Pundit has been emphatic that, as long as food safety is a voluntary issue rather than a regulatory issue, the role of buyers cannot be overestimated. We pointed out that in foodservice, it was Jack in the Box that demanded higher standards from its suppliers, not suppliers that volunteered safer product. This issue applies to retailers as well.
In the October issue of the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, we published a column entitled Food Safety Is A Retail Issue that pointed out the responsibility of buyers in this community.
Obviously many in the industry are in agreement on this point as, in an unprecedented move, executives from eight substantial buying organizations signed a letter addressed to the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association and Western Grocers Association. The letter was signed by the following:
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Tim York, Markon Cooperative
Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
And this is what the letter said:
In response to multiple food-borne illnesses associated with fresh produce, the above-listed companies recognize an opportunity to come together as never before to voice our needs and expectations. We expect fresh produce industry associations to respond — collaboratively and expeditiously — to protect public health and work toward restoring consumer and buyer confidence in fresh produce. Specifically, we are asking the associations to develop a supply pipeline food safety program for lettuce and leafy greens as follows:
The program will be founded on standardized food safety recommendations and requirements (GAPs, GMPs and HACCP as appropriate) that reflect best practices and are specific, measurable, and verifiable.
The requirements will be developed with input from and approval by industry research scientists, as well as input from academia and regulatory agencies (whose direction may differ from that of association members).
We recognize the process of developing requirements has and will continue to illuminate areas that require further scientific research; we understand that the initial requirements will be based on current knowledge, but subject to change as science evolves; we expect the associations to have in place a process to keep the requirements up to date based on sound science.
The standardized requirements will be translated into standardized audit criteria and such audits could be performed by private and/or federal/state auditors. A certification program shall be in place to assure private auditors are calibrated and perform inspections/reviews in accordance to the established standards.
Together, the requirements and audits will amount to a voluntary, formal food safety certification program that is open to all qualifying suppliers. The associations will develop a website or other mechanism whereby buyers can verify whether grower/suppliers have received certification.
The associations will fund and lead robust industry and consumer outreach about the certification program.
The context of this communications effort will emphasize that industry’s intervention steps and highlight the intention is to minimize risk to the extent possible, because there is no “kill step” for fresh produce.
On behalf of the above-listed buyers and any others who wish to join us, a small working group will monitor the associations’ progress and report on it at least every other week; we expect the associations to update the working group at least every week via e-mail, and further suggest that associations continue to communicate proactively with all stakeholders in North America, including NRA, FMI, CPMA, and regional grower/shipper associations.
We expect that the associations will continue to communicate proactively with the trade and national media.
Due to the urgency of this matter — its current and potential impact on public health — we expect that the major components of this process can and will be accomplished by December 15, 2006. If this is not the case, our options include fast-tracking our own working group to establish a meaningful certification program with objective criteria.
Finally, while we recognize that lettuce and leafy greens are the most immediate priority due to the most recent E. coli outbreak, we expect that the associations share our urgency to have standardized food safety requirements and commensurate auditing criteria for additional crops in accordance with their actual and/or perceived risk, including: melons, tomatoes, and green onions. We expect that the process described above will be initiated for one or more additional crops by February 15, 2007.
This effort was driven by initial discussions between Tim York and Dave Corsi, and Tim York announced the program. All anyone had to do was be at the Town Hall Meeting regarding the spinach crisis that was held at PMA and one could see that Tim, a past chairman of PMA, is passionate about finding a path through this crisis for the industry.
And certainly, any effort backed by these important buyers can’t be ignored. Kroger, Safeway and Supervalu are the three largest conventional supermarket operators in the U.S. Costco is the largest warehouse club operator in the country. Wegman’s is a trend setter, and Dave Corsi is in line to become PMA Chairman. Sysco is by far the largest foodservice distributor in the country, and Markon and Amerifresh are both substantial organizations. Many of these individuals have served, do serve or will serve on important industry councils. So these individuals are respected, their organizations are respected, and they will be heard.
Yet, there is no unanimity about their proposals in the buying community. Some names are conspicuous by their absence. And, in speaking with many who declined to associate themselves with the document, it comes down to a philosophical breach.
Many buyers feel that the government must be made to set standards for the industry when it comes to food safety. This is vital, they believe, so that if there is ever an outbreak, it will be blamed on either an individual operator who broke the law by breaching the standards or on the government for setting inadequate standards.
There is a lot of sense to this position. In a sense, the FDA and state organizations play the industry as a bunch of saps. They refuse to articulate any specific guidance, let the industry make the guidelines, and then the FDA is free to blame the industry when something goes wrong. On the FDA website, they post the Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Lettuce and Leafy Greens Supply Chain, but the most interesting line is this: FDA is posting this industry information as a service to industry, consumers, the media, and other interested parties.
In other words, FDA posts it but won’t stand by it. Following these guidelines is no guarantee the FDA won’t blame the industry for a future outbreak and no guarantee the FBI won’t charge you with a crime.
Whether the produce industry prefers mandatory regulation or voluntary standards may soon be a moot question. California is hard at work on some state legislation regulating these issues, and past history tells us that these types of state standards are often federalized a few years later.
It seems an important industry imperative to get the regulatory agencies to buy into any industry-wide standards.
