issue. It appears they’ve moved on to other things.”

We will see how long that lasts.

So it seems that Growers Express provides technical services to help growers meet the food safety standards and requirements of buyers, and the company facilitates interaction with Primus to provide third-party audits of the food safety programs. So that is why they are involved.

There is, however, another link between Growers Express and Natural Selection Foods. In 1995, Earthbound Farm (Drew and Myra Goodman) and Mission Ranches (Stan Pura, John Romans, David Gill and Mike Hitchcock) formed a partnership to create Natural Selection Foods.

Back in the 1980’s, the original Growers Express partners included Stan Pura, John Romans, David Gill and Mike Hitchcock.

Some of these people are among the most reputable families in produce, and there is no reason to believe that any of them have been implicated in anything at all.

Still, perhaps the FBI or FDA found something in the overlap of special interest. Unfortunately, it will take time before all this is sorted out.

One of the Growers Express technical programs is called “Bailando Juntos”, which translates into “Dancing Together”, and they define the program as “Sharing expertise to drive excellence.”

With news reports still coming out every day, the industry will be dancing together from some time.

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