Pundit Interviews

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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
Boca Raton FL 33481

Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
info@PerishablePundit.com

a

Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Tale Of Tesco’s
Disrespectful Dinner Guest

As we have analyzed Tesco’s operation in America, we have often commented on the arrogance that seems to be holding back Tesco from reaching its potential in the USA.

Part of that started with a “dissing” of American suppliers by bringing several of its British suppliers to help set up and supply its new Fresh & Easy division in the USA.

Among the things they do is these transplants function as de facto procurement agents for Fresh & Easy. Because they hold the power of the purchase order, the individuals who procure for these organizations are very powerful people.

Recently a bunch of leading vendors held an industry dinner at an industry event — probably about 70 or 80 people total. Attending were a number of buyers, including one who worked for one of the Tesco transplants. The Pundit wasn’t there, but we’ve heard a number of nice things about the event.

The atmosphere was pleasant, the food was quite good and the wine, well they were serving Heitz Cabernet, which is from one of the oldest and most well established wineries in the Napa Valley.

Now here at the Pundit, we confess that on our trips to the Left Coast we’ve enjoyed a Heitz Cab or two in the company of industry friends, and we found it downright pleasant.

Apparently, however, the Pundit’s tastes are not as refined as those of this particular buyer from one of the Tesco transplants who was invited to attend that night.

This particular buyer decided to order his own wine, which he said he would pay for.

Now we confess that Momma Pundit taught us that when invited to an event, barring allergy or religious conviction, one eats and drinks what one is served. Then one says thank you. We would think it insulting, no matter who was paying, to tell our hosts that their taste in wine was poor or that their generosity was lacking.

Yet this buyer ended up ordering one $800 bottle of wine and five bottles at $350 each — or running up a $2,550 wine tab.

Guess what this buyer then did? When the tab came, he set it down on the table and announced that he wasn’t paying for it after all, and left the event.

The suppliers paid his bill… we would guess begrudgingly, since Tesco gives out so little business anyway. But we’ve heard the story from enough people to know that many were aghast at the behavior of this fellow who would be nothing in the business if Tesco didn’t make him important.

We could go on about adding costs to the system and the inappropriateness of it all, but we see it as a kind of arrogance and simple disrespect that won’t bode well for success in this business.

Yet Tesco is so insular, it just isn’t hearing what is really going on. Businesses pay a big price for being tone-deaf.




Veteran Buyer Makes Appeal
To Save New Jersey Ag Department

Our piece, The Garden State… With No Gardener, highlighted the proposal to eliminate The New Jersey Department of Agriculture. That piece was posted a month before a big protest was held in Trenton. You can view the video to get some graphics on the situation:

The protest was also picked in many local newspapers:

Farmers plow into Trenton to save NJDA
Millstone Examiner –- April 10
Two Upper Freehold farmers led the march on Trenton to protest Gov. Jon Corzine’s plan to eliminate the New Jersey Department…

Cutting NJDA would sow seeds of destruction
Atlanticville — April 10
Agriculture is not causing the state’s budget deficit problem, so Gov. Jon Corzine’s proposal to eliminate the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) …

Local Farmers Fight to Save Ag Department
Cape May County Herald -- April 9
In an effort to save the state Department of Agriculture, Cape May County farmers joined hundreds of others from throughout New Jersey…

Hammonton farmers join statewide protest
The Hammonton News — April 9
Hammonton farmers have joined others throughout the state to protest Gov. Jon Corzine’s planned elimination of the state Department of Agriculture. …

Farmers don’t want to sacrifice green for green
Woodbridge Sentinel — April 9
Alan Habiak just loves farming. It’s in his blood and the “smell in the air” really gets to him. That’s why he and other farmers …

Aspiring farmer, 14, lobbies against state agriculture cuts
Packet Online — April 8
Luke Johnson feels strongly about keeping farming in New Jersey, so strongly that he missed almost an entire …

BUENA VISTA: Township joins fight to save Ag Department
Vineland Daily Journal — April 8
Township government Monday night officially joined a statewide push to convince Gov. Jon Corzine not to plow under the New Jersey Department …

Perhaps more powerful than the public protests are the private communications going on. For example a veteran on the buying end of the produce industry sent this letter to his own State Senator:

Dear Senator O’Toole,

Hi neighbor! As a resident of Verona, I feel like I know you personally, having watched your “political upbringing” via the Verona Cedar Grove Times. It is with this knowledge that you are one who always makes decisions based on what is right for the citizens as a whole that I make this plea.

