As large handlers try to persuade retailers and other buyers to restrict their supply chain to only those who have signed on to the California Marketing Agreement, it is easy to suppose that the main issue is standards.
Indeed, we’ve written, sympathetically, regarding the notion that the standards Fresh Express allowed to be published in an article in USA Today were tougher than those being proposed in the industry-wide draft Good Agricultural Practices document.
The truth, however, is that small differences in the standards are not likely to be half as important as the likely differences in the rigor with which the standards are implemented.
And so, the challenge for a buyer today is really that each buyer has the obligation of verification.
From a buyer’s standpoint, what is great about the California Marketing Agreement is that, as part of the Agreement, each signatory extends permission for state inspectors to inspect their property as they see fit.
If we were a regional retailer, this would settle it for us: we would sign on and require that all our suppliers be signatories to the agreement. Why? Simple, the state will do the verification for us, and as regional players it isn’t really realistic for us to do it ourselves.
If we were Wal-Mart, on the other hand, we have options. We could let the state do the verification for us or, if we had a vendor we valued who claimed that they had much higher standards, who said they didn’t want to sign the agreement because they didn’t want to lend credibility to what they perceived as unacceptably low standards, we might want to work with them.
To do so would mean that we would have to take on the verification burden ourselves. We could send in teams of outside auditors, we could have our own staff built up to do audits; we could do a lot of things.
What isn’t an option though is to accept, on faith, that everyone is doing whatever they say they do.
In other words the draft GAPs are standards; they are not the only standards and we would be hesitant to say that if some other company was ISO 22000 certified, third party audited to meet the Woolworths Quality Assurance Standards, the Marks & Spencer Field-to-Fork scheme and the food safety standards of McDonalds, Darden and Disney, we wouldn’t be willing to buy from them.
What is unacceptable, though, is for a buyer to simply accept a vendor’s claims, without verification, that they exceed industry standards.
In the vast majority of cases, whatever the standards are on paper, this claim is unlikely to be true.
Obviously the signatories to the California Marketing Agreement would like buyers to restrict their purchases to signatories. We could live with buyers constricting their purchases to signatories or those independently audited to exceed California Marketing Agreement standards.
So, far, however, with a few exceptions such as Wegmans, Kroger and Markon, all of whom have announced that they will only buy from signatories, we see many buyers unwilling to constrain their supply chain at all.
This is very bad news for the industry as without a willingness on the part of buyers to purchase only from those following safe food standards, the prospects for safer food production are not very good.
This might just turn out to be the most important piece we’ve ever run. Certainly every member of the board of the Produce for Better Health Foundation should take a look. In fact anyone concerned with increasing produce consumption and enhancing the health of children should pay careful attention.
As the Produce for Better Health Foundation prepares for the grand kickoff of its new Fruits & Veggies — More Matters campaign, an interesting and important program from across the pond is now rolling out in every school in Ireland with the goal of increasing produce consumption and developing produce-rich eating habits in children. The program is called Food Dudes and it is not your conventional promotional program. Here is how the program’s sponsors explain it:
How can children be influenced to change their eating habits for the better?
The traditional approach has been to inform people through health education campaigns about what they should and should not eat in the hope that they will alter their eating habits accordingly. Unfortunately, the research evidence shows that this approach has very limited success.
In spite of the enormous quantity of information about the health-giving properties of fruit and vegetables that has been issued over recent years, children’s eating habits have remained largely unaltered. Clearly, children’s knowing what they should do does not mean that that is what they will do. What they need is not simply to be given information, but help to change their actual eating behaviour.
This program is unusual because it was developed by psychologists not marketers. They’ve researched interesting questions such as whether children will change their minds when continuously exposed to produce items they think they don’t like. The answer is that they do.
Unlike many programs aimed at children that only focus on sweet fruits, this one also covers vegetables such as celery, carrots and green beans.
Unlike many programs that focus on only the most popular items, this program includes items such as prunes, kiwi and apricots.
