Bruce T. Peterson, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of perishables for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., has submitted his resignation. With this resignation of the man who held the most important position in the perishable foods arena, an era draws to a close.
The Pundit and Bruce Peterson shake hands after a joint keynote presentation at last year’s International Fresh-cut Produce Association convention. You can read the published Q&A from our sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, right here.
When Bruce Peterson took on the job running produce for Wal-Mart, there were six supercenters. He leaves running perishables, and there are more than 2,256 supercenters. Wal-Mart added stores so quickly that Bruce had to sprint simply to stay in place.
Lord knows what Bruce will do next, but if Safeway offered him the CEO job, he would be responsible for fewer sales than he is responsible for right now.
A frail and sickly Sam Walton, already in the twilight of his life, wanted to see through his vision of bringing a full range of food to Wal-Mart’s customers. Crucial to these plans was a young man working in Nebraska. Originally from Michigan, Bruce had worked on the wholesale market and, crucially, he had worked for Meijer, whose operations had many similarities to what Sam hoped to do with the supercenter.
So Sam roused himself even in illness to interview this brash young executive. And he placed his faith in him. It was a faith well placed. Bruce was the next-to-last person Sam Walton ever hired.
Bruce steeled himself for the biggest and fastest ramp-up in history.
He brought to the produce department ideas developed for packaged goods. Today phrases such as contract pricing, comanaged replenishment, collaborative consumer marketing, and supplier development and integration are commonplace in produce — but if Bruce didn’t invent these concepts, it was Bruce who made them commonplace in the produce industry.
It wasn’t easy to sell directly to the Wal-Mart produce operation that Bruce created. There were rigorous metrics and demands for continuity of supply that sent the meek running in the other direction. Yet those companies that persevered became far better, stronger, more sophisticated operations than they had been before.
It is a tribute to a man who has carried a massive club in an organization famous for beating down suppliers that Bruce leaves mostly with friends throughout the supplier community.
Part of this was the overwhelming reality Bruce faced of making sure Wal-Mart had enough produce. He never lost sight of the fact that saving a nickel on a package was a loser if it meant Wal-Mart was going to be out of stock.
But part of this was just his way. If his schedule was open, he never turned down an opportunity to speak to growers and shippers. He deeply believed that Wal-Mart could not grow its produce operation on the backs of failing suppliers.
He believed in association work and fought hard in Bentonville for what he saw as the necessity of involvement with the broader trade. He didn’t need an association to be at the vortex of all that happened in the industry, but he knew produce people well enough to know that a collaborative approach would work better than a dictatorial one. He rose to become chairman of the Produce Marketing Association.
Why is he leaving now? He is the most senior, both in age and years on the job, of anyone in the company at his level. But big companies believe in cross-fertilization. Wal-Mart has had troubles lately and with his record of success, senior executives thought it time for him to move on to other products.
If he was, at heart, a retail guy, it would have been an opportunity to go sell lawnmowers or televisions and gain a whole new skill set: the perfect preparation for another step up the retail ladder.
But Bruce was, is, and always will be a produce guy. He learned to sell other perishables, but his heart and soul are in the produce arena.
Doubtless the decision to resign was made easier because Bruce’s longtime boss, for whom he has the greatest respect — Doug Degn, executive vice president of food, consumables and hardlines — has decided to retire.
These are unrelated events, but they come in the midst of an enormous executive changeover at Wal-Mart. More important than that, they come in the midst of a period when many of the foundational values on which Bruce built Wal-Mart’s produce operation — including everyday low prices — are under attack.
Bruce will have many opportunities. We will be shocked if we don’t get several feelers at the Pundit’s office about making him CEO of various supply-side organizations within 24 hours of publishing this piece.
Such is the benefit of being both a respected business executive and a good man.
Besides, the guy deserves a break. His inspiration has always been not Sam Walton, but Bruce’s wife, Maggie, a woman both smart and stunning. Together they will see their son, Ryan, marry this year. And the Peterson house has never lacked for friendly houseguests, including this Pundit and his family. They have much to be grateful for. They have received much in life.
