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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
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Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



FDA’s Money Problems

On Christmas day, the LA Times published an important article that really capsulated the dilemma the produce industry is dealing with. The piece is entitled Federal Science is Lacking on Food Contamination, and the basic thesis is this:

Recurring outbreaks of food-borne illness from contaminated produce are “unacceptable” in today’s society, the government says. But when it comes to preventing new occurrences, the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t done much of the basic research that would let it write regulations to fix the problem.

Six years after the FDA first issued general guidance to the produce industry on how it might prevent contamination from microbes such as E. coli 0157:H7, experts say federal regulators still can’t answer key questions.

For example, does water used for irrigating crops have to be clean enough for people to drink? And since cow manure is a common source of E. coli, how far from a cow pasture does a spinach patch have to be? Across the road? A quarter-mile away? A mile?

“There are no specific criteria for producers to follow, no specific criteria that can be enforced,” said Michael R. Taylor, who as head of the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service in 1995 launched a testing program for E. coli that led to major sanitary improvements at meatpacking plants.

As the article points out, regulation and inspections are futile as we don’t know what the regulation should be or what standard we should inspect to meet:

Scientific research is needed for such esoteric matters as the proper distance between a cow pasture and a spinach patch because federal regulations carry the weight of law. Growers, packers and shippers must spend money to comply with government rules. And consumers wouldn’t be helped much if new requirements were based on flawed assumptions.

“The idea of sending inspectors out right away is fairly useless, because without the basic science to set workable standards, you can’t know what will work,” said William Hubbard, a former FDA associate commissioner for policy, planning and legislation.

The problem is a lack of money for research. FDA doesn’t have enough money, and the food programs are getting squeezed partly because the drug component is getting a larger share of the budget. USDA spends most of its research budget on meat products. Of course, logically faced with a public health need, you would think the agencies would ask for more money. This article says it isn’t happening:

“FDA isn’t in a position to ask for resources,” said Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer for the foods division and the agency’s point man in the recent outbreaks. “What FDA does is make optimal use of the resources it gets.”

The Pundit thinks Acheson should resign for saying such a stupid thing. Of course, the FDA can ask for more money. Every agency in Washington does it every day. They ask directly, to the White House and the Office of Management and Budget and indirectly by going to friendly members of Congress and explaining their needs.

Such passivity is unacceptable in the current circumstance. If Acheson and his cohorts at FDA really believe what they are saying, they need to be replaced by a more energetic crew.

In any case, the lack of science is leaving the industry to guess and gamble. As Trevor Suslow, an agricultural extension agent at UC Davis — who we interviewed here — says in this LA Times piece:

“The idea is that somehow all the stakeholders will get together and in the absence of science and data arrive at some kind of reasonable consensus…”

In fact the self-proclaimed consumer advocates are basically worried that the industry might want to have a reason to undertake changes:

Consumer groups are concerned that the lack of scientific research will lead to more delays in produce safety rules. “I don’t want to see this tied up for another couple of years while they investigate all the science,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, the director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

No, she wants the industry to just do something, whether that something will be effective or not doesn’t really matter.

Such is the current state of affairs.




From A Victim’s Perspective

Over the holiday the Contra Costa Times ran a profile looking at the spinach/E. coli crisis from the perspective of a woman who got very sick and almost died during the crisis. It is entitled California Produce Now Crop of Concern,and is quite poignant. It also points to how continued consumer concern over produce safety may impact future sales:

All this has prompted growers and politicians to advocate stricter farming practices and better enforcement of existing rules. But substantial changes are years away. In fact, many food safety experts suggest that irradiation is the only way to destroy harmful bacteria in raw produce. The food industry has resisted the process because of the controversy over irradiated foods.

So salad lovers like Lisa Brott will never get 100 percent guarantees.

“There’s no one silver bullet,” Aguirre says. “You have to put a series of interventions in place and a series of steps to control and reduce your risk. And that’s what we’ve done.”

That’s not enough for Brott. Health officials say spinach is now safe to eat, but she wants to hear that more is being done.

“It’s scary,” she said “It doesn’t make me comfortable at all.”