I have been in the fresh fruit and vegetable business since my first days working part time in the produce department at Kings Super Markets in 1973. I have since worked in several Kings stores, served as a buyer at Kings headquarters and moved up in position along the way. I currently am vice president of procurement of the same company that continues to supply Kings and many other supermarkets with fresh produce and other products. After over 34 years in the business, I thought I had seen it all.

The budget proposal that is before you calls for the elimination of the New Jersey department of agriculture as we know it. While I can appreciate the governor’s attempt at bringing spending under control, this one piece makes no sense at all. I know that you have been receiving many financial reasons why the department of agriculture is so important to our economy, so I will not bore you with more of the same.

However, there is one aspect that I want to make sure is clear to you and your associates. The people and leadership of the New Jersey department of agriculture is what makes it so special. I know there are arguments that the essential services will be absorbed by other departments. My fear is that the great relationship that we in the ag community have with state government would also be absorbed and eventually disappear. By ag community I include all supermarkets, farm stands, small mom and pop food stores, restaurants and every other place in the state that has anything to do with food.

My own personal experience with the New Jersey department of agriculture began in the early 80s when we at Kings promoted home grown fruits and vegetables in a way that was to become the beginning of the Jersey Fresh program. I was the 1995 recipient of the Phil Alampi marketing award for my part in promoting Jersey Fresh products. To this day, our company continues to make a special effort to market and promote products that are grown by the farmers of New Jersey. The reason for our involvement is not only to increase business, but under the leadership of the department of agriculture, we have become one giant ag family and look to help our farmer brothers and sisters.

Consider that in the 34 years that I have been in this industry, I have only seen 3 different Secretaries of Agriculture; Phillip Alampi, Arthur Brown and Charles Kuperus, and all 3 of them are or were considered personal friends. And when your friend asks you to do something, you do it. That’s the way a lot of things get accomplished in our business. (Probably a lot like your business, I imagine.) The 3 secretaries had a personal relationship with each and every member of the extended ag community. If we lose this personal touch, things simply will not get done that need to get done. Again, I will not waste your time with the details but would be more than happy to expand on these thoughts.

I hope some of this makes sense to you. It is always much easier to convey a feeling like this in person rather than via e-mail.

If you would like additional perspective on the personal aspect of this issue, please feel free to contact me any way you wish. I am a volunteer EMT on the Verona Rescue Squad so I am sure you can find someone you know who also knows me.

I have never written to anyone in government before, if that is any indication of how serious I believe this issue is to the residents of New Jersey.

Regards to you and your family.

Jeff Shilling
Vice President Procurement
RLB Food Distributors
West Caldwell, New Jersey

The good Senator hasn’t had a chance to respond yet, but we are sure he will. This type of letter — personal, drafted individually, by a constituent, with relevant experience and knowledge — is pretty much the political gold standard. It certainly is far more powerful than those form letters lobbying groups give people to send out by clicking a button on a web site.

A letter such as Jeff’s shows not just interest but passion, and that translates for a politician into an issue that, handled properly, will translate into votes, tangible financial support and a long term ally. We hope that others who think the same way in New Jersey will also take the time to write their state legislators.

We think it probable that the Governor doesn’t really have his sights set on closing the department. By the time the state finishes moving all the “essential services” to other departments, it will wind up costing the state more to close the department in the first year than to keep it open and then there will be only minimal savings in the years to come.

When the moment comes, we suspect that a “grand bargain” will be struck and the Department will be saved in exchange for some real priority of the governor, perhaps an increase in tolls that he had been pushing for.

Thanks to Jeff for sharing his letter. We hope the grower community will remember that letter the next time they get steamed at retailers.




Despite Flawed FDA,
Cantaloupes Are Challenged

We’ve written quite a bit about Agropecuaria Montelibano and the “import alert” the FDA imposed against its cantaloupes grown in Honduras.

We kicked off our coverage with FDA Fumbles Again On Cantaloupe ‘Alert’, and ran a special 14-article edition devoted solely to the issue, which we called We Are All Affected By Cantaloupe Issue and Positive Test On Cantaloupe Causes More Confusion. We also dealt with some letters on the subject, including one by Tom Church of Church Brothers in a piece we entitled, FDA Status Quo Cannot Stand.

Although the issue has faded from the news, the “import alert” stands, and we have been hearing a great deal from food safety exports. Much of our analysis has been focused on the FDA and with good reason. Its procedures are disorganized, its field staff often not knowledgeable and it has, to be blunt, been acting as a bully, intimidating people to announce recalls.

Yet, whatever the flaws of the FDA — and we have not written the last of our coverage on that subject — it would be a horrible mistake for the industry to think this matter was just about FDA abuse.

