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SPECIAL EDITION II:
As Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak
Expands, Government Agencies
Require More Scrutiny

Pundit’s Mailbag — Look At Lot Size

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 10, 2008

Salmonella And Tomatoes Linked In New Mexico was our kick-off. Then we ran our SPECIAL REPORT: Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak…Insights and Analysis, and that brought this note from an industry luminary:

I spent a couple of years in the traceability space, and regarding your tomato article, the real issue, I think, is one of “lot size management”.

With the spinach outbreak, the lot size was the entire industry, this time with the love apples, it is different… the industry is getting better…

— James D Still (Banana Jim)
Consulting Director of Cold Chain
Moraitis Group of Companies
Homebush Bay, NSW
Australia

Banana Jim is well known as the founder of Thermal Tech, and inventor of TarpLess ripening. He then did many projects with Chiquita-Asia Pacific, which was a joint venture with the DeNadai’s and is now a joint venture with Unifrutti.

For the most part, he worked with the very well respected and liked Jeff Jackson, who we mentioned here.

Now working on a ripening facility in Queensland, it is nice to have him weigh in on our industry crisis.

He is 100% correct that the key to traceability is lot size. Many people think of traceability as something you do after you produce the product to keep track of it, but that kind of traceability is almost useless.

As Michael McCartney explained during an interview we entitled, Getting A Better Grasp on Traceability:

You can’t do traceability if you don’t have a unique product identity already established.

Once product arrives, how do you separate each lot or bin or farm? The only way to do this is to create a time gap. If three farmers supplying the same product each have a unique identity, all bets are off once the food processor dumps the product in bins and it’s all blended together. It can happen like this now. If there isn’t a gap between your produce and mine, we lose our identity. We lose our ability to trace back. If an inquiry comes in, we have to look at a three-farm recall instead of a single farm, and what comes before and what comes after.

Now that the CDC, FDA and State Health Departments are presumably coming to the end of their epidemiological investigation, it will be interesting to see how far the industry has come. Will we be able to quickly identify the precise source of these tomatoes and thus liberate the FDA to focus its ire on a particular producer or particular farm?

Let us keep our fingers crossed. Many thanks to Banana Jim for reminding us of the crucial role that lot size plays in traceability.

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