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Rats In Los Angeles:
The Produce Industry’s Shame

Caption: During happier days, Richard Meruelo, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of MerueloMaddux Properties, rings the NASDAQ Stock Market open bell to celebrate the company’s initial public offering on NASDAQ.

If you need evidence that mandatory regulation is no panacea — and of the importance of the media in focusing attention on public health and food safety issues — take a look at this video right here.

The public news is that this media attention has led to 63 vendor closings and three businesses with permits revoked at LA’s Seventh Street Produce Market. In addition, they made many referrals to the city attorney.

Firms on LA’s other two produce markets have been busy sending letters assuring customers that they are not located there and that they don’t buy from the 7th Street Market. Restaurant chains implicated with receiving produce from the 7th Street Market, such as Johnny Rockets, have been sending letters after banning their suppliers from buying from the 7th Street Market.

The publicity has led to a clean-up, as you can see on this video here. It also seems to have prompted a broader investigation with an additional 64 inspections at OTHER wholesale produce facilities resulting in 33 additional closures.

One wonders how many additional facilities around the country are not up to snuff.

This combines with the KFC/Taco Bell rat story, which we deal with here to point out three key points:

  1. Mandatory regulation is no panacea. Everything we see here is against the law and was known to be happening by the relevant authorities.
  2. Even companies, such as Johnny Rockets and IHOP, which clearly don’t want trouble, run the risk of trouble if they don’t have a highly aligned supply chain.
  3. We need traceability, not just to find where outbreaks came from but so buyers can see where the produce they bought has actually been.

There are two other issues.

First, the poor condition of this market couldn’t have been a secret to the local trade. If the spinach/E. coli fiasco taught us anything, it should be that we may all be judged by our weakest food safety link. Surely the local trade could have done more to get this market cleaned up.

Second, there has to be consequences for such neglect of duty. If heads don’t roll in LA, it will provide some insight as to why mandatory government regulation is so inept.

Here is a local publication’s take on what happened. The market is operated by Alameda Produce Market, which is owned by MerueloMaddux Properties of which Richard Meruelo is Chairman and CEO. You can find some information on Richard Meruelo on MerueloMaddux’s website. Some photos also appear from NASDAQ on a recent Initial Public Offering by MerueloMaddux Properties.

One final point: Everything has been cleaned up. Why should we believe that the same failed system that let it deteriorate the first time won’t let it do so again?

Special kudos are due to KNBC TV, channel 4 in Los Angeles for undertaking this four-month-long investigative report. The City of Los Angeles took action only because of the power of publicity. Shame on them. Here is a summary of the report.

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