Visiting Fruit Logistica in Berlin is an eye-opener. With 1,867 exhibitors from 74 countries and attendance expected to exceed 40,000 people, it is significantly larger than PMA, the largest produce show in America.
Yet even the comparison does an injustice to PMA. For PMA is not just a trade show, it is a convention, an annual meeting of an industry.
Here the very diversity makes the show almost random. An exporter from Sri Lanka selling to India has virtually nothing to do with an exporter from Australia selling to Sweden, yet both are here.
There are some seminars but they either conflict with the show or require staying additional days — and still they are sparse and their quality is lacking.
There are no real networking events, no meal functions. PMA advertises itself as the “Heart and Soul” of the produce industry, and this giant show in Berlin feels cold by comparison.
One also questions how many of these 1,867 exhibitors paid their own way to exhibit. Many of the products promoted are obscure, the places they come from out of the mainstream, and the size of the booths — especially the national pavilions, so disproportionate to the amount of produce trade these countries actually do — one strongly suspects that various government entities are picking up the bill.
Still, most of the American trade would benefit from a visit to Fruit Logistica. Here are eight reasons:
- We could do with a little humility. We are all players at PMA, even if only in our space. The smallest wholesaler on the smallest market in the United States has his shippers and is important to them at PMA. Here, you could be the biggest wholesaler on the biggest market in the U.S., and unless your last name is Dole, Chiquita or Del Monte, it’s probable that 99 percent-plus of attendees never heard of you.
The produce industry is very fragmented and even big grower/shippers in the U.S. account for an insignificant share of worldwide produce production. It is easy to forget that at PMA. It is impossible to forget that at Fruit Logistica.
- There are innovations in packaging, transportation, logistics and other aspects of the business that can be picked up here and put to good use.
- It is convenient to use this venue for meetings with people who are already coming here. So if you are importing citrus to the East Coast of North America and are dealing with South African citrus, Moroccan citrus, Spanish citrus and Israeli citrus, many of these suppliers will come to Fruit Logistica because Europe is such a crucial market to them. Thus you have the makings of a great meeting place.
- You can expand your contacts to noncompetitors. The very fact that so many people here at Fruit Logistica have nothing to do with the U.S. can make them excellent business friends. Who else will really share their techniques for overcoming adversities such as you experience in your business?
- The show provides an opportunity to see European retail operations. Whatever the merits of the show, visiting European retailers is always a plus. Tie it in with the show and get a double benefit.
- It’s a chance to interrupt normal thought patterns. Climbing outside the box helps you to think outside the box. Interrupting normal modes of thought can lead to unexpected creativity.
- You can solicit specialty products. There are many products here that will never be big business in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful at filling or creating niche markets.
- The show gives you an opportunity to discern trends. Many of the larger booths here feature a strong emphasis on values and public service. The Del Monte booth, for example, focuses on the fact that the company is good for employees, good for the world, etc. Many booths focus on sustainability, fair trade, labor conditions, etc. Is this a European specialty or a trend soon to jump the pond?
Seeing the world is important and Fruit Logistica helps us Americans see it in a new light. It also helps us to appreciate what we have.
And after visiting Fruit Logistica, we can also be clear that there is nothing in the world like PMA’s Fresh Summit.
The learning, the networking, the gathering of an industry as a unit — these are simply unique attributes.
Lately PMA has been taking on heavy expenses to help with industry food safety problems, having pledged a total of $2.75 million to assist with produce safety efforts.
Under the circumstances, this makes perfect sense, but let us hope the PMA board remembers that much of this money came originally from the success of the annual PMA convention.
An event such as this is a major business and requires constant reinvestment to keep it fresh. It would be a shame if the board, in its zeal to solve food safety problems, got so busy spending golden eggs that it neglected to feed the goose.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture trumpets in its most recent press release the fact that:
The Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which would establish an inspection program for handlers of leafy greens, has been certified by the California Department of Food and Agriculture following sign-ups by handlers representing 70 percent of leafy greens produced in California.
But California State Senator Dean Florez, chairman of the newly formed Senate Select Committee on Food-borne Illness, berates the industry for dismal participation in the voluntary marketing agreement:
Despite a dismal 14 percent participation rate by processors that Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, says calls into question the true commitment of the industry to ensuring the safety of leafy greens, the California Department of Agriculture today said a voluntary marketing agreement proposed by the leafy green industry to self-regulate has enough support to move forward.
