A Choice Had To Be Made: Which Was The Top Priority: Buying Cheap, Buying Regional Or Buying Safe?
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 23, 2011
We received more than a few irate contacts when we dared to suggest that the Wal-Mart buyer who bought this produce was focusing on local and regional, not on the highest food safety standards.
Of course, everything is relative, and to some, Jensen Farms should be seen as neither local nor small:
Dan has contributed many pieces to the Pundit, including these:
Pundit’s Mailbag — National Marketing Orders And Agreements
Pundit’s Mailbag — Two Windows And Two Issues
You May Never Look At Spin The Bottle The Same Way Again
Perishable Thoughts — Higgins Boat Story Tells A Tale Of Perseverance
Setting The Record Straight On Fresh Express’ FreshRinse Wash
We appreciate him giving us a chance to comment on this issue. Local has no legal definition in produce marketing. Whole Foods, for example, declares that on a corporate level, products that travel up to 7 hours by car or truck can be classified as locally grown. The Interstate speed limit in Colorado is 75 miles per hour. If a trucker does 80, that means a load from Denver, Colorado is in Lubbock, Texas, within seven hours where it can be marketed as local.
The government has criteria for exemptions from the Food Safety Modernization Act, but our use of the term small is referring to actual food safety capabilities. For example, does the operation have the scale to support full time food safety staff of high quality?
The gist of our point is simple. Food safety in produce retailing has mostly been punted to the QA or food safety department. These folks set up a standard and, if they are not undermined by, say, having unauthorized product go through someone with a vendor number, they can block purchases from unapproved vendors.
Once they give an approval, though, the QA and food safety teams lose all influence. There are 10 approved vendors and the buyers make their selection.
Our point was that the buyers are not in any way incentivized to make this choice based on food safety.
One obvious driver for the decision is cost. Another is a desire to have more local or regional produce.
Our point was, and is, that one can have a lot of priorities but only one top priority. Nobody from Wal-Mart has stood up to explain why its executives would have thought that this relatively small producer — producing less in a season than California ships in a day — was the place in America most likely to produce safe cantaloupes.
If they didn’t think that, what did they prioritize over safety that made them buy this product?
Many thanks to Dan Cohen for his insights into this issue.