It covers boys and girls, it covers the whole spectrum of family income and it has all been subjected to academic study.
And it has gotten results:
At this point we had conducted 14 separate studies, involving more than 450 children. In all of the studies the effects of the programme were:
highly reliable — results were consistently positive, regardless of particular food, children or context.
very large — the least achieved was usually a doubling of consumption, but increases were often much greater, up to several hundred percent.
extended to a wide range of fruit and vegetables — the effects were not confined to the particular foods featured in the intervention, but extended to all items the children were able to identify as fruit and vegetables. It is an important part of the programme that children are helped to learn what foods are included in the concepts of "fruit" and "vegetables".
general across contexts — in the school studies, the consumption of fruit and vegetables of a sub-set of children was also recorded at home and reflected the same changes as took place at school; in the nursery study the effects of the snack-time intervention carried over to lunch. This generalising effect across contexts was also supported in the responses to a questionnaire issued to parents of children participating in one of the school studies: 100% of them said their children benefited from taking part in the study at school; 88% noticed that their children had increased their intake at home of either fruit, vegetables or both; and 77% of children asked their parents to buy fruit/vegetables not previously on the family shopping list. Parents and teachers alike have consistently expressed considerable enthusiasm for the programme.
very long lasting — when the children were followed up, as long as 15 months after the intervention, the changes in consumption still persisted.
You can learn a lot on the Food Dudes’ website right here and especially this page with research reports on the program.
Obviously we don’t have lifetime studies that tell us what the effect of this program will be on the kids when they are 90, but, from all we have, it seems like a remarkably effective program.
In fact the Irish government decided to stop a three-year pilot that the Irish produce industry was contributing to — mid-way — and roll it out nationally because the research was so convincing that this program was working.
We asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor to learn more about this exciting program:
Mary Coughlan, Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture and Food
with the Food Dudes kids
FOOD DUDES VERSUS JUNK PUNKS
The Food Dudes Programme is a behavioral-based concept developed by the University of Wales Bangor in the United Kingdom to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables both in school and at home. It is designed using a three-pronged approach of integrating positive role models, repeated tastings and rewards to create a healthy eating culture and fundamentally influence and change children’s eating habits long-term.
For several years, the program has been tested and evaluated for its effectiveness in homes, nurseries, and primary schools in a number of areas in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. An expanded school pilot program in Ireland is now rolling out nationally.
Research studies using scientifically controlled measurements find that children participating in the program significantly increased their produce consumption over time with continued long-term results as far out as 18 months later, regardless of gender, school size, geographic and socio-economic factors.
To get expanded information on the program Mira interviews two people instrumental in the program’s development and growth… The first is Fergus Lowe, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Wales Bangor, and co-founder of the Food Dude Programme.
The second is Michael Maloney, Director of Horticulture and Quality, Board Bia (The Irish Food Board), Dublin, Ireland, who took the lead in building the program at primary schools across the country.
INTERVIEW WITH FERGUS LOWE:
Q: How did the Food Dudes concept evolve?
A: Dr. Pauline Horne and I developed the project at the Food and Activity Research Unit (FARU), School of Psychology at the University of Wales Bangor over the past 15 years now. We have pursued extensive research to identify the key psychological factors influencing children’s food choices. On the basis of that knowledge, we devised a behavior-based intervention to enable children to enjoy eating healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables.
It has taken us quite a while to build it on a large scale in schools and to have it administered and run entirely by the schools. We had to make sure it worked and evaluate it over time. Persuading governments to pick it up takes time. We’re in a British University where the program was developed, but the first government to take it up is the Irish government. It will soon be available to all young primary schools throughout Ireland. The country first piloted the program. This led to a three-year trial involving 150 schools funded by the European Union and the Irish Government. But it was so successful in its first year, the government came to the conclusion there was no point in delaying further and keeping the program from all the children in Ireland, so it decided to press ahead and make it available nationwide. The success of the program was also recently recognized with the awarding, to the program, of a World Health Organization Counteracting Obesity Award.