Florez, who has introduced three bills to enhance state oversight of leafy greens and improve the state’s response to future outbreaks of food-borne illness, immediately announced plans for a hearing on the agreement upon learning that only 24 of 170 processors had signed on to purchase only from growers who follow specific standards.
“I think it’s more than a little disingenuous to make people think 70 percent of processors are on board to participate in a much-needed revamp of this industry, when the real numbers tell a very different story,” Florez said. “Consumers would not read CDFA’s announcement to say that, in fact, less than one in six processors have signed on. Those few large processors cannot presume to speak for everyone at the expense of achieving real food safety.”
Assuming both these players have their numbers correct, what does this tell us?
First, that most of the small-volume processors around the state have not signed up. This means that the bulk of the industry’s actual food safety problem, smaller substandard processors, will not be affected by the marketing agreement.
Although, of course, they could still be impacted if buyers refuse to buy from those who are not parties to the agreement.
This is precisely the path suggested by Dole, the largest and most prominent processor to sign on, which issued its own announcement:
Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc., a subsidiary of Dole Food Company, Inc., today announced that it has signed the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Under the voluntary agreement, all participants must adhere to established good agricultural practices (GAP) and food safety guidelines. Dole has always used GAP in all its growing operations and the company has been a strong supporter of the agreement as a standard for the industry. Dole has taken food safety one step further by applying the California standards in all states where its leafy greens are grown.
The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement will set mandatory and specific standards for leafy greens supply; the California Department of Health Services will monitor compliance with the new standards. Facilitated by the Western Growers Association, Dole worked collaboratively with a group that consisted of growers, processors, regulators and members of academia to formulate the agreement.
Eric Schwartz, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables, said: “Dole is in full support of a uniform, national, leafy greens food safety standard that will set mandatory and explicit guidelines in the produce industry. We strongly encourage our retail and food service customers to support the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement by requiring their produce suppliers to sign this agreement.” Schwartz also commented: “Food safety is our top priority. This is another example of our commitment to work with government, industry leaders, trade organizations and food safety experts to continuously seek ways to improve and enhance food safety for consumers.”
The key words in the release: “We strongly encourage our retail and food service customers to support the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement by requiring their produce suppliers to sign this agreement.”
We have a late report from the CDFA that it now has 85 percent of production signing on to the marketing order. The industry now has to find out who is prepared to support those processors that won’t sign.
That mentality — an unwillingness to restrict one’s supply chain to exclude substandard operators — is at the root of the trade’s food safety issues.
The CDFA issued a press release saying that handlers representing 70% of volume had signed the new California Marketing Agreement. They later told the Pundit that they were up to 85 percent.
But CDFA won’t release names and some are questioning its methodology:
SENATOR CALLS ON CDFA TO JUSTIFY THEIR STATISTICS
Statement on leafy greens included figures skewed in favor of leafy green industry
SACRAMENTO — Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Food-borne Illness, today called upon the California Department of Food and Agriculture to explain to legislators and the public how they arrived at statistics used to support their implication that a program being pushed by the leafy green industry to avoid state regulation enjoyed strong support among processors.
While the Associated Press reports that, as of February 7, only 24 out of 170 processors — or 14% — had signed an agreement that they would follow best practices intended to prevent further deadly E. coli outbreaks caused by leafy greens, CDFA issued a news release touting the support of handlers representing 70% of California leafy greens. Florez characterized the statement as “more than a little disingenuous,” adding, “Consumers would not read CDFA’s announcement to say that, in fact, less than one in six processors have signed on.”
Concerned with the discrepancy in figures, Florez called on CDFA early today to explain how they arrived at the conclusion that 70% of California leafy greens are handled by those 14% of handlers who signed on to the marketing agreement.
When staff was unable to provide the basis for their numbers — which appear to be skewed toward industry — by late afternoon, Florez wrote to CDFA secretary A.G. Kawamura asking for clarification, saying, “I fail to understand how the Department can issue a press release with statistical information and cannot provide the legislature with the justification for these statistics. This is unacceptable and speaks to the credibility of the agency.”
