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SPECIAL EDITION III:
Tomato/Salmonella
Source List Narrows
But Some Regions Ruined

Pundit’s Mailbag — FDA’s
Disconnect With Media

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 11, 2008

Salmonella And Tomatoes Linked In New Mexico was the first piece we wrote regarding this outbreak. Then came our two special editions. First, SPECIAL REPORT: Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak…Insights and Analysis and second, SPECIAL REPORT II: As Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak Expands, Government Agencies Require More Scrutiny.

All this coverage brought this request:

As an executive in the produce industry, I am concerned about the enormous disconnect between the FDA’s latest pronouncements concerning the safety of raw tomatoes, on the one hand, and what is being reported to the public by major media outlets, on the other hand.

I have learned from my brother, who is a major shipper of vine-ripe Arkansas tomatoes, that the entire distribution chain is in a quandary in terms of whether to ship/accept raw round, plum and roma tomatoes.

It is of tremendous importance to the retailers, distributors and farmers, as well as the public at large, that major news outlets report the issues fairly and accurately. No doubt, the FDA Press Office would be instrumental in this effort and, if you have any contacts there, the entire industry would be grateful for your efforts toward this end.

— Joel K. Bedol
Chief Operating Officer
Sy Katz Produce, Inc.
Pompano, Florida

As we discussed here, the press coverage has been rather sensational. It also often has been flat out incorrect. One industry member sent us this note:

…last night on both CBS’s & NBC’s evening news broadcasts, both networks incorrectly stated that ALL round, roma, and plum tomatoes were part of the advisory. Neither network mentioned the “safe to eat” shipping areas.

So much for the FDA’s weak attempt at limiting the damage to the industry.

We’ve been on the phone with many consumer press editors trying to help them understand. Stories are starting to come out and more will follow.

Unfortunately, the FDA press office, who we work with all the time, is going to simply give reporters FDA’s press releases. They will try to answer questions, but the spokespeople are not substantively knowledgeable about the issues, and so they have to go research everything and typically can’t respond quickly enough for the news cycle in the Internet and Cable Age.

Besides, most of the reporters don’t specialize in this area — there are maybe five newspaper ag editors left in the whole country. So the reporters don’t typically know what questions are worth asking.

In fact, the only hope is for the trade itself to understand the situation. We speak to buyers and sellers every day who call or e-mail looking to clarify a point or brainstorm on the next step.

The truth is that if we rely on the FDA Press Office, we will be in big trouble. We need, as an industry, to understand the situation and that means listening to what the associations are saying, reading all the print trade press, and, we would like to think, we add some value in industry understanding of complex and fast developing issues such as this right here on the Pundit.

Many thanks to Joel and Sy Katz Produce for the letter, and we promise to do all we can to further understanding of these difficult and always changing issues.

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