We’re now in discussion with other countries as well, especially in the UK. We are excited about the potential of the British government taking the program up. We are also hoping to broaden the program to other European countries and translate its applications to North America.
Q: Persuade our readers on why such a program could benefit U.S. school children.
A: The most compelling case for the program is the obesity epidemic, the single most overpowering reason to take it up. There are two reasons why kids are obese; what they eat, and their activity levels.
Our program is very much about changing what people eat. It is hugely important that children in North America, where obesity and other diet health issues are a major problem, eat more fruits and vegetables and less junk foods. We realize it’s also necessary children become more active. We’re in the process of developing the physical activity part now based on the same psychological principles we used to influence kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. We will eventually combine the two.
Q: What are those principles? There have been all kinds of attempts at getting kids to eat more produce, yet not all strategies have been successful. What makes your program unique?
A: We’re child psychologists, and approach the problem from the perspective of the child. In the past, a generally accepted method has been preaching to children, but changing eating habits is complicated and preaching can be counter productive.
This program incorporates two key elements, peer-modeling and rewards. The first is a series of videos we show the children. The program starts out with an intensive 16-day intervention. For 16 days, 15-20 minutes daily, the children watch a series of fun video episodes featuring the Food Dudes, a group of positive role model kids who gain superpowers when they eat fruits and vegetables that help them in their battle with General Junk and the Junk Punks who are taking away the energy of the world by depriving it of healthy food.
Q: How does this actually change behaviors?
A: The videos are designed to set up a strong role modeling context for the children. The kids strive to imitate the behaviors of the hero figures who always win. The second key element is a reward system. When the children eat fruits and vegetables or taste a portion, they get rewarded with Food Dude collectible items, like a pen or toy. They’ll taste foods they think they don’t like.
Q: What happens after the 16 days are up? Wouldn’t there be a likelihood that the kids would fall back into their old eating habits?
A: The program continues throughout the year in a scaled down version, but besides that, there are biological and psychological factors that prove otherwise. We’ve focused on younger children, really when you can most influence behavior and set eating patterns for life. Once they hit high school it becomes much more difficult.
Overall our research evaluation has shown that there are foods that kids initially don’t like, but if they taste it 10 to 15 times they’ll tend to like it. It’s a biological effect taste buds learn to like it.
Identifying with the Food Dude hero figures together with the rewards system for emulating their cause motivates kids to repeatedly taste these foods. Gradually you can phase rewards out but behavior is maintained.
Use of these videos has changed culture of schools. In most schools it isn’t cool to eat vegetables. The strategy is to make it cool and trendy and change the whole consciousness level of eating fruits and vegetables. Schools get behind it.
Q: Do children have easy access to produce after watching the videos. Do you have some type of partnership with produce companies to insure there is ample selection of fresh fruits and vegetables available?
A: If you take the British context, here there are school canteens, food is made available at lunch time and access is less of a problem. Now by law in Britain, the schools have to supply fruits and vegetables.
In Ireland, kids bring in their school lunch box each day. There is no canteen. If fresh product is not readily available, you have to make it available at least for those 16 intervention days. This is a critical component of the program’s success.
What’s interesting about our approach is it triggers children to want to eat fruits and vegetables. The program provides the incentives, but the fruits and vegetables need to be there.
Q: In the case of Ireland, is supply provided by a governmental organization, or through private produce companies?
A: In Ireland, fruits and vegetables were made available through private produce companies. Produce companies were very keen to get involved. This has worked out well for these companies, now that government has taken on the whole scheme, those companies that had the wisdom to be supportive in the early stages are now involved in the distribution.
Q: So many factors influence a child’s eating behaviors. How do you verify the program’s success? How do you measure changes in produce consumption over time?