It is also about cantaloupes.

Food safety experts we have great faith in have pointed us to evidence indicating that cantaloupes — particularly — are vulnerable, in a way smooth-skinned melons are not, toward picking up and retaining pathogens. We assume it has something to do with the netting, but there has been little research.

In a sense, our critique of the FDA is that its actions are not helping the public health because it has no reason to believe that the cantaloupes people will eat from elsewhere are any safer –and we stand by that opinion.

Yet it is also probably true that cantaloupes are more likely to transmit illness than honeydew or watermelon.

The industry has to recognize that the problem is not this farm or this country. We will achieve nothing by chasing the sun around the world to find safer places to grow cantaloupes.

What we actually need is a research project along the lines of what we have going on for leafy greens.

We ran a piece, Fresh Express Gives $2 Million: But Its Food Safety System May Be A Bigger Gift, that highlighted the Fresh Express donation of $2 million to conduct research on leafy greens and food safety. We also ran a piece entitled, Center For Produce Safety Established: An Act Of Faith In The Future, highlighting the multimillion-dollar donations of Taylor Farms and PMA to fund research via the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis.

Only through better understanding of the science surrounding cantaloupes and pathogens can we hope to permanently resolve this problem.

If any angel is looking to fund such research, just let us know and we’ll be happy to put you together with the right people.

The FDA made many mistakes and, of course, cantaloupes are, statistically, a very safe food. But it seems not quite as safe as other melons, and we could make them safer with better understanding.

The sins of the FDA should not distract the industry from its role in addressing this challenge.




Ripening Workshop Set For May 20

A hat tip to Jim Gorney! It wasn’t all that long ago that he was toiling at United Fresh and we were awarding him — along with Hank Giclas and David Gombas — our Perishable Pundit Unsung Heroes Award for doing yeoman’s work during the industry spinach crisis.

Now having read our piece, Lousy Fruit Undermines Consumption, and Pundit’s Mailbag — More On Lousy Fruit: Where’s The Management?, both of which dealt with issues of taste and ripening on stone fruit, Jim writes to let us know about a program that can actually help operators ripen fruit to perfection:

I’ve been following the discussion regarding fruit ripening.

We at U.C. Davis firmly believe that proper fruit ripening and management of ethylene (produce ripening hormone) are critical in today’s produce marketplace, so as to drive repeat sales and boost consumption of fresh produce. If it doesn’t taste good, no matter how good it is for you, people simply won’t eat it and are put off by the experience.

Attached and below is more information about an upcoming 1-day workshop at U.C. Davis set for May 20th to provide retail, food service and ripening operators information they can use to ripen fruit to perfection.

— James R. Gorny, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center
University of California, Davis
Department of Plant Sciences/MS2
One Shields Avenue Davis, California

Jim sent along a news release with details:

REGISTRATION NOW OPEN FOR
FRUIT RIPENING & ETHYLENE CONTROL WORKSHOP

Registrationincluding convenient and easy on line registration is now open for the 14th annual Management of Ripening & Ethylene Control Workshop to be held May 20th, 2008 on the U.C. Davis Campus. During this one-day event, attendees will hear from leading produce experts in academia and industry on how to increase profits by delivering ready-to-eat, delicious fruits and fruit-vegetables to the consumers.

“Now, more than ever, it is imperative that every one in the produce supply chain understand and have the ability to control produce ripening to assure that consumers have a positive produce eating experience, which drives repeat sales and promotes a healthful eating” said Course Coordinator and Faculty Director for the UCD Postharvest Technology Research and Information Center Jim Thompson.

Attendees will learn about how to set up a retail ripening program that works by understanding the underlying biology of the produce ripening, understanding how to use cutting edge technologies to provide optimum conditions for ripening and how reduce postharvest produce losses by slowing ripening. The course is targeted specifically at shippers and destinations (wholesale and retail) handlers who are involved in ripening fruits and fruit-vegetables (avocados, bananas, mangos, tomato, pears and stone fruit).

“We are constantly striving to provide produce practitioners with useful, user-friendly and up-to-date technical resources to assist them in reducing costly postharvest losses and helping them to assure the quality, safety and marketability of fresh produce for consumers said U.C. Davis Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center Executive Director Dr. Jim Gorny. “Our hope is that industry representatives will turn knowledge into actions to enhance consumer satisfaction with produce purchases and thus increase consumption of these healthful, wholesome and nutritious food items” said Gorny.

Attendees may register for this and other upcoming educational outreach activities sponsored by the Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center via the web at http://postharvest.ucdavis.edu or by contacting Ms. Penny Stockdale, registration coordinator, at (530) 754-4326 or pastockdale@ucdavis.edu.

