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Pundit’s Mailbag — Hair Net PR

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, July 20, 2010

The great thing about being an Ex–chairman of an organization is that you get to say things that the incumbent can’t. Such is a letter we just received from United’s Chairman in 1992:

Do you not think it’s a bit much to be wearing hair nets in a lettuce field? I guess the birds and critters have to wear diapers too.

— Alan Siger
President & CEO
Consumers Produce Co., Inc.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

From Inside United Fresh:

United Fresh Members Promote Nutrition Initiatives at USDA and Congressional Salinas Valley Tours and Events

United Fresh Board member Lorri Koster, lower left, speaks with Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA), second from left, and USDA’s Dr. Janey Thornton during a tour of a lettuce operation in the Salinas Valley Tuesday.

Alan is, of course, correct. The likelihood that a stray lock of Lorri Koster’s naturally curly hair will start a national food safety outbreak is infinitesimal. If you lived life trying to play those odds, you would spend all your money buying Lotto tickets and think you were buying Blue Chip Securities.

This is just the start of it. Over the years we’ve collected a lot of photos on farms. They used to all come in showing a happy multi-generational family with a tail-wagging dog. Now the same farmers plead with us to use a new picture sans the dog — lest someone think the dog might defecate on the field. Of course, these families still have dogs.

In a sense, running around the fields in hair nets, or cutting dogs out of all farm pictures is sort of harmless industry PR, showing how conscientious we are.

Yet, maybe, we are also shooting ourselves in the foot. Those hair nets are a symbol of sophisticated food processing facilities. In wearing them in the fields we might be setting an expectation that fields, open to all the elements, can be expected to deliver the kind of sanitary conditions that a food processing plant does.

As Alan with his razor sharp wit notes, considering our inability to get hair nets and diapers on birds and critters, that sanitary promise is one we cannot keep.

Maybe making the realities of farm life clear would actually serve us better in the long run.

Many thanks to Al Siger and Consumers Produce for sending along this note.

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