Food Safety Culture

We ran a piece explaining why those who had access to a satellite dish should have tried to view “Reducing Risk Factors In Retail and Foodservice.”

Now the same program is available for easy video viewing with Real Media or Windows Media. There is a lot of interesting and valuable stuff here. Many in the industry will especially want to check out a presentation that includes Cas Tyba, Food Safety Manager of Big Y Foods, and others from Big Y dealing with how a supermarket can reduce food safety risk.

The best presentation on the video is by Frank Yiannas, Director of Safety & Health for Walt Disney World. Here is the description of his presentation:

Disney World shares a host of strategies to support their Behavioral Based Food Safety Management System, which combines both food science and behavioral science. Managers are trained how to manage performance using positive consequences such as positive feedback, certificates and awards and measure performance to catch people doing things right. Disney believes that when you create a food safety culture, you change the way people think, behave and believe around food. New technologies are also applied to smart kitchen set ups, their internal inspection process and on-site training.

As much as anything else, from top to bottom, if we want to improve food safety we need, as described here, “a food safety culture.” Catch the video right here.




Pundit’s Mailbag —
Disney’s Response To ‘Disconnect’

We’ve been running a few “first person” observations regarding the Disney foodservice operations, based on a Pundit family vacation to Walt Disney World. We discussed how the change in the “default option” from French Fries to produce worked out for the Pundit family here, and we dealt with what struck us as an oddity that during a special evening event at which free bags of fresh-cut apple slices were distributed, the bags being used weren’t labeled with the Disney characters, although Disney has a produce industry licensing venture that includes fresh-cut apples. We called that piece Disney Disconnect, and we received a letter from Disney regarding the article:

I am the Produce Sourcing Specialist for Disney Park and Resorts. I was forwarded a copy of your January 3, 2007, edition of Perishable Pundit by one of my colleagues. I would like to clarify and address a few items mentioned in the article “Disney Disconnect.”

Your article states, “Yet during the Pundit family holiday trip to Walt Disney World, it appeared that coordination between Disney foodservice operations and the licensing operation was non-existent.” Please know that for the past several months, The Disney Company Parks and Resorts Division has been working with Disney Consumer Products to identify well-balanced product lines that could be used in the foodservice operations in our Theme Parks, similar to the Imagination Farms Sliced Apples from Crunch Pak. I am confident that future visits will yield evidence of this on-going partnership, as we roll out more well-balanced product lines in the future.

In reference to your visit on the last day of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, it is true that the apple slices being given away were a Chiquita product. But for all other previous evenings (17 of the 18 nights of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party), we served over 75,000 bags of the Imagination Farms Sliced Apples from Crunch Pak.

The reason for the change on the last evening was that, due to the popular demand for the sliced apples, we needed to supplement (quickly) with a local vendor for the last evening to meet our Guests’ expectations. Based on the excellent response for the sliced apples at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, we are also working with Imagination Farms to develop other single-serve produce products for use in our theme park operations.

The Walt Disney World Co. is excited about our new well-balanced menu initiative and the options and choices it will offer to our Guests. We look forward to developing new menu concepts that will continue to meet and exceed our Guests’ culinary expectations, including The Disney Garden brand.

Thank you for the opportunity to respond and clarify.

— Cecil Kennedy
Produce Sourcing Specialist

We appreciate Cecil’s taking the time to write. When we do these types of “first person” observations, we intentionally do not call for broader perspective because we are trying to illustrate the experience of an individual consumer walking in on that day. We do the same thing with retail stores as in our visit to opening weekend at two Wal-Mart stores, which we chronicled here. We have many friends at Wal-Mart, could have called for all kinds of explanations, but consumers don’t do that.

Equally, part of the “Magic” at the “Magic Kingdom” is that the ice cream bars have Mickey Mouse ears and the apple packets have Disney characters on them. Our article accurately recounted that the children there during the Pundit family visit got a little less “magic” than what they were supposed to.

Doubtless there are reasons for this and Cecil explains these clearly. Yet, the important thing is that when a family is at Walt Disney World or Disneyland or one of the other Disney theme parks, cruise lines and hotels, those children don’t care that Mickey Mouse is “usually” at the theme park; they want him there to take a picture with them.