# # #

The self-defined mission of the University of California Postharvest Technology Research and Information Center is to reduce postharvest losses and improve the quality, safety and marketability of fresh horticultural products. You can visit the center online here. You can also download a brochure for the 2008 Fruit Ripening Conference here.

Doing a better job at ripening is a certain way to increase produce consumption and consumer satisfaction. Many thanks to Jim Gorny for letting us know about this most useful workshop.




More To Bear Stearns/JP Morgan
Deal Than Meets The Eye

Our piece, Lessons For Everyone From Bear Stearns, pointed out that in the collapse of that firm, there were lessons for all businesspeople regarding leverage — both the amount of leverage that can safely be accommodated and the importance of tying the term of the leverage to the assets you intend to hold.

We happened to come across some writing by a sharp young academic at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Our paths crossed because he picked up on an article in the Orange County Register entitled, Tesco’s Fresh & Easy Off to Rocky Start, Industry Watchers Say, in which the Pundit was quoted.

In any case, we thought he had an insight, in a piece entitled, Rescue for Bear or Bailout for JP Morgan, that we hadn’t seen before as an explanation to help us better understand the Bear Stearns/JP Morgan deal:

Much has been written about how JP Morgan was looking to acquire businesses in which Bear was strong (e.g., prime brokerage), and some even maintain that JP Morgan was looking to buy a regional bank.

This may be, but I believe that there is another explanation that has been little explored because, quite frankly, the data that would allow one to gauge this motivation are not publicly available.

Specifically, I believe that JP Morgan acquired Bear because they stood to lose the most from a Bear Stearns bankruptcy. For example, as Barry Ritholtz of the Big Picture points out (see here), JP Morgan has the greatest derivative exposure of any of the I-Banks. Now, I do not know how much of that exposure was to Bear Stearns as the counterparty, but I bet it was a fair amount (in fact, see Jesse’s Cafe Americain for information on Bear’s credit derivative exposure).

If Bear were the counterparty (insurer) to JP Morgan on much of its mortgage-backed security portfolio, it then becomes transparent why JP Morgan had to step in. They would have had to step in to avoid a Bear bankruptcy so that they would not be forced to take toxic assets back onto their own balance sheet and avoid massive write-downs. Were JP’s exposure to Bear large enough, then JP Morgan itself could have been left significantly impaired.

This might also explain the Fed’s interest in Bear. For example, if it were only Bear at risk and their exposure was spread relatively evenly across counterparties such that many of the big, primary banks were not at risk as a result, the Fed would have had no interest in this event. Instead, it would have just let Bear fail. But the Fed could not let Bear bring down JP Morgan with it. So it stepped in to orchestrate an orderly wind-down of Bear while facilitating its acquisition by JP Morgan.

The information is not publicly available to test this thesis, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong, and it is a useful reminder that we often have no choice but to operate but in a state of ignorance.




FDA Proposes Model Food Code
Be Amended:
Leafy Greens To Be Held At 41 Degrees
Or Less — Retail And Foodservice Operators Affected

There are two important food safety events going on this week. The Pundit is participating in a sold-out program at Seattle University School of Law entitled, Who’s Minding the Store? The Current State of Food Safety and How It Can Be Improved — with a group of high-powered lecturers:

SPEAKERS

Special Guest Speaker

  • Governor Christine Gregoire, Washington State

Keynote Speakers

  • Robert Brackett, PhD, Senior Vice President and Chief Science and Regulatory Officer, Grocery Manufacturers Association
  • Dr. Patricia Griffin, CDC, Chief, Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
  • John Kobayashi, MD, MPH, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Washington School of Health
  • Barbara Kowalcyk, Director of Food Safety, Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention
  • Richard Raymond, MD, Under Secretary for Food Safety, USDA FSIS