A: We’ve compiled much research with very tight behavioral and scientifically controlled measurements that have been validated in peer reviewed journals. [You can view details attached.] Early studies involved 450 children ages 2 to 7 in their homes, nurseries and primary schools to perfect the learning program and confirmed use of these principles brings about major and long lasting increases in children’s produce consumption. The program was then developed as a stand-alone package that could be administered by primary schools across the full age range of students 4 to 11 and it was tested in schools in England, Wales and Ireland. These trials showed increases in consumption of fruits and vegetables that generally ranged from 100 to 200 percent on average across all children to several hundred percent for children who initially ate very little fruits and vegetables (the poorest eaters). The effects are long lasting and evident in evaluations conducted up to 18 months after the initial intervention.
Q: How do you know what goes on once the child leaves school. What if the family meal plan is void of fresh fruits and vegetables?
A: In addition to tight monitoring of increased consumption in school, other techniques involve telephone diary calls to check carry over at home. If you want to increase consumption at home, you must involve the parents. We have found the parents are hugely supportive and can help by reminding kids what they should be doing.
The program provides an informational brochure to the parents, who have opportunities to put reward stickers on cards the children bring home when they eat fruits and vegetables. Then the child brings back the completed card to school. It becomes a competitive game with the other children to see who can fill up their card first.
Evaluation in Ireland has shown that the program not only changes the kids’ behavior but the parents as well. The kids pester their parents to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Q: Have you connected the program to retail stores?
A: We’ve avoided attaching the program to any retail brand because that could turn people off. We see an opportunity for all major retailers to become involved, get behind the campaign and make Food Dudes produce available to support the program. Basically we’ve been waiting for this moment for it to go national to explore these different avenues to grow the program. We’re hoping, for example, that one day we could get Food Dudes to become a T.V. show.
INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL MALONEY
Q: Michael, what spurred your interest in Food Dudes?
A: It started back in 2002/2003. I work for Board Bia, the state-funded board responsible for development, promotion and marketing of Irish food, drink and horticulture. Increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables falls within that. Of course we’re conscious that eating healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables is good for the country, but my interest was seeing the good from the production side and that is the angle from which we approached it. I came across work Fergus did with the pilot in the UK.
Although Fergus showed the program could work in the UK, our school lunch systems were different and I had to make sure it would translate. In the UK, the children get meals provided at school. In our system we don’t have that provision and the vast majority of children bring lunch to school. We would really need buy in from the parents, more so than in the UK system, so it was important to do a scientific study first.
Q: Since you’re now rolling it out nationally, I assume the program translated well. Could you tell us how?
A: The system works on the simple concept that if you can get kids to taste fruits and vegetables repeatedly they’ll start to develop a liking. Food Dudes are real characters age 13 or 14, slightly older than the group we’re looking to attract. We send the videos to the schools and provide in service training to teachers, who play an important role in the program’s initial and continued success through the year. The first phase lasts 16 days, where the children watch the videos and are given four different fruits and four different vegetables to taste, and are consequently rewarded. As they progress through the program they go beyond tasting to eating portions to receive a series of rewards including coloring pencils, rulers, pocket radios, bouncing balls all branded with Food Dude characters.
Q: How do you maintain interest after the 16 day Food Dudes inundation comes to a close?
A: At the end of the 16 day period, the kids are given two small Tupperware style lunch boxes, one for vegetables, and one for fruit and parents provide the portions in the containers.
In the classrooms, wall charts that stay up all year long reward pupils for bringing in their produce portions, getting check marks by their names and moving forward on the chart. The rewards continue to be given, but are gradually phased out and then certificates keep up the motivation. If teachers and parents keep it going, we find that the kids are motivated too. But if the teachers don’t fill in the wall chart it won’t work well. In some ways the parents need to be supportive, but if teachers buy in, the children will too.
We don’t specify the particular produce item, and the portion wouldn’t have to be completely eaten because the idea is to make it fun and enjoyable. On the fruit side it may be pears, apples, small easy peeler oranges, and for vegetables, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots or red peppers. We’re looking for what could be easily prepared. We provide training for teachers to keep it positive. This is not scientific measuring of portion size but if they show a decent effort. They can get the credit for salad on a sandwich.