Yet Bruce gave something precious. When the history of the produce industry is finally written — you get one guess on who intends to write it! — the largest buyer in the history of the world appeared and, thanks to Bruce, it succeeded with suppliers and not at the expense of suppliers.
In that one decision Bruce set the tone for an industry, and we are all incomprehensibly better situated because he did.
We ran a piece as soon as we learned that American-grown watercress, marketed under the Florette brand, had been recalled in Ireland due to the suspected presence of Salmonella, which could present a risk to the health of consumers.
It is our policy to not leave things hanging too long, so we spoke to the folks who market under the Florette label to gain more insight into what happened and get a little background on their operation.
Food safety is a sensitive topic, so much credit is due to the people at Florette for being willing to speak forthrightly. In doing so, they show themselves to be good corporate citizens willing to help the whole industry advance in this crucial area. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to obtain some additional information:
Q: Could you describe the scope of Florette’s business? What is its relationship to the Agrial Group and SOLECO?
A: SOLECO is the company. Florette is the brand. SOLECO (also known as the Florette Group) is one of Europe’s largest prepared salad and vegetable producers, specializing in mixed bags. SOLECO is a subsidiary of the Agrial Group of diverse farming interests. It has various divisions involved in cereal, poultry, cattle and other agricultural businesses across Europe. Florette began as a cooperative of farmers and growers in the Contentin region of northwest France, operating from French-based companies in Normandy, Provence and Cambrai on the Belgian border.
Q: Would you tell us more about your operations?
A: SOLECO secures its mostly French produce from sister companies Prim’Co and Europeenne Fruitiere, and we also procure product from areas farther away, including different growing regions in the U.S. The products are prepared at five company production plants located in France, Spain and the UK. Florette’s state-of-the-art factory at Lichfield, Staffordshire, the Group’s first outside France, opened in 1999, and in 2005 we doubled production from 6,000 tons to 12,000 tons per year.
Q: We hear Europeans and especially the Brits are concerned with “food miles.” Do you try to steer away from product grown in the U.S., in Africa, etc. to keep food miles down? And if so, do you promote this strategy in some way?
A: Food miles are an issue here; more with the media and politicians than with the average Joe Public. We are always mindful of the fact that bringing produce in from an airplane is not the friendliest thing, but certain times of the year and seasonally we have to fly in produce long distances to maintain consistent supply. We don’t advertise this one way or the other, whether it’s local, literally on your doorstep, or flown in.
There is a move by some retailers to alert consumers to this issue. I’ve heard talk of labeling packages with airmail stickers when product is flown in from the States. I really don’t see the advantage of this. It seems like the retailer would be emphasizing a negative. There has been a lot of work to play up the “Britishness” of products. Regional marketing, in Scotland for example, is very hot at the moment.
Q: How far-reaching is the Florette brand?
A: SOLECO markets more than 200 products under the Florette brand, including bagged salads, salads in bowls and trays, a range of steamed vegetables with dressings and sauces, a range of standard vegetables and stew and casserole mixes.
Q: What are the most popular fresh-cut items in the U.K. and Europe?
A: We see a definite trend toward baby leaf products, in particular things like baby leaf spinach, watercress and rocket, some of the stronger flavors. Generally in the UK and Europe as a whole, consumers are moving to premium bags, upgrading from the basics to higher end selections. But in consumer purchases of fresh-cut produce, iceberg is still huge. When you look at McDonald’s business as a sign, you see there is still a strong mass appeal for that price point.
Q: The hottest fresh-cut category in the U.S. right now is fresh-cut fruit. How is Florette positioned in this area?
A: We have a range of fresh-cut fruit in the French market. It’s definitely an area we continue to monitor. Like in the U.S., the category is showing huge rates of sale.
Q: Do you have an organic line? How do you see organic product fitting into Florette’s product mix going forward?