Panelists

  • Andrew K. Benson, PhD, Associate Professor, Dept. of Food Science and Technology, University of Nebraska
  • Tom Billy, President, International Food Safety Consulting
  • Phil Brasher, Washington Correspondent, Des Moines Register
  • Sarah Brew, JD, Attorney, Greene Espel PLLP
  • Christine Bruhn, Director, Center for Consumer Research
  • Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest
  • Neal Fortin, JD, Director, Institute for Food Laws and Regulations at Michigan State University
  • David Goldman, MD, MPH, Assistant Administrator, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Office of Public Health USDA
  • Chris Griffith, Director of Food Research and Consultancy, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, Wales
  • Stephen Hedges, Reporter, Chicago Tribune
  • William Keene, PhD, MPH, Senior Epidemiologist, Oregon Public Health Services, Acute & Communicable Disease Program
  • Liu Zhouhui, Deputy Director General, Certification and Accreditation Administration, People’s Republic of China
  • Deon Mahoney, Principal Microbiologist, Food Standards, Australia and New Zealand Canberra, BC, Australia
  • Andy Martin, Reporter, New York Times
  • Al Maxwell, JD, Attorney, Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial
  • Sandra McCurdy, Extension Food Safety Specialist, School of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Idaho
  • Carlota Medus, PhD, MPH, Epidemiologist, Acute Disease Investigation and control section, MN Dept of Health Minneapolis, MN
  • John Munsell, President, Montana Quality Foods & Processing; Manager, Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement. Mile City, MT
  • Canice Nolan, First Counselor, Head of Food Safety, Health, and Consumer Affairs, Delegation of the European Commission
  • Douglas Powell, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, Kansas State University. Scientific Director, International Food Safety Network
  • Jim Prevor, Editor-in-Chief, Perishable Pundit
  • Scott Rickman, Associate General Counsel, Del Monte Foods
  • Mansour Samadapour, PhD, President & CEO, IEH Laboratories
  • Jørgen Schlundt, Director, Dept of Food Safety, Zoonoses, and Foodborne Illness, World Health Organization — Geneva, Switzerland
  • Richard Seigler, MD, Pediatric Nephrologist, University of Utah
  • Denis Stearns, JD, Attorney, Marler Clark LLP, PS
  • Brad Sullivan, JD, Attorney, Lombardo & Gilles
  • Bala Swaminathan, PhD, Vice President, Technical and Business Development IHRC, Inc.
  • Craig Wilson, Vice President, Food Safety and Quality Assurance, Costco Wholesale Corporation
  • Devon Zagory, PhD, Senior Vice President, Food Safety & Quality Programs, NSF Davis Fresh

Simultaneously, the Conference for Food Protection is having its biennial meeting in San Antonio, Texas. This organization is rich in history, and the conference is focused on “Promoting Food Safety through Collaboration”. The conference is unusual because the organization makes decisions that may wind up being incorporated into the FDA model food code:

The Conference for Food Protection has a place for you in its representative and equitable partnership of regulators, industry members, academics and consumers. You have ideas to bring to the table to help identify problems, formulate recommendations, and develop practices that promote food safety and consumer protection. Our Committees can benefit from your knowledge and experience as they tackle the many food safety and security concerns that face us all.

You can be part of our next Conference meeting in San Antonio, Texas, April 11-16, 2008. First, you can submit an Issue about improving food safety using our online Issue Form by the deadline in January 2008. Then you can present your Issue at the meeting to one of three Councils that will provide a unique balanced consideration of yours and the other Issues before it. Approved Conference recommendations may be incorporated into the FDA Model Food Code and offered for adoption by regulatory agencies to help establish nationwide uniformity.

In between the Biennial Conferences, much work continues in the various Conference committees that are tasked with charges by the Conference. You can review the work of many committees and find the areas where you can be a part of the solutions they develop. Our future in food safety and food security can be enhanced with your involvement, so we encourage you to get into the front line in this national forum, the Conference for Food Protection.

We owe a tip of the hat to a food safety consultant who alerted us to an issue affecting leafy greens that Glenda R. Lewis, a Team Leader for FDA/CFSAN/Retail Food Protection Team, has submitted for acceptance:

Not sure if you’ve seen Issue 08-III-022 going before the Conference for Food Protection (CFP) next week here in San Antonio.

Note that FDA has used their Reference B, CDC surveillance outbreak for 5 specific leafy greens as justification for making a broad scope of LG fall under time/temperature control for safety at retail operations (grocery and restaurant operations).

It also uses a definition out of their “FDA Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety hazards of Fresh cut Fruits and Vegetables” that essentially ties in a guidance document to FDA Food Code mandates.

What’s your take on this? It forces compliance from the retailer back to processor in my view.

— Fred Reimers
Food Safety Consultant
Creative FoodSafe Solutions
Schertz, Texas

Here is the basic proposal:

Title: Time/Temperature Control for Safety for Cut Leafy Greens

Issue you would like the Conference to consider:

Research shows that cut lettuces and other cut leafy greens support the growth of pathogens commonly associated with foodborne illness outbreaks when stored outside of temperature control. Requiring that these foods be stored under refrigeration in retail and foodservice establishments should significantly limit the growth of pathogens that may be present on the product and therefore represents an important step in preventing foodborne illness in the U.S.