We’ve measured what children were given to eat and what they did and didn’t eat at the end of lunch period, after six months went back to compare, and then a full year later, and found increased consumption of fruits and vegetables was sustained. We have done questionnaires with teachers and parents and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Parents are giving more fruits and vegetables to kids, teachers are tracking the result at schools and it’s a remarkably close correlation of an additional one, two or three more portions daily.
Q: How did the program grow from the initial pilot in 2002/2003?
A: We put an application to the European Commission to look for funding for a broader pilot. We got 50 percent of the funding to roll out to 50 additional schools for each year of the next three school years. The rest was split 20 percent from the national government, and 30 percent from the produce industry.
Fresh Produce Ireland (FPI), the representative body for the fruit and vegetable industry in Ireland, was a key contributor to the three year program. In addition to the 30 percent of capital funding required, FPI has also played a hands on role in day to day implementation, as well as contributing additional financial and logistical support in supplying and distributing produce to 10,000 students a year.
As this pilot program was rolling out to 150 schools, Mary Coughlan, The Minister of Agriculture and Food, made the decision that the program was too valuable to wait till the end of the three year period, so in a parallel move approved funding for a national roll out. Mary Coughlan, as a woman minister who has small children herself, understands these things. On a practical basis, who feeds the children, who does the shopping, who understands the difficulties of getting children to eat healthy? It’s the mother.
Q: As the program reaches a wider school population across the nation, could demographics and other various factors like the types of schools impact the results?
A: In the pilot, every component was small scale. Now we are rolling out to a large number of varied schools. Does it work in large, rural, more affluent, religious, non-denominational, boys only, girls only and co-ed? In these 150 schools in the pilot, we checked to be sure the program would represent a plethora of combinations. Then we’d be in a strong position to go to the government to say the program is working in all kinds of schools. We didn’t have to wait until the end of the three-year period because evidence was showing it was working.
Q: What adjustments will be made on the funding side?
A: With the national program, 100 percent of the funding will come from the government. In the national rollout, we’re contracting with a company to provide the produce to the schools because it’s a big logistical undertaking.
Q: What would you say to produce industry executives about the potential of developing a program like this in the United States?
A: The message to the industry in the U.S. is they should not be looking to the national government to run it. They should at least fund the program 50 percent, present a proposal that they are prepared to make a major funding commitment. The children of the U.S. will certainly benefit from a healthcare point of view. But also, the industry benefits directly. In the Irish context, production doesn’t benefit from a huge percent increase, because a lot of the fruits and vegetables are imported here. Even though from a production side, if the general population is exposed to fruits and vegetables, it will be open to eating more produce in general, which benefits the produce industry here and elsewhere.
A former prime minister used to profess that a rising tide will lift all boats. This is a similar concept.
This is really something. An American pilot is a no-brainer. PBH has a lot on its plate right now, but we shouldn’t let this opportunity pass.
Eric Schwartz, the President of Dole Fresh Vegetables, sent a letter with his thoughts on the current state of industry in reference to the California Marketing Agreement:
One of the biggest misconceptions is that signing the CA leafy greens marketing agreement means a company will be lowering their food safety standards. Voluntary signatories are only agreeing to maintain at least a common floor when it comes to the standards. These standards are being developed by some of the leading experts in the food industry as well as academia, verified by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and subject to enforcement by CDFA. There is nothing in the agreement that precludes or stops any shipper from implementing a higher standard in any area that they see fit.
If a company truly is operating above the standards recommended then the only reason not to sign the agreement is to avoid the assessment fees, or the inspections themselves which will be performed by a state agency. The reality is not everyone is practicing what they preach and inspections are an integral part in making sure that individual programs are more than just great marketing ploys.
We also need to stop associating the word “minimum” as having a bad connotation when it comes to the agreement. Minimum only identifies the floor that signatories are agreeing to never go below. Everyone must build their own final firewall with the marketing agreement as the minimum foundation. The height and look of the wall is still up to each company.