We are, of course, very happy now to add broader perspective, and it is great to know that Disney is committed to working to build programs such as the Disney Garden brand and to working with the companies that actually produce the Disney Garden product such as Crunch Pak.

Out-of-stocks are a big problem in the produce industry and syncing the ordering process with the supply process is a crucial dilemma for produce firms all across the country. Many large buyers, such as Wal-Mart, list specific percentages of out-of-stocks that will be tolerated on each commodity. If a vendor has too many out-of-stocks, they can lose their position as a supplier.

Many companies have established forward-distribution facilities specifically to make sure that customers are never out of stock.

When the Pundit was a little boy, he was taken by his parents to the New York World’s Fair, which really was Disney’s big move to the East. The memories of riding the boat in It’s a Small World and riding the Carousel of Progress resonate still.

The Pundit’s parents took us down to Walt Disney World from New York shortly after it opened. We didn’t have hotel reservations, couldn’t find a hotel room, and Dad was just about to call his Florida citrus suppliers to beg for help when we found a room at a flea bag motel named Marie’s. There was a mouse, and it wasn’t Mickey, that ran across our room in the middle of the night.

Yet, there really was something magical about the place and to the Prevor children, it really was “The Happiest Place on Earth.” So it is fortunate that an organization that so influences children has taken on a project to encourage children to eat more healthful foods.

We just have to get that out-of-stock situation under control.




Pundit’s Mailbag — More On Manure

We received a comment regarding our piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Answers. The piece was a response to another article we ran entitled Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Ground . Both pieces dealt with the revelation that the field implicated in the spinach/E. coli crisis was grown organically and was marketed as conventional produce because the product was within the three-year “transitional” stage required before product can be sold as organic.

In this piece Samantha Cabaluna, Senior Director of Communications for Natural Selections Foods, explained that “It’s important here to note that, to date, despite extensive testing, no E. coli O157:H7 has been found on the field itself; it has been found only about a half mile away on the adjacent cow pasture.”

And Samantha further explained that “…no raw or composted manure was used on this field and, on the whole, our growers are not using it in the cultivation of organic fields.”

Then we received this letter from an advocate of organic agriculture:

Regarding the 12/21 article “Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Answers” it seems to me that after pointing out that there was no E. coli 0157:H7 found in the field, that this particular field was not fertilized with manure or manure compost, that modern feedlots are major sources of human pathogens-not to mention, what became of the feral pig hypothesis? You wrap it up with the suggestion that manure or composted manure should not be used in the growing of spinach or leafy greens.

I don’t understand this thing about manure. When I was a child, my mother (God rest her soul) would apply manure to our home garden as though it were a treasure. I don’t doubt that her HACCP program could have been improved, but she knew a lot.

The person who might be considered the father of organic agriculture, Sir Albert Howard, coined the phrase “The Law of Return”. For many people, it is intuitively obvious, and rationally compelling, that waste products from animals, and — to leap right over the edge — humans, which are rich in the materials necessary for the growth of crops, get plowed back in. Otherwise we have a huge and increasingly problematic situation of dealing with wastes, and a separate, huge and increasingly problematic situation with applying synthetic fertilizers to fields.

The question of composting or treating these wastes adequately is a very important one, but it is a different question from not using them at all. Somehow the two keep getting mixed together — which to me is the critical problem.

I don’t get it. And not getting it, and yet needing some explanation, I am drawn to radical hypotheses such as that, through some design flaw in the wiring of the brain, the human race is compelled to think of itself as being fundamentally different and separate from what used to be called nature, and is trying to eliminate all indications that there could still be some connection.

Manure is good stuff! Pathogens are bad stuff! Manure does not equal pathogens!

— Bob Sanderson
Jonathan’s Sprouts

We appreciate Bob’s letter. If you click on the company link, you will see they also have an organization called Jonathan’s Organics. So Bob is involved with these issues.

He asks, logically enough, how anyone can make a leap from a letter testifying they didn’t use manure or manure compost to urging the ban on the use of manure in growing spinach or leafy greens?