A: We currently have two organic products. Organic bagged salads are very small in the UK, probably 2 percent of the entire market, but certainly growing. Organic produce as a whole is growing at a huge rate of 10 percent to 12 percent annually, but you must remember this is from a very low base. I imagine an increase in Florette organic product offerings in line with market trends.
Q: What percentage of the prepared salad market does Florette hold in the UK and in other European markets?
A: Florette is the UK’s and Europe’s leading brand of prepared salads and vegetables. The UK’s prepared salad market is valued at 435 million pounds with Florette’s share estimated at more than 7.5 percent. In France we hold a 20 percent market share and in Spain a 32 percent share. Those are our biggest markets. We also do private label products, which wouldn’t be included in those market share numbers. In the UK, private label product accounts for roughly 20 percent of our business. I’m not sure how that breaks down in our other markets.
Q: Are your food safety standards and procedures consistent across markets?
A: That’s a fairly simple answer. We have one set of criteria we work with across Europe. In Europe certain standards and regulations are in place, and there are occasionally variations in laws and legislation applied. We pick the most stringent laws and apply that benchmark. We have one set of standards covering all stages of growing and production. It makes it easier, while we are aware that in certain markets we are over-egging the pudding.
Q: Could you give some examples?
A: Use of pesticides would be a good one. There’s a basic list, where X number are allowed for use in various European markets. Our list is much shorter than that. We are also very strict on specification requirements for raw materials.
Q: So you have your own food safety protocols. Do you also require any standard protocols?
A: Yes, in addition to our own specifications, all our suppliers must follow EurepGAP protocols as a minimum.
Q: On January 11, The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) advised consumers that certain Florette-branded watercress products were being recalled due to the presence of Salmonella in some affected batches, which presented a risk to consumers’ health. Could you tell us what happened?
A: We recalled a batch of 3,500 watercress products, including Florette watercress and spinach, and watercress and rocket mixed ready-to-eat salads, following preliminary discovery of Salmonella in one bag of watercress in one packing station. As soon as we had the suspicion, we acted. Strictly speaking, we didn’t need to take such drastic action with actual withdrawal of products. Most producers would have retested and waited a few days to get results back. Ironically, the product would be out-of-date and off shelves, already in people’s refrigerators, so damage would already be done.
In acting so quickly, it causes a certain amount of grief because journalists in the consumer arena think it’s a great problem, so reports can be exaggerated or cause unnecessary fear. In reality, we saw the potential for a problem, so we responded above and beyond what would be required. The way we operate, we’d rather take a little pain than risk making someone ill. This is the only time we’ve ever had a suspicion in seven years, and as soon as we discovered it, we acted.
Q: Did you confirm the presence of Salmonella following the presumptive discovery? Did your precautionary recall turn out to be necessary in the end?
A: Yes. Our more extensive testing did confirm the existence of Salmonella, but we had to wait six days to get the full results back. The initial test, which took two days, would have either come back presumptive or completely clear. Once it was presumptive, there was no way we would have risked the wait.
Q: How did you discover the potential problem? In the U.S., some growers believe the focus should be shifted to the processing plant operators to do more rigorous testing. At your plant, do you test products before shipping them out?
A: For every batch we produce, we send samples to an independent lab to test for E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. So the testing would involve 160 different finished products we produce, and maybe 20 different raw materials. A cross section of product with the broadest range of raw materials is sent out for random testing.
In the case of the recall, we found a presumption of Salmonella in product that was 100 percent watercress, which made it easier to do the traceability. We have full traceability within the business as required by legislation. Our traceback kicks in from the production codes on the bag to where it came from — which factory, line and time of day it was packed. As a precaution, we looked at all product packed after that time. If contaminated on-line, there would be the potential for cross-contamination. Therefore we isolated all product packed after that time.
With Salmonella, the actual confirmation test takes six days. A bag of watercress has a short shelf life, so you can’t wait that long. As soon as we had the presumption of Salmonella, we had to withdraw product. Obviously, a longer wait would be too late if there had been a problem.
Q: Have you investigated to find the source of the contamination?