Another misconception is that the advisory board will take over marketing for individual companies. The primary use for the assessments will be to fund state inspection services and board administration. Board activities will not be a replacement for the marketing arm of any individual company.
Normally I would argue industry can do a better job policing itself rather than having mandatory regulations. But the reality is there are estimated to be at least 170 growers and processors of leafy greens in just the state of California. It’s naive to believe that they all have the expertise or resources to implement appropriate auditing systems to assure a comprehensive food safety program. Ultimately, we need to have a federal marketing order that ensures guidelines are met, no matter what area leafy greens are sourced from. Based on last year’s spinach outbreak, it was made very clear by the regulatory agencies that one company’s problem will be the entire industry’s problem. In the eyes of the consumer, we are already there.
At least three separate legislation bills were introduced in California to address leafy greens food safety. Part of the expedience of the marketing agreement was to address the issues based on science instead of getting guidelines based on everything but sound science. If the industry can’t show solidarity now, and continues to address this oncoming tidal wave by trying to make each other appear to be one step above the other, the CA legislature is going to step in and hand us something that will not make sense.
This is where retailers can force a fundamental shift in the industry right now. There has been a groundswell for solidarity of action from retailers, and for good reason. The proverbial ball is now in their court. If retailers let their big suppliers off the hook because they have rationalized their programs are already better, then they not only misunderstood the marketing agreement, but they cannot expect the little guys to change either because they will not be able to compete. Again, the marketing agreement sets a floor, but does not preclude any company from implementing a higher standard in any area that they see fit. This agreement alone is not going to resolve the fact there is no “kill step” in the produce industry. It could however, make sure the floor is raised by several notches for everyone.
We are running out of time. By statute, no new handler can sign onto the agreement after a fiscal year starts, which for this agreement is April 1, 2007. Only the retailer community can ensure that a handler sitting on the fence now does not decide to have a change of heart on April 2, when it’s too late for this year.
There are a lot of legislators and media watching this closely to see how industry responds. Retailers have demanded a change and now that first step is here. However, only they have the power to force their suppliers to sign on to this agreement.
— Eric Schwartz
Dole Fresh Vegetables
We know that CDFA keeps saying that they are told that the reason people aren’t signing up for the California Marketing Agreement is that these handlers tell CDFA they don’t want to lower their standards.
But we don’t believe there is any significant confusion, we think that is just what they think is a good thing to say to CDFA.
A more realistic assessment is that most companies that don’t sign, don’t do so for one or more of three reasons:
They don’t want to pay the assessment. It is a lot of money; they prefer not to pay it. Perfectly understandable.
They don’t want state inspectors on their property. Honestly, who does?
Their customers aren’t demanding it, so why should they pay assessments and deal with inspectors?
The bottom line is that this is the moment of truth for the buyers listed in the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative As we mentioned here, only a willingness by buyers to constrain their supply chain to those following safe practices will result in an assurance of safe practices being followed.
Many thanks to Eric Schwartz for his important letter.
There is an ad hoc group that started it all. The National Restaurant Association has its group working on a program and the Food Marketing Institute held a conference. All these buyer-led initiatives can get confusing, so to assist the trade in keeping track of them all, we are publishing this recap of coverage all in one place.
As new developments occur, we will continue to update this recap to help keep the trade organized on this important subject.
On September 25, 2006, in the midst of the spinach crisis, we published The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that it is the “representations and warranties” that buyers demand that define the food safety programs we get:
“…in the end, the strength of our food safety systems is at least as dependent on what retailers demand as they are on what the government does for the simple reason that what retailers pay for is what they are going to get.”
Then in the issue of the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, which was unveiled at the PMA Convention in San Diego on October 21, 2006, we published Food Safety Is A Retail Issue, which pointed out:
“…what holds suppliers back is not that they need an FDA regulation — it is that they need to see a willingness on the part of buyers to pay more to obtain a higher level of food safety and security. So far that is missing.”
The Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety was then announced. In time it came to be signed on to by nine important buying organizations:
Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Tim York, Markon Cooperative
Here at the Pundit, we applauded the buyer-led effort, but on October 30, 2006, ran a piece entitled Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question Of Buyer Commitment, in which we pointed out:
“What would be helpful from these buyers is…a reassurance to the grower/shipper/packer/processor community that investments in food safety will be protected.”
As Gene Harris of Denny’s added his endorsement to the Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Denny’s Weighs In On Food Safety Effort on November 1, 2006, and we pointed out that the Western Growers Association was now looking for mandatory standards:
“Buyers can impose standards on their suppliers, but it seems as if the big grower members of WGA are more inclined to go with a mandatory program. Perhaps because this is more easily “saleable” to consumers, perhaps because the growers have no confidence that buyers will ever agree to a uniform standard on food safety and, perhaps, because growers know that buyers today can have the best of intentions but situations change and buyer’s change — and if legal product is available for much less money, that will put a lot of pressure on an organization to change its standards.”
On November 2, 2006, we highlighted an Opportunity For Buyers’ Food Safety Initiative, where we wrote the following:
“Here’s the Pundit’s suggestion to the buyers: Don’t wait for the deadline to pass. Withdraw the letter to the associations, which can only lead to endless negotiations with grower/shippers and watered-down food safety standards. Instead, create a temporary ad hoc consortium to spearhead the quick development of science-based food safety standards.
In the short term, these will be enforced by buyer demand, hopefully including other buyers who will buy into the plan; in the medium run the plan will be turned over to state authorities in California and federal authorities in Washington, D.C., as the basis for new mandatory regulation.”
We pointed out that this initiative may not stay in the hands of the ad hoc group leading the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative when, on November 7, 2006, we announced: National Restaurant Association Forms Produce Safety Working Group and pointed out:
“What we should have learned from the FDA loss of confidence in the industry is that food safety is not something that we negotiate over. It has to be driven by the best scientific knowledge we have.”
Mark Munger of Andrew-Williamson Fresh Produce, a grower/shipper, pitched in his thoughts on the important role buyers play in the food safety arena and, on November 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Grower, which specifically praised one foodservice customer:
I also have to commend one of our customers, who I believe demonstrates the value of collective partnerships between growers and customers. Two years ago we began working with Darden Restaurants. Darden takes food safety very seriously. They have empowered a food safety team that must approve each and every supplier. They have inspectors in the field who make weekly random inspections of growing operations, picking and packing programs. When problem issues are identified, they work closely with our food safety team to help educate our team and to ensure that collectively we fix the problem. The knowledge that an inspector can be in any field or packing shed at anytime has forced us to treat every day as an inspection day.
Additionally, Darden’s food safety team is separate from their buying team. If a farm is not up to par, they have the authority to stop all transactions until the problems are fixed. They truly put their money where their mouth is and have helped us become a markedly better company. I cannot think of a better example of the power of collective thinking between suppliers and customers. I think the industry would be well served to learn more about their programs and create similar models.
Not surprisingly, the Food Marketing Institute was not going to be content to sit this one out and, on November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into The Food Safety Fray, which detailed a conference scheduled for December 5th at which FMI would host representatives from industry, associations, academia and government to advance food safety issues. Unfortunately, FMI decided to exclude the media and we pointed out:
“…if the goal is to build public confidence in the process the industry is going through, you not only open it to media, you send a velvet invitation to the big consumer media groups.
It smells of smoke-filled rooms where deals will be cut in secret. If you let in some light and air, everyone will have more confidence in the final product.”
On November 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag: Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer Led-Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower/shipper pointed out that “This is where the retailers must step out of their ivory towers and get their walk (vendor relationship) to match their talk (aligned supply chain)… If those who signed on to this letter would get committed to buying only from “qualified suppliers,” the laws of supply and demand will drive the solution and we will quickly catch up with the rest of the world in this critical area.”