Public Health Significance:

Since 1996, at least 21 confirmed foodborne illness outbreaks have been attributed to consumption of various types of leafy greens (11) that were contaminated prior to the point of service, most likely on the farm. Additional outbreaks are likely to have occurred due to contamination at the point of service. These illnesses can produce severe gastrointestinal distress long-term chronic sequelae, and death.

Cut leafy greens with a pH of 5.8 or more (1, 4) and aw of 0.99 or more (3) have been shown to support pathogenic growth (1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 12) once the product is cut and internal liquid and nutrients are made available to pathogens that may be present.

Laboratory studies have shown that storage of cut leafy greens at 41ºF or less effectively limits the growth of pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella spp. and Listeria monocytogenes. Refrigeration of cut leafy greens at 5ºC/41ºF or less has been shown to limit the growth of E. coli O157:H7 as well as promote a general die-off of the pathogens over time (1, 2, 3, 8, 9).

It is common industry practice to refrigerate cut produce to preserve the crispness and to prevent browning, decomposition and sliminess from spoilage organisms. Changing state and local retail food codes and ordinances to mandate that cut leafy greens be stored and displayed at a temperature of 41ºF or less in retail and foodservice establishments will help to ensure that these products are not held for extended periods within the lower temperature limit of growth for E. coli O157:H7 (8ºC/46.4ºF), Salmonella spp. (7ºC/44.6ºF) and other pathogens identified in illness outbreaks associated with lettuce and other leafy greens. Storage at temperatures above 41ºF can negate pathogen reductions achieved from prior washing in cold or warm chlorinated water and allow surviving pathogens to multiply.

In the FDA Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables, subparagraph VII ©(3) and paragraph VIII (D), FDA recommends that finished, fresh-cut produce be held, stored, transported, and displayed at 40ºF or lower. (5) Once the pathogens have been in contact with the leaves, they are able to attach to the leaves, especially at cut surfaces and openings such as stomatal pores. Under adverse conditions, E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes can also form biofilms for additional protection. Contamination, which may occur anywhere from the field to the kitchen (6), cannot be effectively removed from the leaves once the pathogen has attached or internalized through cut surfaces. For example, studies have shown that once E. coli O157:H7 becomes internalized in cuts in the plant tissue, it becomes inaccessible to chlorinated or other chemical washes and can survive the disinfection or sanitizing process (13). Other controls such as different atmospheres (anaerobic or other gases) or competing microflora (Standard Plate Count (SPC) of 5-8 million are normal) have not been proven effective at preventing pathogenic growth on cut leafy greens (7).

Recommended Solution: The Conference recommends…:

  1. The FDA Food Code and state and local regulations applicable to retail and foodservice establishments be amended to include cut leafy greens among the foods that require time/temperature control for safety, including cold holding at 41ºF or less; and
  2. The intended meaning of the term “cut leafy greens” should be made clear by including appropriate definitions in Chapter 1 of the FDA Food Code. For the purposes of this recommendation, the term “cut leafy greens” refers to 1) leafy greens that are considered “fresh-cut produce” as defined in FDA Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables (5), and 2) fresh leafy greens whose leaves have been cut, shredded, sliced, chopped or torn at the point of sale or service. For the purposes of this recommendation the term “leafy greens” refers only to iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, baby leaf lettuce (i.e., immature lettuce or leafy greens), escarole, endive, spring mix, spinach, cabbage, kale, arugula and chard. The term “leafy greens” does not include herbs such as cilantro or parsley.

Submitter Information:

Name: Glenda R. Lewis, Team Leader
Organization: FDA/CFSAN/Retail Food Protection Team

You can read the whole proposal with attachments and get contact info for Glenda R. Lewis here.

Fred astutely notes that tying in a guidance document to the FDA Model Food Code is no small deal. What happens is that most states and localities use the FDA Model Food Code as the basis for their own laws and regulations, so putting something in the FDA Model Food Code is a way of taking a “guidance” document and giving it the force of law in most places without having to have Congress pass a law.

We became focused on this issue in part through our coverage of the spinach crisis but especially during our work when Bolthouse had its struggles with the issue of botulism on improperly refrigerated juice.

In our pieces, Bolthouse And Juice Refrigeration and Botulism III, we reviewed the cold chain and study results — a bit old but the best we’ve got, indicating retailers are not maintaining the cold chain — and pointed out the dangers inherent in this.

With this move, the FDA is defacto saying that industry efforts focused on the grower are fine, but insufficient, that just as we have to be dedicated to preventing microbial contamination, we also have to be dedicated to creating conditions that make it less likely any contamination will grow to the point that it becomes dangerous.