A: Our concern was at the grower level. We believe the source of the problem was watercress grown in the U.S. The Florida grower in question had already been audited by our team for the standards we require. With all things grown on a farm, there is always the possibility for some kind of contamination.
Q: Have you put new demands on growers or changed your food safety protocols since the recall?
A: What we’ve done subsequently is brought the grower that supplied the watercress in question to visit us here on-site, and worked with the grower to implement corrective actions. One area we focused on was reinforcing fences around the growing area. It is notoriously difficult in Florida and California, with the scale of the farms so huge, to keep out animals, so we are implementing preventive measures to address this, as well as other targeted problems.
Q: In the U.S., Fresh Express simply stopped buying Florida lettuce because the growers had difficulty keeping frogs out of the fields. Have you had the same issue with Florida-grown watercress?
A: No, we haven’t. This is the first problem we’ve had. It’s either coincidental or downright bad luck that the only problem has come from Florida.
Another corrective action we’re requiring of all growers is dredging the beds to combat waterborne creatures such as frogs. Also some work is being done on looking at the treatment of water itself prior to entering the growing beds.
What we’ve also done at the moment is we’re not buying any more raw material from this grower until we’re 110 percent satisfied. We are also testing all raw material for E. coli before it goes on the plane, at least to give us an indicative test to have a result in two days. In the case of a presumptive result, of course we don’t use it. We are taking a belts-and-braces approach.
We’re in a very delicate period. There is quite a lot of awareness of food safety.
Clearly there are parts of the consumer press that love a story such as this. We’re going over and above what we need to do. If it means going overboard on testing, then that’s what we’ll do.
Q: What about auditing procedures?
A: Within Europe, we have a group of scientists that spend their whole time in the field. It’s their job to do that kind of check on that basis, constantly testing and upgrading specifications. In areas farther away in the States, it is difficult to have someone from Florette there. Since this incident, we are looking to extend the staff of Florette to monitor fields of our U.S. suppliers. Most of the major growing companies are keen to work with us.
The grower involved in the watercress recall voluntarily came up with a list of corrective actions. It was the first time they had a problem in 20 years. We have to work together to improve standards. We absolutely have to do this right through to the bag hitting the shelf. As soon as the product leaves our factory, we have to follow through, because it still has quite a journey and the risk for contamination doesn’t end.
Q: Do your retail customers demand different standards? How do the government regulations compare?
A: It’s fair to say retailers like Tesco, Waitrose, and Marks & Spencer all have their own system of standards with slight nuances, but their food safety principles are pretty much the same. These retailers take legislation as a base and add on to it. If legislation requires X, Tesco specifications require packers do X-plus, going that extra yard. A lot of retailers work with us to build up their store brands. Over 50 percent of Tesco product is Tesco brand. However, our product in Tesco is uniquely Florette brand.
Q: What is your opinion of marketing food safety attributes of products and brands?
A: I think people are skating on fairly thin ice marketing product as safer. You can indicate specs and protocols are as good as they can be and certainly build up your reputation for quality. You can market that you take the best raw materials, throwing away the worst bits, and don’t compromise in giving the consumer the finest product. To start selling or marketing that product as safer than someone else’s does a disservice to the industry. To the consumer it sounds like there is real danger, and rather than picking and choosing which product may be safer, they may choose not to eat any produce.
Q: With that philosophy, does Florette work with its competitors to improve food safety industry-wide?
A: We set up an industry-wide panel that meets every three months to work specifically on produce issues. We sit down with our sworn enemies and figure out ways to make food safer. Members of the Chilled Food Association, a fantastic national body that represents manufacturers of chilled food from pizzas to ready meals to dairy products, share best practices and technical information instead of hundreds of people going out and doing their own research. In our micro sector of bagged salads and vegetables, we decided there were produce issues that affected us as a subset that sandwich and pizza manufacturers didn’t have.
Q: Do these food safety forums include buyers or do you limit participation to the supplier community? And if so, do you risk less stringent measures being enacted?
A: Buyers don’t attend these meetings. The further back down the supply chain you go, the more watered down efforts can become. It’s the push-and-pull theory; rather than pulling suppliers into line, push absolute minimum standards to get everyone at the same standard. This is not negotiable.