On November 17, 2006, we featured Tale Of Two Buyers, in which we pointed out: “If the VPs are sincere about wanting the buyers to place food safety first, the VPs have the responsibility for changing the culture and the economic incentive systems.”
On November 21, 2006, we published Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which features an extensive interview with Tim York of Markon Cooperative as well as the announcement that the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative gained ten new retail signatories:
- Mike O’Brien, Vice President Produce & Floral, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, Missouri
- James Spilka, Vice President Produce, Meijer, Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Mark Vanderlinden, Vice President Produce Merchandising, Price Chopper, Schenectady, New York
- Greg Corrigan, Director Produce & Floral, Raley’s, West Sacramento, California
- Craig Carlson, Vice President Produce, Pathmark Stores, Carteret, New Jersey
- Don Harris, Vice President Produce & Floral, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colorado
- Bryan Gannon, Director Produce & Floral, Big Y Supermarkets, Springfield, Massachusetts
- Jim Corby, Vice President, Produce Merchandising, Food Lion, Salisbury, North Carolina
- Roger Schroeder, Vice President Produce, Stater Bros., Colton, California
- Craig Ignatz, Vice President Produce Merchandising, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Despite the impressive show of buyer support, we expressed some concern: “…it is also pretty clear that the prospect of one unified food safety standard acceptable to every one of the signatories, much less to those who have declined to sign, is somewhere between nil and nothing.”
On November 28, 2006, we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative, and in this piece we added Mark Hilton, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Harris-Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, as a signatory to the letter.
We also quoted buyers who had declined to sign the letter mostly due to their objection to the public nature of the initiative. We also pointed out how vendors were thinking:
Pundit Note: Many growers and shippers are irate over the effort as they see it as an evasion of responsibility. These buying organizations get exactly what they value enough to pay for. All too often, some of the same companies who signed the letter on Monday will, on Tuesday, buy some product without the slightest knowledge of where it came from.
On November 29, 2006, we ran Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which gave voice to the thoughts of some non-participating buyers that only mandatory government regulation is the way to go. Also on November 29, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, in which a processor there at the beginning of the national fresh-cut industry reminded us how uninterested in food safety most retailers were at the time.
On November 30, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers were declining to join the buyer-led initiative with Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives. Also on November 30, 2006, we received a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group, which we focused on in Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulation. We pointed out: “In terms of the difficulties on spinach and leafy greens, the key buyers are missing from the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. The buyers of the produce, in this case, are the processors.”
On December 1, 2006, we published Spinach And The Consequences Of Buyers’ Action, in which buyers who hadn’t signed on to the buyer-led food safety initiative pointed out that rigorous food safety systems will restrict supply and raise prices.
As we explained: “It is unknown if those who don’t buy spinach because of high prices will buy healthy alternatives. They may buy candy bars and die of complications of obesity. It is a completely open question as to whether safer spinach won’t cost lives in the end.”
Also on December 1, 2006, we responded to industry feedback claiming that foodservice did a better job than retail when it came to food safety by beginning a series of Pundit Pulses focused on foodservice. The first two, Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, dealt with how smaller buyers deal with these issues.
On December 5, 2006, we continued our discussion with buyers who refused to sign the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative by noting that some of them weren’t thrilled with the Western Growers Association proposal either. Our Piece Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job? dealt with the problems created for the industry when one region is declared “safer” than another and with the difficulty of utilizing a marketing order to legislate world class food safety practices.
On December 6, 2006, we ran Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline), which dealt with what will happen if the trade associations do not meet the deadline set by the buyers. Also on December 6, 2006, we continued our series on foodservice and food safety by running Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Of Diversified Restaurant Systems.
Additionally on December 6, 2006, we ran a letter from Tim O’Conner, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board in our Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing World in 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 Industry in 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 Farming explores 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 Grower that 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 Award to 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 Holiday and 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 Costs in 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 Ambiguities in 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.