Florez requested a response to his inquiry by 5 p.m. today. As of the sending of this release, no response had been received.
The Pundit doesn’t typically agree with the State Senator, but he is correct on this one. CDFA can’t just spew numbers. It has to explain its methodology. Where did it get these market share statistics?
In this time when everyone keeps saying that bagged salad demand is depressed, Dole sent an announcement that it is expanding:
DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC. ANNOUNCES THE OPENING OF A NEW BAGGED SALAD PLANT IN NORTH CAROLINA
WESTLAKE VILLAGE, California, February 7, 2007 — Extending its leadership in fresh food products, Dole Food Company, Inc. recently announced it has opened a new bagged salad plant in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The $54-million facility expands Dole’s salad distribution network and provides improved deliveries to its Southern and East Coast customers. The facility currently employs 250 workers and plans to add an additional 200 workers in the spring.
“This is a major milestone for Dole, our customers and the residents of Bessemer City and Gaston County. The facility is important to expanding Dole’s presence in the southern and eastern United States. We received great cooperation from government officials at the state, county and city level,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables.
The 280,000-square-foot plant, which produced its first case of salad on January 23, is Dole’s largest bagged salad plant in the United States and Dole’s first bagged salad plant in the Southeast. The plant employs the latest packaging technology and the most advanced computerized systems to ensure food safety. The new facility is Dole’s fourth bagged salad plant in the United States, joining Dole’s plants in Arizona, California and Ohio.
According to Schwartz, “Dole’s ability to operate four regional bagged salad plants allows us to enhance our regional customer service capabilities, whereas before we were dependent on our plant in Ohio for deliveries in the South and East.”
Since the future growth of the produce industry is almost certainly dependent on convenience produce, including fresh-cut items, this show of faith in the industry is a major boost for the trade.
To learn more about the plant and where it fits into the larger role Dole plays in the industry — especially Dole’s food safety program, in light of its announcement that it had signed the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement for spinach, lettuce and other leafy greens — we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to learn more:
Eric Schwartz president of
Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc.
Q: Could you give us a broader report on the new bagged salad plant in Bessemer City, North Carolina?
A: We were over-capacity, in peak operating mode, and having difficulty servicing Southern and East Coast customers. The main reason we built the plant, which is located 20 minutes west of Charlotte, was to strengthen our distribution network and improve deliveries.
Q: Will this influence the sourcing of the raw material? Will Dole utilize locally grown vegetables?
A: Yes and no. On a seasonal basis, in the winter time, we’re sourcing from Florida and Texas. In the summer, we can’t source from the Carolinas anyway because it’s too hot and rainy. Now we’re opening more East Coast sourcing in general from areas like New Jersey.
Q: Have you incorporated any additional food safety equipment or procedures into the new plant facility?
A: Yes. The wash systems we have implemented are the most advanced available right now. These are new to that plant, and are a very different process. We took a design from Europe and essentially made it bigger to accommodate our operations. The European system was set up for smaller capacity. FTNON is the company that designs the wash system.
Q: What differentiates the system from what Dole has been using up to this point?
A: The biggest difference is a lot more agitation of the product. Leafy greens are hard to clean well. It provides a much more robust scrubbing process than the technology we had in the United States.
Q: Will you be incorporating this technology in all your plants?
A: We’ll be rolling that into the other plants as well in a phased-in approach.
Q: Dole got hurt by outsourcing. Is Dole looking to become more autonomous?
A: We made it known to Natural Selection Foods, and it is public knowledge, that we were phasing out of co-packing of tender leaf and bringing it in-house. Our strategy is to have more direct control over the process.
Q: What other food safety changes are you planning? Will you be testing finished product before it’s shipped out, as Costco is now requiring of its spinach suppliers?
A: We want to stop the problem before it gets to the processing side. We believe this is key. What Costco is doing is not a bad idea. If people are looking for solutions, testing finished product is better than nothing, and it provides a comfort level. But random sampling patterns are not an answer. So many people are trying to find the source of the spinach E. coli outbreak.
Representative Sam Farr hosted a packed meeting in October of regulatory folks, both state and federal, academia, and most of the shippers. The meeting focused on a couple of issues. FDA updated what they knew of the spinach incident at that time. Several research groups presented a lot of their findings from several years of investigation. What came out of that meeting was that in analyzing past outbreaks, there wasn’t a common denominator to them. The patterns were random and this was not a systemic problem.