Q: Since higher food safety standards come at a cost, pricing of products surely is impacted. Where is the incentive for growers to boost food safety standards above the absolute minimum?
A: This may sound a bit arrogant, but we don’t go chasing business at any price. If we’re in discussion with a retailer or foodservice provider and the price goes too low, it rings certain bells for us. With higher risk products like ours, certain standards have to be met at any price.
Whilst in the industry, I don’t talk about pricing strategy with my competitors. If I start seeing prices in the marketplace unrealistically low, I would have strong discussions to ascertain why people are cutting corners. Yes, you can engineer out cost and be a smarter operator, but there are certain minimum standards that have to be achieved. And if they are not, there is danger for everyone.
When Florette did the recall, we informed the industry because it wasn’t just a Florette issue. Packers often buy from the same farms. We are trying to raise the bar in terms of the whole industry, and get rid of rogue traders that lower standards of food safety. If someone has a problem with a bag of salad, the whole industry has a problem. It doesn’t matter who makes it in consumers’ minds. Food safety shouldn’t be a competitive issue.
Mark Newton was also kind enough to share some of the food safety standards the Florette Group requires:
Florette is Europe’s and the UK’s leading producer and top-selling brand of Prepared Salads and Vegetables. A strictly enforced “Field to Factory” monitoring policy ensures stringent quality control checks are in place at all stages of growing and production.
Florette holds the industry’s highest hygiene and quality accreditation, and, as category leader, is responsible for driving regulatory as well as marketing issues for the sector. The company was the first in the UK to operate an enforceable Green Transport Policy, with off-peak staff travel and transportation of product, now widely in use in other industries.
Environmental policies are also in place at Florette to ensure minimal waste and efficient utilisation of resources. e.g., developing recycling and reduction of waste to landfill.
G R O W I N G
Florette uses only approved suppliers, solely producing salad and vegetables (no livestock), regularly approved through monitoring and auditing. EurepGAP accredited as minimum.
Obtained from bore and reservoir. Quality is monitored through regular testing, with responsible use to ensure best utilisation of resource.
All suppliers have robust traceability systems, allowing Florette to follow the product from factory to field. Traceability systems are tested frequently.
Food safety is applied through the HACCP system and subsequent auditing.
No animals are allowed in the field.
All fields are fenced.
Only composted manure is used.
Workers are trained to cutting and hygiene procedures and foreign body contamination. Hygiene policies are in place, e.g., hand washing, sickness clearance procedures, field toilets and hard sanitisation within 500m of the field.
Product to fridge 15 minutes to 1.5 hours from harvesting, dependent on supplier at 5°C (38°F).
Accredited to British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Food Standard — “Grade A”.
Modern state-of-the-art purpose-built factory — following a linear processing
Designated High Care and Low Risk areas
HACCp System in place
Deep clean of the factory each evening
Approximately 15 Q.C.s working to maintain quality and food safety Standards
Technical team supporting the manufacturing process through auditing and continuous microbiological monitoring of product, process and personnel
Again, many thanks for the willingness to share with the industry. Though there are differences between markets, there are also many similarities.
It is interesting that the Chilled Food Association plays an important role in food safety in the U.K. Many years ago the International Fresh-cut Produce Association had an outside management company that was run by a woman named Judy Stokes. Simultaneously this management company managed the Refrigerated Foods Association. Try as she might, Judy could never get either membership to be interested in what the other association was doing.
It is also interesting that Mark sees the scale of operation in the states as posing unique difficulties.
One interesting idea: Product testing when the raw material goes on a plane. Most Salinas produce takes longer to reach markets via truck than watercress does via plane to Europe. We could test things as they go out on trucks and stop the delivery if the test proves presumptively positive.
Much to digest here. We’ll see what else we can learn about European produce during the Pundit’s trip to Fruit Logistica.