It strikes us that there are three things going on.

First, we have the possibility that Samantha might be incorrect. We enjoy speaking with Samantha, think she is quite forthright and honest. But, she wasn’t there, she doesn’t audit the fields herself, she isn’t the company CEO. As we wrote about in our piece entitled Crisis Management, the problem with having “media professionals” answer questions is that it doesn’t put the issue to rest.

The letter didn’t come from a third-party auditor that reviewed those fields. It didn’t come from a grower who worked the fields.

The Pundit defended Earthbound Farm’s decision to keep Drew and Myra Goodman, the founders, out of the picture back on September 28, 2006, when a large buyer wrote us and we published the piece as Pundit Mailbag — Frustration On The Buy Side. Even then, the letter-writer was saying:

Where are Drew and Myra, the poster children for the organic movement and the faces of Earthbound Farm? They were ubiquitous, now they’re nowhere to be found. Leadership means not hiding — no matter what the lawyers say — and stepping out to face the public.

But it is a new year now. About five months after the outbreak. The spinach is from a different state now. If this goes on much longer, we will have to assume that Drew and Myra are being held incommunicado against their will. The Pundit has been thinking of filing a Missing Persons Report.

There is a lot of animosity in the Salinas industry against Earthbound right now. We received a number of quick responses looking at details of the wording Samantha used, seeking loopholes.

Many are not yet convinced that we know the whole story.

Second, whether this particular outbreak was due to manure added to the field or improper composting is not as important as the fact that it is a risk. In the lingo of the day, the use of manure, including manure compost and compost “teas,” is intrinsically a “critical control point” for consideration in a HACCP plan.

Although managing such risk is sometimes necessary, it is always better to eliminate the risk. So, if jewelry falling off of workers and getting into food is a risk, we could manage that risk by wrapping tape over rings, etc., but we are really better off just saying don’t wear jewelry to work.

The fact that “…composting or treating these wastes adequately is a very important one…” also indicates that this is a stage at which things can get messed up.

On a life-and-death matter such as food safety, on products with demonstrated risk for E-coli 0157:H7 contamination, it is not a wild leap of logic to say that we ought not to take such risks.

Third, there is a marketing element to this debate. Most Americans are very far from agricultural roots; they are not particularly comfortable with the concept of manure and certainly not with the concept of their food wallowing in it.

Part of what the produce industry needs is simple but dramatic changes that will make consumers feel better about produce. One of the problems with all these committees developing good agricultural practices is that most of it is subtle and beyond the grasp of the consuming public. Simple rules: No cows within a mile of a spinach or lettuce farm, no manure, compost, compost tea or any other form of manure on a field that is growing spinach or leafy greens.

We need complex rules for food safety, but we need some simple rules for marketing.

Our correspondent raises the basic “cycle of life” argument. But only an infinitesimal amount of the world’s manure is used in raising spinach and leafy greens.

Even if the principle is worthwhile, exempting crops where we know there is a potential problem would be smart business, an intelligent food safety step and clever marketing.




Pundit’s Mailbag —
Profitable Participation

It was back after the PMA convention in San Diego that we first heard demands for a merger of PMA and United, motivated by a sense that the industry needed to present one voice on these food safety issues. We discussed this issue in PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds.

Next we heard commentary from Harris Cutler of Race-West Corporation and from Richard Kaiser of The Richard Kaiser Company as well as from Bob Davis of Maine Farmers Exchange. We put all these thoughts together in Pundit’s Mailbag — Should PMA and United Merge.

In PMA/United Merger-Mention Stirs Emotions we heard the thoughtful voice of John McClung of the Texas Produce Association as he weighed on the subject based on his many years of experience with government relations efforts.

Lorri Koster of Mann Packing Company , Chuck Zambito of Zambito Produce Sales and and Jerry Van Solkema of Van Solkema Produce, Inc all added to our understanding of the issues by contributing to Pundit’s Mailbag — More On PMA/United Merger.

Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United Fresh Produce Association voiced his confidence in the ability of the boards of the respective associations to make a wise decision for the industry in Pundit’s Mailbag — United’s President/CEO Responds.