We have always felt there is disequilibrium in the auditing related to food safety. Growers, packers, even processors, are put under countless audits, but retailers are almost never subjected to independent audits of their food safety practices. This is despite their refrigerated cases routinely failing to deliver required temperatures during defrost phases and in certain locations in the cases themselves.

When we have raised this issue, some good retailers have objected that they do hire auditors to self-check. We ran a piece on one of these companies entitled, A Closer Look At Retail Safety Audits.

Of course, it is great that some retailers do this but, first, the one’s that do it voluntarily are rarely the ones that need it. Second, a self-audit, where one doesn’t have to be publically accountable for the results, is different in kind, not degree from an audit one has to mail to all one’s customers.

Of course, having standards in the local food codes creates an inspection metric for local inspectors, and violations are typically matters of public record, so it seems that the FDA thinks the retailers should have accountable inspections just like growers.

Many thanks to Fred for pointing this out.




Pundit’s Mailbag —
Too Critical On Tesco?

In addition to the extensive reporting and analysis we have offered on Tesco and its Fresh & Easy venture in the United States and material written in sister publications (most recently a column entitled Merchandising Disconnect in PRODUCE BUSINESS), our analysis has been found sufficiently compelling that we are often consulted by investment bankers in London. Last month, for example, we participated in a conference call on behalf of Citi with important investors.

We have also been called on to help various newspapers present the situation for their readers. In the five major cities where Tesco’s sudden announcement of a “pause” has been important news, we helped the local community understand the situation by being quoted in at least one newspaper in each city.

In the UK, The Times of London asked for our input in a piece entitled As Another Analyst Confirms Low Sales, Fresh & Easy Brings In More Help.

The Los Angeles Times published our take on the situation as part of an article entitled, Fresh & Easy A Tough Sell For Shoppers.

In Nevada, the Las Vegas Review Journal shared our understanding with its readers in piece called Fresh & Easy A Tough Sell.

The Arizona Republic explained the situation to its readers by including quotes from us in an article entitled, Fresh & Easy Delays Openings.

The San Diego Unioncovered the issue with the help of our input in a piece published under the headline, Fresh & Easy Chain To Take Breather From Opening Stores.

Among the letters we received as a result of these comments is this letter from a retail consultant who came to our website and read our piece entitled, Fresh & Easy Vendors Uneasy:

After reading your comments about Tesco’s Fresh & Easy stores in the San Diego Union this morning, I went to your web site and read your latest comments on the company. I find it interesting when the “experts” find it expedient to criticize a company without looking at the entire picture.

The fact is Tesco has opened 61 stores in a very short period of time. If you know anything about retail you know this is quite an extraordinary accomplishment. It is also not uncommon when rolling out a number of stores for things to not go as planned. So it makes perfect sense to step back, re-evaluate what you are doing, fine-tine the process and operation and then move forward.

It is entirely possible that Tesco somehow failed to let their vendors know they would be slowing down or stopping the expansion along the way. And to even suggest they might pull the plug on the business at this point and not pay their vendors is nonsense. In my observations and knowledge of this company, they have always operated in an honorable, business-like manner.

With considerable experience rolling out new formats and opening new marketplaces, I can assure you Tesco has done some things very well. Have there been mistakes? Yes, it is not possible to undertake such a bold venture without making some mistakes.

I would like to suggest that you might want to step back and give them some time to see if this concept will work. Retail is a tough business, and anyone who is willing to invest the kind of resources and people such a venture requires should be given some latitude in making it work. Wouldn’t you agree?

Tesco is not a client of mine and I have no vested interest in their success. As an active and interested participant in the retail industry, I do hope they succeed.

— George Whalin, President and CEO
Retail Management Consultants
Carlsbad, California

We have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Whalin, but we bet he would have some good stories. His web site explains:

George Whalin’s experience in retail is extensive and first hand. He started his career on the sales floor and worked his way up. In the 1960s, he opened and managed the original Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California. He sold instruments to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jackson Five, Grateful Dead, and many more well-known and not-so-well-known musicians….

It is an impressive tale and a very different one from the food industry background of the Pundit. Still, we think we do some beautiful music of our own right here on these pages. Let us try to play our symphony in response:

First, we do not “criticize” Tesco or any one else. We state what has occurred and analyze it. In our experience, the stronger an organization is, the more it welcomes such scrutiny. There are chains far bigger than Fresh & Easy, bigger even than Tesco, that have passed Pundit articles around, held meetings at which Pundit pieces were discussed and sometimes even asked the Pundit to visit their headquarters and view the assessment we made as an opportunity for self-improvement.