Looks like Target is tip-toeing in to make its version of the super center more competitive by backing it up with some enhanced logistics capability:
MINNEAPOLIS — Jan. 31, 2007 — Target today announced the construction of its first food distribution center in Lake City, Florida. Scheduled to open in late summer 2008, the food distribution center will enable a wide variety of frozen, refrigerated and fresh produce items to reach Target guests in the Southeast. It will be Target’s first company-owned perishable food distribution center. This facility will be operated in partnership with Supervalu, one of the leaders in the grocery industry.
In October 2003 the company partnered with Supervalu to open a dedicated facility to provide frozen, refrigerated and fresh produce items to Target stores in the Southwest. Supervalu also provides these products to Target stores around the country from three of their other facilities. Target has been and will continue to distribute virtually all dry grocery items through its regional distribution centers.
“Our food offerings continue to expand across all Target store formats, and we felt now was the right time to enhance our internal capabilities with respect to the direct sourcing and food distribution center management,” said Mitch Stover, senior vice president, distribution services for Target.“ Target will continue to partner with valued wholesale distributors to ensure our guests receive the freshest and highest quality food products possible.”
Janel Haugarth, Supervalu executive vice president and COO, supply chain services, commented, “Target is a valued supply chain services customer and we look forward to supporting their future store expansion plans across the country, as well as the new third-party facility management relationship. We pledge to deliver best-in-class supply chain services.”
As Target’s food business continues to evolve, the company plans to open additional food distribution centers over the next several years in specific markets as part of its overall distribution network of wholesalers, direct to store, and regional distribution centers.
First, PMA committed $1 million for a food safety program. Then Fresh Express gave $2 million to fund research into E. coli 0157:H7. Now PMA is upping the ante and pledging $2.75 million total toward a food safety program for the produce trade. $2 million of that will go for research, $500,000 for a communications campaign to rebuild consumer confidence, $200,000 for training at the farm level, and the rest to help fund the development of new standards and verification methods. Here is what PMA had to say to its membership:
The produce industry’s response to the recent food safety outbreaks not only reflects its traditional commitment to the public’s health but also demonstrates our understanding that food safety is a shared responsibility for the entire supply chain. We are being challenged by consumers, the media, and government to show them what we are doing and how we have learned from past incidents.
We all must recognize that food safety concerns don’t just relate to spinach and leafy greens, nor are they confined to a single state. Because of the complexity and diversity of the issues, rebuilding the public’s trust will be achieved by offering comprehensive solutions that not only offer immediate benefits, but also form the basis for those changes to be realized over the long term. We want to tell you what PMA is doing on your behalf. First, we want to share how we feel about other important initiatives currently under way.
Working with partner associations
The recent efforts of the Western Growers Association to establish the California marketing agreement and marketing order provide the industry with an excellent example of the value of collaboration between industry and government. WGA’s efforts demonstrate the industry’s commitment to offer an immediate and necessary response with long-term benefits, including the creation of a template built by industry and government working together. WGA’s work is complemented by the recent decision of the United Fresh Produce Association to press for a regulatory solution at the federal level.
PMA will work side by side with both organizations and others as we seek a collaborative solution that addresses short- and long-term needs. During our Executive Committee meeting last week, we were pleased to host a discussion with Western Growers and United leaders aimed at coordinating industry response to the challenges that are changing daily in the area of produce safety. We are committed to ensuring these discussions continue so that you, our members, get the maximum value from our respective organizational strengths.
Putting your PMA membership dollars to work
Research: We told you at Fresh Summit in San Diego that we were committing $1 million to support new produce safety efforts. This past weekend, PMA’s Executive Committee recommended allocating an additional $1.75 million — all aimed at enhancing the safety of fresh produce. Two million dollars of that $2.75 million total will go to support scientific research to investigate contamination sources and to develop protocols and solutions aimed at prevention.
We are pleased to tell you that the PMA Board of Directors has today approved this bold step that will ensure the best science available globally will be used to help build an even better understanding of produce safety systems. We are already reaching out to others in industry, government, and academia to pool and maximize resources, set priorities, and to ensure the research is completed in a timely manner.
