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Pundit’s Pulse Plus! — Costco Clarification

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, February 9, 2007

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.

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