If we analyze a company’s operation, we are doing the company a favor; basically giving them consulting services for which we would normally charge a small fortune. And, in fact, we do a job that they could never accomplish, because their vendors will never be as honest with them as they are with us.

It is not important for them to think we are always right. That is a standard few paid consultants live up to. They can even think us foolish… it doesn’t matter.

Momma Pundit taught us a long time ago: “Wise men learn more from fools than fools from wise men.”

Second, as far as our not "looking at the entire picture" — we have written over 75 articles on this Tesco/Fresh & Easy venture just here on the Pundit. Many more in sister publications, had our ideas scrutinized by a couple of dozen skeptical journalists from both trade and consumer publications and held up under the withering scrutiny of hedge funds and investment bankers who were paying us good money to assess the situation. We are not aware of anyone who has written more or thought harder on this subject. If we haven’t looked at "the entire picture" we have no idea who has.

Third, without a doubt, opening a lot of stores in a short period of time is a difficult task. The ability to do so shows a certain type of competence. Yet competence comes in various varieties and this type may not be determinant.

For example, if in order to open a lot of stores in a short period of time, Fresh & Easy accepted secondary or sub-par locations that lose money, what was accomplished by rolling out stores quickly?

If by rolling out stores quickly, Fresh & Easy avoided real life consumer testing that might have told Tesco that the right size is 20,000 square feet rather than 10,000 square feet, what was accomplished by rolling out quickly?

Very possibly, the need to roll out so quickly showed an enormous weakness in the concept and a fear that the concept could be so easily copied that they had to jump-start the process. Wal-Mart didn’t sign leases for hundreds of supercenters before the first one was opened.

In some things, Tesco has shown great competence; in others, say out-of-stocks, it has not. But in the end, even great competence at execution will not make a success of a bad concept. So the question is whether or not the concept is right for Americans. Our take is that it may have a place, but not a $200,000-a-week place. Our take is that the concept might work in certain geographies — say Manhattan — but not in the quasi suburban locales Tesco selected to start with.

Fourth, although we doubt it, we don’t deny the possibility that Tesco had always intended to “pause” its roll out. Here is what we wrote:

Either Tesco is not telling the truth, which means it is prepared to lie to protect its interests, which, to a vendor, simply raises the question of what other things it has been told that may not be true.

Or, perhaps worse, Tesco did always intend to “pause” and yet never told the supplier base, which means it acted in a spirit of utter contempt for the costs it imposed on the supplier community.

These are the only two possibilities we are aware of… we are open to another if someone cares to make a suggestion.

Fifth, Mr. Whalin writes critically of our suggestion that Tesco guarantee the debts due to vendors of Fresh & Easy: “And to even suggest they might pull the plug on the business at this point and not pay their vendors is nonsense.”

However, by Mr. Whalin’s own admission, Fresh & Easy is not a client of his, so if something did happen it would not be his money on the line. It was not us, but vendors, particularly those not covered by the PACA, that are nervous about this.

We agree, even if Fresh & Easy is closed, Tesco will probably pay the debts — but why should we have to speculate? Tesco can remove all doubt by extending a corporate guarantee. The fact that the company doesn’t do so is likely because it prefers to keep its options open — and its vendors vulnerable.

Sixth, it goes without saying that a concept can be changed over time and might not work now but might work in the future. In fact, we have made some suggestions on how to make it work. We actually believe the right thing to do is to split the chain into an Aldi-like chain and a Trader Joe’s-like chain.

Like Mr. Whalin, we think the "pause" is a good thing and we have said so — why keep rolling out a failure? Better to pause and fix it. Yet, so far, we are not seeing the willingness to make the radical changes that we think are essential to success. We are also mindful that the enormous distribution center and thick executive staff cannot be supported by the small number of small stores Fresh & Easy currently has and that the company is paying rent on stores it is not opening. Plus competitors are likely to zero in on the existing stores. so an extended pause is going to be very expensive.

Fresh & Easy has as much time as Tesco is willing to give it money to operate — the Pundit doesn’t take any time away from it.

Sixth, as we have written before, we too would like to see Fresh & Easy succeed. It would provide the industry with a new retail concept to be rolled out across the country and a major new buyer in an age of consolidation.

The Momma Pundit, though, had another adage: “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride. If turnips were watches, I’d wear one by my side.”

That we wish Tesco success matters little; our reporting and analysis of the facts matters a great deal.

We thank Mr. Whalin for advancing the industry discussion on this important issue.

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