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Pundit’s Mailbag —
Reaction To NRA’s Reaction

We’ve been focused on the National Restaurant Association and what it will be doing in the next month in relations to produce safety.

NRA Forms Produce Safety Working Group kicked off our coverage over four months ago. National Restaurant Association Soon To Unveil Its Own Food Safety Plan was a substantial interview with an NRA executive. An Open Letter To The Board Of Directors Of The National Restaurant Association came next, where we urged NRA to work with the produce industry to achieve food safety. Second Appeal to NRA followed, and we pointed out that the produce industry welcomes the input of NRA’s scientists and those of its members.

NRA Stands Defiant was another piece, where we pointed to the fact that NRA is in between permanent CEOs as a possible cause for this uncomfortable situation. We then published Calling All Produce Executives Who Work Heavily With Foodservice, in which we asked produce executives to reach out to NRA. This was followed by What Is Wal-Mart’s Role In The New NRA Food Safety Standards and, most recently we published NRA’s Peter Kilgore Speaks Out, which included the verbatim publication of a letter from NRA’s Acting Interim President and CEO.

The letter wasn’t very responsive to the issues we’ve raised here at the Pundit. We are basically concerned because NRA has not been sharing its concern over the draft GAP documents with the produce industry associations working on the draft GAPs.

Obviously food safety has to run up and down the supply chain and by working collaboratively we are more likely to make progress than by having NRA working secretly to unveil a “finished” program.

We are very proud of the produce industry and believe we have played a part in advancing its food safety efforts. We were the first to post the draft GAPs online for the whole world to see and comment on. Today the draft GAPs can be found on this website, on United’s website and on the WGA website — freely available for NRA, FMI, every food safety expert in the world to advise and comment.

In fact, here at the Pundit, we’ve even dug into our own pocket to offer a $1,000 honorarium to anyone in the world who comes up with the best suggestion to improve the draft GAP.

To us food safety is too important to play games with. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit, it matters that we get the job done.

Although NRA’s letter to the Pundit was harsh, it brought this nice letter from a food safety consultant:

What would we do without you? Truly, there is NO ONE that I know that SEES CLEARLY, TAKES AN OBJECTIVE STAND, DOES THE HOMEWORK, (FACTS!), CAN PUT IT ON PAPER, BRING IT TO LIGHT; and WHO IS SINCERELY INTERESTED IN HELPING! I find the Pundit to be a work of Genius! I surely admire you and the work that you DO!

Again, thank you.

Hopefully the NRA President will “get off his high horse” and follow your simple, clear, logical lettered suggestions, OR, Yes, as you have so pointed out, many restaurant NRA members can find themselves in Deep Trouble. One of the most ridiculous statements was about the Pundit being a “Blog,” with the negative connotation; Boy, did this guy NOT do his homework!

ALL your articles and information are well appreciated.

And, to make things even better, The Pundit lives, works, expresses, in the same County that I reside. I am proud of that (Like having a GREAT Home Team!)

— Fred Stein
FRED International, a Food Safety Consultancy
Delray Beach, FL

It is very kind of Fred to say such nice things about the Pundit and, as we always have, we will work hard to be worthy of such praise.

The truth is that we are sure that Mr. Kilgore is a smart man who means the best for his association, its members and the cause of food safety.

For very important people, the Pundit can be an acquired taste. Some people want everyone to agree with them while some people recognize instinctively that stirring the pot, bringing light to the dark recesses of issues and not relenting until something is achieved is a substantial contribution to industry self-analysis and that this type of reflection helps an industry to improve.

Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, gave us here at the Pundit a great compliment when he wrote and told us that “The Pundit does, in fact, incite reactions and cause good thinkers to think harder and longer on topics that are current and newsworthy.”

To cause “good thinkers to think harder” is a substantial contribution to our trade, and we thank Jim Allen for these kind words.

Sometimes, however, people who don’t know us well can perceive themselves to be under attack. Yet we never attack people — we attack ideas. And we feel confident that no good idea need fear the relentless scrutiny of inquiring minds.

We have nothing bad to say about Mr. Kilgore, nor the NRA. We never had a problem with Dr. Donna Garren, now at NRA, but formerly at United.

We just think that the ideas Donna laid out in her interviews with us were not the best approach and we have fought to get alternative ideas a hearing.

There is some indication that cracks are evident in the ice around NRA’s position. Whereas Donna used words such as “requirements” being unveiled at NRA’s conference at the end of March, there is some talk now of “drafts” that will circulate.

There has been no formal press release of this development; however, if this is true, it is to the immense credit of Mr. Kilgore, the NRA staff and the NRA Board. For it means a door opening to collaboration and that is a big win for all involved.

But time is of the essence here, and the best approach is to start sharing ideas and concerns right now. Then, as a unified supply chain, we can deal with these issues together.

That is the route to food safety.

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