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Pundit’s Mailbag

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, September 25, 2006

The Pundit would like to thank the many industry members who’ve called or written over the past week. Most have given information in confidence, and regular readers of the Pundit have been enjoying the benefit of this input since the crisis broke. But wanted to deal here with two specific letters:

John Pandol, a partner at Pandol Bros. in Delano, California, asks an interesting question:

Did any of these people use supermarket loyalty cards and, if so, was any of that info used to verify the purchase of the affected individuals?

With so many loyalty card programs out there, we should be able to get good data for a lot of people who have already thrown out their spinach bags.

Jeff Lyons, Senior Vice President of Fresh Foods, Costco, Issaquah, WA, touches on this issue in today’s Retail Pulse series as he mentions that Costco uses membership club data to let people know about recalls when health or safety are involved.

Why hasn’t the FDA mentioned accessing this data?

And Tom Marrolli, Outside Sales Executive/Mid-Atlantic at State Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, answers the Pundit when I asked:

How is it possible for so many brands to be implicated? Even if they come from the same packing plant, it doesn’t make sense. These items are batch processed. If Natural Selection Foods is packing for Dole, it packs for Dole for many hours. It doesn’t pack in bits and pieces for each brand.

Since so many brands are implicated, it would have had to have been packed over many different packing days. But an E. coli problem is typically in a small batch. It doesn’t make sense.

You can read the whole article here.

But as Tom explains:

It’s not only possible, it’s probable. There is not just one packaging machine in a major processors operation. Each machine may be loaded with a different film. The machines can work simultaneously off the same load. In other words, one line may be packing one brand; the line next to it may be packing another. Same spinach, different brands.

And he is, of course, correct. Although there aren’t enough lines for all these labels to run at once, industry sources tell me that some of these labels would have been packed on different days. Of course, the FDA has never issued a list of implicated labels, so it is possible that Natural Selection Foods was being conservative and recalled all its labels packed in that plant just to be safe.

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