Costco’s finished-product-testing program for spinach is driven by Natural Selection Foods. We’re not sure we’re going to go that route. There are people on both sides of this debate.
We argue there is a false sense of security unless there is a statistically valid sample for it to be meaningful. We are heading down the path of extensive raw product testing. Starting in Salinas this next season — only because Yuma is too far under way — we will begin testing all acreage, not just picking random samples here and there.
In fact, we just finished a pilot RFID program on raw materials that’s been in progress for a year, that we will be moving full force on. The industry still doesn’t have true traceback. With RFID, we’re not just tracing back to the field, but to where in the field the product came from. We think this will change the industry.
The biggest challenge right now is not the cost, because the cost will go down with economies of scale. The problem is that nobody can develop a reader that works on produce that is more than 70 percent accurate. In some instances, it can be up to 90 percent accurate, but it’s the water content that throws off the readers. On the raw material side, we are putting the tags on the outside of the bin. I think the RFID industry will get there in time and it will be a big transformation.
Until we find a solution, it’s everybody’s problem.
Q: What is the significance of Dole’s announcement that it has signed the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement?
A: We think that a public announcement will put pressure on a lot of suppliers to follow suit. There are many suppliers that have yet to sign up. When the marketing agreement was in the hearing stages, there was no one opposed to it. When the marketing agreement has gone through, the proof is in the pudding. We announced the signing because we want retail organizations to force all their shippers to sign it. Some players may say, “I don’t need to sign up because my standards are higher.” The reality is that not all vendors are at those minimum standards.
Q: So what’s your prognosis? Will everyone jump on the bandwagon?
A: The more progressive retailers will make it happen now. A lot aren’t willing to take that step to get their suppliers to sign. I think it’s a cost issue. The industry has been financially upside down for a number of years. We need help to pass this initiative through. All consumer surveys show hands down that consumers are more than willing to pay a higher price for safer food.
Q: Is there a heavy financial price to signing?
A: It’s very expensive; several million dollars a year for Dole, and that’s not an exaggeration. The assessment alone will be a couple million dollars for a company the size of Dole. The agreement says there will be an assessment of up to five cents a carton to fund state inspectors, training, research, etc., whatever the board decides.
If everyone is at least at the same minimum standards starting point, the playing field is leveled. Ultimately we want a federal mandate order, but this is the fastest way to get things going.
The industry must establish minimum guidelines. One person’s problem becomes everyone’s problem.
Q: Some question the industry’s ability to police itself? What is your view on this?
A: I believe politicians like Senator Florez, while well intentioned, often do more harm than good. I heard Florez in one hearing arguing that those that created the E. coli can’t be in charge of getting rid of it. I wish we could get him to take that same passion and energy and bring everyone together to help fix the problem instead of dividing groups into competing factions.
Dole is the largest single company in the fresh produce industry and what it does matters. Building a new plant of this size is a tangible expression of its intent to grow its business in the years to come, and thus a boost for Dole, for fresh-cuts and the broader produce industry. Its location will wind up being more of a boon for Eastern and Southern produce than all the locally grown initiatives at every farmer’s market in America.
The focus on wash systems that Eric articulates is an attempt to answer the most pressing question of the E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak: Why didn’t it get washed off in the plant? It is an acknowledgement that even stringent grower-level safety standards won’t work 100 percent, and the processing plant is the logical line of defense against such contamination.
Crucial is Eric’s point about product testing: We argue there is a false sense of security unless there is a statistically valid sample for it to be meaningful.The minute someone tells you he is doing product testing, the very first question has to be: How much?
Testing product is a reasonable scientific approach to increasing food safety — but it has to be done sufficiently to give enough data to be useful. Too many people throw around the phrase “product testing” like a mantra to ward off critiques of their food safety systems. Insufficient testing is not only likely to give companies a false sense of security, as Eric explains, but also, the announcement of such regimens is a kind of fraud against consumers who are not able to judge the sufficiency of such testing.
Eric’s focus on technological advances to speed traceback, which we focused on here and here, is crucial if the industry is going to do the job it needs to do in this area.