Communications: Another $500,000 is also already at work implementing a communications campaign aimed at rebuilding both consumer and buyer confidence in our products. We are using the expertise of Alliance for Food & Farming and Ketchum Communications to help us move quickly. We are also involving our other association partners to ensure the campaign is based on a balanced and coordinated industry perspective.
Standards and Verification: Immediately after Fresh Summit, we committed funds to support the development of revised GAPs for lettuce and leafy greens. These revisions are a centerpiece of the efforts in California to establish the marketing agreement and marketing order. We continue to investigate options to verify adherence to these and other standards that will need to be developed nationwide.
Outreach and Training: We are allocating $200,000 to help fund industry outreach and training programs to enhance understanding at the farm level. Here again, we want to focus on helping to fund programs that best meet your needs without us reinventing the wheel. We aim to use these funds to support local organizations and institutions best suited to deliver training.
We recognize that creating and implementing a framework of federal and state produce safety systems must also be a critical element in our response. Balanced regulatory solutions will only be achieved by industry organizations and members working collaboratively with each other as well as with state and federal officials.
None of the efforts facing us is easy. Investments must be made at all levels if we are to succeed in our goal of restoring the public’s trust. These costs cannot be the responsibility of just one industry segment. Our success at offering consumers a safe and healthy eating experience every bite, every time, will be determined by how well buyers, sellers and industry associations work together at every level of the supply chain. We thank you for your support of PMA and pledge to keep you informed directly of our progress in the months ahead.
— Peter Goulet
PMA Chairman of the Board
— Bryan Silbermann
Particularly important in the PMA initiative is the $200,000 allocated to do farm-level work. Food safety sometimes operates with parallel universes: On the one hand, you have top executives of big companies, food safety experts, associations and government agencies all “agreeing” on standards. On the other hand, if you actually go down to the farm, the familiarity with these standards so scrupulously negotiated is near zero.
In speaking with various food safety experts, you get the almost unanimous opinion that the problem is not half as much a need for all new standards as it is a need for everyone to do what they are supposed to do at the farm level.
Education can’t hurt and may help, maybe a lot. Although a big problem is that the financial incentives of farmers are so skewed toward not doing the right thing. Fresh Express says that if you see a pig in the field, that land can’t be used for ready-to-eat produce for two years. That may be a great thing for food safety. It also is a powerful incentive for a farmer not to notice any pigs in the field.
On the research side, it is important that industry funds be spent in the manner that will achieve the most progress. PMA realizes this and, in fact, explains: We are already reaching out to others in industry, government, and academia to pool and maximize resources, to set priorities, and to ensure the research is completed in a timely manner
Although PMA is looking at research that includes, but also goes beyond, research related to E. coli 0157:H7, it would behoove the industry to follow the model of the independent scientific advisory panel that Fresh Express put together to direct its donation.
The panel is chaired by Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, Ph.D., M.P.H. and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota. Other panel members are Dr. Jeff Farrar, California Department of Health Services; Dr. Bob Buchanan, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Dr. Robert Tauxe, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Bob Gravani, Cornell University; and Dr. Craig Hedberg, University of Minnesota.
Most people in the industry do not realize how significant this panel really is. The money and the private sector support mean a great deal … but the fact that we were able to get these leading public officials to trust the industry enough to lend their name, expertise and time to this effort is enormously important and a sign of great progress.
We can accomplish much more by working together than we can by working apart. Trust is a difficult job: A government employee has the responsibility to regulate and investigate the industry. Private operators open up their books and their operations to the government without any assurances as to what will result.
Fresh Express, and especially the panel chairman Dr. Osterholm, did something exceptional by putting it all together. Doubtless the research will yield important results, but also important is the model for collaboration that has been struck.
PMA should use this opportunity to build upon that model.
Kudos to the PMA Board for supporting this cause so generously.