The Pundit tried to analyze a possible format for a merger in PMA/United Merger Dilemma: A TwoItal-Track Proposal.

Then in our Pundit’s Mailbag — More on PMA/United Merger we heard from Jim Allen, President/CEO of the New York Apple Association who compared and contrasted the two associations.

Most recently, we heard from John R. Baillie of Jack T. Baillie Co., Baillie Family Farms and Tri-County Packing whose letter, focusing on effective policy advocacy, we featured in Pundit’s Mailbag — One-Voice Plea On PMA/United Merger Issue.

Today we feature a letter continuing this conversation. This one from Dan’l Mackey Almy. Dan’l has been recognized as a member of the PRODUCE BUSINESS 40 Under Forty and she and the Pundit serve together on the steering committee for the Pack Family/PMA Career Pathways Fund which funds a program to bring college students to the PMA convention and thus introduce them to careers in the produce industry. Dan’l is both astute and diplomatic as her letter reveals:

I have been reading your commentary on the possibility of a merger between PMA and United since you began writing about it. I remember this very subject being a hot topic when I barged my way into the industry in 1995, and as I recollect, this was just the beginning of the Silberman/Stenzel era of leadership At the time, I did not have much of an opinion but clearly remember the debate in the trade publications as well as those happening in our Standard Fruit & Vegetable offices. At the time our company’s leadership was in a transition phase as Marty Rutchik was stepping away from the business and Jay Pack was transitioning into the leadership role. Marty had a very well respected history with United and Jay was beginning his journey with PMA. As this was happening, I never remember a struggle for our company’s commitment to either organization, as we clearly benefited from their two distinct agendas.

As a start-up company in 2004, DMA Solutions’ first expenses included dues to both United and PMA. The dues were steep for my company, but I felt that being a part of both organizations was crucial for the company’s future success. And while DMA Solutions is primarily a marketing and business solutions company, we still gain a tremendous amount from both organizations. That being said, would I rather pay one set of dues and potentially have two less trips a year? SURE!

But not if the associations became so broadly focused that involvement and value becomes sacrificed for member companies of all sizes.

I have been blessed to participate in both organizations throughout my career and I do not feel my dual involvement has diminished the value for my company or slowed the progress for leadership responsibilities in each organization. The struggle between involvement in two similar organizations that love to “compete” with one another for members is not a strange circumstance for me. I was faced with this dilemma when entering high school and was ridiculed by faculty, students and parents for not relinquishing my 4-H membership while joining Future Farmers of America (FFA). My decision — I remained members of both organizations throughout high school and I gained a lot from the varying leadership and interests of both organizations.

  • The likelihood of a merger seems so far from reality at this point, so I would rather the two organizations focus on eliminating duplication, as suggested by many, and further develop their offerings to membership. It would be nice to hear from both associations that this is a priority in 2007.

  • Value from membership in any association is what the member/member company chooses to make of it.

— Dan’l Mackey Almy, DMA Solutions, Inc.
PMA Packing Council — Vice Chairman
United Fresh — Leadership Alumni Board Member

Without a doubt one gets out of these associations what one puts into them. Dan’l is the type of person who joins a coin collecting club and, you turn around, and she is running the mint.

PMA and United, not to mention the dozens of other relevant associations, all offer enough that an engaged person comes away feeling a winner from their involvement.

In fact one of the strongest arguments, in our view, for maintaining multiple organizations is to maintain an outlet for all the talent that wants to be involved.

There are a number of issues that this whole discussion has raised:

  1. How can or should association governance change in the Internet age? As a practical matter board members of these associations are appointed. Yes, technically there are elections but they are rarely contested and the nominees are typically solicited. There really is no mechanism to make sure that these boards represent the will of the membership. Suppose a majority did want a merger? How would it make it happen? Only with great difficulty. One wonders if in an age of instant communication some more representative way shouldn’t be found.
  2. How much information should be shared with membership? The Pundit remembers a day when United used to mail out its financial statements every year to every member as part of its annual report. Without this kind of information, how can the membership make reasonable judgments about what policies are wise to pursue?
  3. How do we educate industry members on what is fluff and what is real? Who deserves credit for achieving things and who is trying to claim credit unjustifiably?