One interesting fact is that Dole, with a well-respected food safety staff, is now saying that bringing everything up to the level of the draft GAP document will cost a high-standard company such as Dole millions of dollars each year.
Now the question is how Dole’s decision to sign the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement will impact retailers. Will they demand that all vendors sign the agreement?
Eric Schwartz says we need a minimum standard for everyone in the industry and the marketing agreement is the quickest way to make that happen: But it will only work if buyers insist upon it. Their actions remain to be seen.
Many thanks to Eric Schwartz and to Dole for sharing insights crucial to building a stronger and safer food safety system.
Following the publication of our piece pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Costco’s Dale Hollingsworth, Dale Hollingsworth contacted us to provide further information and clarification to his interview on February 8. Craig Wilson, assistant vice president of food safety and quality assurance, shared his comments as well:
Dale Hollingsworth, corporate produce buyer, Costco
My interview may have given the impression that our testing could be temporary when it is permanent. I also learned that we are not testing for Listeria. We do test for E. coli, Salmonella and Total Aerobic Plate Count (TCP). The total amount of bacteria has to be within a certain range. If the bacteria is too high based on our requirements, we will not take that product in and it has to be disposed of.
We are going to roll this testing out to all our salad items; anything chopped and put in the bag. All chopped salad kits, obviously your spinach. All fresh cut and cleaned salad items processed in a facility will be tested. We are going to move forward with testing for all these other items. Shelf life is not the issue.
Craig Wilson, assistant vice president of food safety and quality assurance, Costco
Our vendors are truly doing a great job of testing finished product for both quality and food safety on ready-to-eat spinach. There are some logistical issues we are working on but so far things are going fine. We’re testing for Total Aerobic Plate Count (TPC), coliforms, generic E. coli, and E.coli 0157:H7, and Salmonella.
The TCP test used to be 48 hours; in fact it still is, but there is another more rapid method that can get it done in eight hours. That’s part of the learning process as we go through this to help make things more effective for the producer. The other tests all take about eight to 10 hours.
We do intend to continue the test-and-hold program with our other ready-to-eat bagged items. The specifications have already been written and it’s just a matter of timing of when we can have it done.
Right now specifications have been written for items such as bagged leafy green salad mixes and the bagged baby carrots that moms buy for their kids’ school lunches. All those ready-to-eat items will get tested, so we know vendors are doing a good job cleaning them.
It’s a first step to get the industry focused on food safety. Testing does not provide any food safety whatsoever. All the testing does is assure that a processor is providing intervention strategies to improve the microbial quality and safety of a food item. It’s insurance that the vendor is doing everything in their power to provide safe product.
We appreciate Dale and Craig amplifying on Dale’s previous comments. What really makes this a strong plus for the industry is that Costco, as one of the signatories to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is not waiting for some grand industry “solution” to insist upon enhanced food safety measures.
That they are willing to step out and explain themselves and their policies is of extraordinary value to an industry still in flux. Kudos to a leadership team that is willing to assert leadership.
Ever wonder how the other half lives? Pathogen Tracker is an on-line game that lets you experience a foodborne illness outbreak from the standpoint of an epidemiologist appointed to a government agency charged with tracing this outbreak and preventing another one:
Welcome to Pathogen Tracker. You are now a member of the Foodborne Illness Investigators (FBII), a government agency dedicated to investigating dangerous outbreaks of foodborne illness. Using a combination of sophisticated technology and solid detective work, we trace these outbreaks to their source and prevent further contamination of the food supply. Pathogen tracking is a serious task; foodborne illness affects nearly a quarter of the American population each year, with approximately 5,000 of these cases ending in death.
As our newest detective, we’re going to start you right off with a tough case. Throughout your investigation, you’ll receive instructions from the chief via e-mail. You’ll do most of your work using the case file, which contains all the particulars of the case. The lab can help with the nitty-gritty science behind pathogen tracking. Also, the encyclopedia is always available to offer background information on pathogens and the science of pathogen tracking. When it’s time to use one of these resources the word will be shown in “bold” and its link on the right will be highlighted in “red”. Take a look in the encyclopedia to get some background info on pathogens, and then check out the case file for your first case!
Go ahead and give it try. It will help you understand what is going on the next time an outbreak hits, and it’s kind of fun. You can play Pathogen Tracker right here.
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.