Senator Dean Florez of California’s 16th District has introduced legislation calling for mandatory regulation of the California fresh produce industry. As his office explains in a press release:
The first measure in the bill series Florez will introduce gives the Department of Health Services (DHS) the authority it needs to effectively manage future outbreaks and best protect the public from threats like E. coli, such as allowing DHS to recall, quarantine or destroy tainted produce. Under the measure, growers of leafy greens would be required to get a license through DHS, just like processors already do. During the licensing process, growers would have to identify for DHS any risk factors at their growing locations, such as proximity to wildlife which could track E. coli into crop fields. The bill also creates an inspection program, funded by the licensing fees, which will send inspectors to farms who will conduct testing of water, soil and produce as they deem necessary.
The second bill calls on DHS to establish “good agricultural practices,” or GAP, which growers of leafy greens must follow, governing everything from water and fertilizer use to issues of sanitation and flooding. The bill prohibits the use of creek water for irrigation or raw manure for fertilizer and requires that water used for growing leafy greens be tested every two weeks during the growing season and immediately prior to harvest. Growers must maintain records of these practices, which must be reviewed prior to transporting the leafy greens.
The third measure in the series requires DHS to establish the minimum requirements of a traceback system which will allow the speedy tracking of leafy greens from farm to processor, to distributor, to retailer. An expedited traceback system would allow DHS to quickly trace contaminated greens to their precise source, preventing a repeat of September when all spinach was suspect and all growers took the hit because consumers did not immediately know which produce they could trust.
You can read three fact sheets on the State Senator’s California Produce Safety Action Plan:
Expanded Authority Of DHS
Standards For Growers Of Leafy Greens
We’ve been getting some requests for information on how the freeze may affect fresh flowers in California. Requests such as this letter:
The Pundit is pleased to report that Valentine’s Day will arrive on schedule. To get the lowdown, we asked Mira Slott, pundit investigator and special projects editor, to speak to the people at the California Cut Flower Commission:
Q: What impact did the freeze have on the floral market?
A: Damage from the freeze was sporadic and limited. Since this is winter, the majority of field crops are not in full production right now anyway. The really heavy field production takes place later in spring, summer, and fall.
Q: Do you anticipate any fallout related to Valentine’s Day sales?
A: The freeze shouldn’t affect sales of Valentine’s Day flowers. Most are grown in greenhouses. In terms of prices, there should be no impact at the consumer level. Some growers in the San Diego area did lose some proteas and wax flowers. Still, major floral production of cut flowers comes from offshore.
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 Efforton 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 Groupand 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, Wegmans 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.
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.
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 Initiative, 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.
On January 5, 2007, we ran FDA’s Money Problem, which pointed out that funds for research are essential if we are ever to really resolve the trade’s food safety issues. Read the piece here. Also on January 5, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — More on Manure, in which we explained why manure needs to be banned from spinach cultivation. Catch it right here.
On January 9, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Farmers Are Not The Cause Of Food Safety Problems, which contained an important letter pointing out that farmers are expected to deliver “dirty” product to processors. You can read it here.
On January 10, 2007, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Oversights In Food Safety, which featured an important letter from Tom Russell of Dynasty Farms/Pacific International Marketing calling for a ban on the use of cow manure in agriculture and a “Right to Irradiate” bill. You can read the piece here.
On January 11, 2007, we ran E-coli 0157:H7 Vaccine Approved For Use In Canada, which related to efforts to stop E. coli 0157:H7 before it can hit the produce fields. Read it here.
Also on January 11, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Arguing For Irradiation, which included a letter from Mark Beeler of Watsonville Produce pointing out that we need a “kill step” if the goal is to stop outbreaks. You can find 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.
On January 5, 2007, we published From a Victim’s Perspective, and pointed out how continued consumer concern over produce may impact sales. Read the article here. Also on January 5, 2007, we ran Food Safety Culture, which provided a link to a food safety video that included a terrific presentation by Frank Yiannas, Director of Safety & Health for Walt Disney World. The presentation focused on building a food safety culture. You can find the piece right here.
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.
Several additional pieces appear in the Perishable Pundit today, and they will be incorporated into future iterations of this Spinach Crisis Summary.