There are many companies and individuals who benefit from communal involvement as in the association world. It is not pre-ordained that one association solves all problems. And even if there was a merger we still have to deal with regional associations and commodity specific groups.

But the recent Buyer-led Food Safety Plan is suggesting that maybe we also need a new organization:

We further call for the formation of a third-party organization modeled on the Center for Produce Quality (and, where appropriate, Beef Industry Food Safety Council(BIFSCO)). The BIFSCO model is compelling because it addresses the entire food supply pipeline, from farm to table, and thus involves growers, processors, shippers, distributors, foodservice operators, and retailers. We acknowledge that food safety is a shared responsibility, both operationally and financially.




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Recap XXV

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 Effort on 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 Group and 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.

On January 3, 2007, we resumed our discussion of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative by publishing Publix and C.H. Robinson Join Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which brought the list of signatories to twenty-two:

Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
Gary Bergstrom, Publix
Craig Carlson, Pathmark Stores
Jim Corby, Food Lion
Greg Corrigan, Raley’s
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Brian Gannon, Big Y Supermarkets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Don Harris, Wild Oats Markets
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Mark Hilton, Harris-Teeter
Craig Ignatz, Giant Eagle
Jim Lemke, C.H. Robinson Worldwide
Mike O’Brien, Schnuck Markets
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Roger Schroeder, Stater Bros.
James Spilka, Meijer, Inc.
Mark Vanderlinden, Price Chopper
Tim York, Markon Cooperative

We were particularly intrigued by the possibility that C.H. Robinson’s participation, as a major vendor to Wal-Mart, might mean that Wal-Mart saw some usefulness in being somewhat related to the initiative.

On January 4, 2007, we ran Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Maturing In More Ways Than One, that included the Buyer Group’s latest call for action.




Botulism And Carrot Juice
Summary XLIII

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.




Pundit Rewind LIII

The Pundit originally ran the Pundit Rewind on September 21, 2006. We continuously update it in order to keep everyone organized with respect to reference material on this subject; we have updated it with new items and run it again today.

Spinach Crisis Summary

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.

On December 20, 2006, we published The Cultural Contradictions of Food Safety, which analyzed how growers are placed in a financial and ethical dilemma by issues of food safety. Read the piece here. Also on December 20, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — WGA’s Ambiguitiesin which Bob Martin of Rio Farms discussed the WGA’s proposal along with the challenges buyer’s demands place on growers. You can find the piece here.

On December 21, 2006, we ran Fighting E. Eoli At The Source, which detailed industry efforts to play offense, not defense, on the food safety front. Read it here. Also on December 21, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Foodbuy’s Maurice Totty, which analyzed how a large organization, the Compass Group, worked to secure food safety. The piece is here.

Additionally on December 21, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Answers, which focused on the implications of the spinach/E. coli crisis. You can find the article here.

On December 22, 2006, we published Many States Are Weak At Reporting Foodborne Illness, in which we detailed how many foodborne illness outbreaks are not being identified as such due to the condition of many state labs. As they are improved, more foodborne illness will be identified even as the food supply gets safer. You can read the piece right here.

On January 3, 2007, we ran Publix And C.H. Robinson Join Buyer-led Food Safety Initiativ,e which pointed out the growing buying power behind the initiative. You can read it here.

On January 4, 2007, we published Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Maturing In More Ways Than One, which detailed the latest letter written by the group. Read it here.

Also on January 4, 2007 we ran Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry — Ruby Tuesday’s Rick Johnson in which we heard frank talk about where food safety responsibility lies. Catch it 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.

On January 3, 2007, we published Crisis Management which suggests that simply having a spokesperson is not sufficient, you need people who actually know to speak for you in a crisis. Read it here.

Also on January 3, 2007, we ran Pundit’s mailbag — Taco Bell & FDA’s Rush To Judgment, in which Cary Rubin of Rubin Brothers Produce Corp. objected to businesses and government when they speak out based on supposition. Catch it right 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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