That doesn’t mean the buyer-led effort is misguided. In the past, many of the rules that govern the produce industry were developed by private organizations and then, later, codified in law or regulation. One wonders if this effort isn’t best thought of as an attempt to develop a plan that could be submitted to government for review and implementation through legislation or regulation.
There is no question that every signatory to this letter means the best for the industry, but the letter strikes me as problematic in five ways:
First, it is addressed to trade associations that are not retail trade associations and thus comes off as arrogant. I don’t think it was intended that way. I wish they had asked me to draft the letter for them. But, as it was written, it is just some buyers barking orders and, thus, unfortunately, more likely to get lip service than true cooperation.
These buyers had many options: they could have simply announced that they were all going to require their suppliers to meet set standards; they could have set up a buyer-controlled organization to drive food safety initiatives, but just being big buyers doesn’t give them standing to issue “expectations” to organizations in which only a small fraction of the membership are buyers. Trade associations are about building consensus, and that process can’t really be short-circuited or you will have policies in place that haven’t won the support of the membership. That leads to splinter groups and the collapse of organizations.
Second, the buyers made the mistake of taking no actions internal to their own organizations to improve food safety. In fact, although they say they want a “pipeline food safety program” — they also make clear that they don’t actually want, themselves, to be subject to any requirements. After all, the demand is that “The associations will develop a website or other mechanism whereby buyers can verify whether grower/suppliers have received certification.”
Although the nature and count of bacteria on the day product leaves a packing or processing facility is crucial, it is only part of the story. A pathogen can be in a processed product in a minute amount. If the product is handled correctly, that pathogen will multiply more slowly than if the cold chain is broken. It is widely known that retail cases, for example, do not uniformly and consistently maintain temperature. In talking about the recall of Bolthouse 100% carrot juice, we dealt with that issue here. In addition the cold chain has many links, and we dealt with 12 of them here.
It is not exactly shocking, but certainly disappointing, that there is nothing in the letter indicating that retailers would look with favor on third party audits of their own compliance with food safety standards and best practices.
Third, there were no substantive proposals to encourage processors to package and label things effectively. When fresh-cuts were first starting up as a national industry, my associates, Ken Whitacre, now Publishing Director for the Pundit and its sister publications, and Lee Smith, then with Wawa Food Stores and now Publisher of DELI BUSINESS magazine, one of the Pundit’s sister publications, presented the very first national workshops on cold chain management for what was then called pre-cut produce.
I heard many discussions in these early days, and it was retailers who opposed things such as clear “Sell By” and “Use By” dates on every bag. I remember discussions about turning bags different colors after so many days or via technology that counted up the degrees the bag had been exposed to so the bag might turn color if it had been sitting in the trunk of a consumer car on a hot day. Processors were willing to do all this, but it was retailers not wanting to be responsible for the shrink that stopped all this dead in its tracks. It seems that some sort of indication of a willingness to rethink these things would be appropriate in a letter from buyers to the trade.
Fourth, the letter explains that “Together, the requirements and audits will amount to a voluntary, formal food safety certification program that is open to all qualifying suppliers.” But the letter doesn’t explain how the associations could handle the liability aspect of the proposal. If these associations come up with a plan to certify vendors as “safe” and there is a foodborne illness outbreak, everyone will sue the associations claiming they relied on the associations’ “certification.” That is why any effort that is going to involve “…robust industry and consumer outreach about the certification program” as this proposal states is virtually impossible unless in the hands of the government.
Fifth, because the proposal is for a “voluntary” standard, the letter doesn’t address the fundamental flaw in all these types of proposals, which is that, in the long term, such standards are an application of Gresham’s Law. Put simply, this means low standards always drive out tough standards.
Today everyone is hot on food safety. If, God willing, the industry goes two years without a major outbreak and some retailer that is not a signatory to this letter can get completely legal product two dollars a case less, the very retailers that signed this letter will feel enormous pressure to buy cheaper.
This presents the industry with a Hobson’s Choice since the only way for those retailers to remain competitive with their higher priced product would be to promote to consumers its superior safety. But most in the industry think that such a claim would be counter-productive raising more consumer concerns than it reassures.
The signatories to this letter deserve real industry praise. They have stood up and are trying to make a difference.
But, increasingly, it seems that there are advantages to mandatory regulation and that only through mandatory regulation can the industry stop the commodity-driven process by which players are pressured to drive costs out of the system, including food safety costs, in order to match the price of the lowest bidder.
The power of the buyer is not greater concern for the industry or greater knowledge of the industry than shippers or processors but, rather, the power of the purse. What would be helpful from these buyers is not so much orders to the trade associations but, rather, a reassurance to the grower/shipper/packer/processor community that investments in food safety will be protected.
In other words, the FDA just reported that wild pigs may be a key source of contamination. If a firm announced that it was going to pour concrete footings ten feet under ground to prevent burrowing animals and then have solid fencing ten feet high and hire staff to, every day, inspect every inch of that fence and immediately repair any damage — are these buyers willing to pay more for product from this producer than from someone else who doesn’t do that? Are they willing to restrict their purchases to only suppliers who fence even when much cheaper product is available elsewhere?
These are really the questions that need answering. Unfortunately, although the intentions are noble, and indeed the very act of writing the letter is an act of courage and leadership, the letter is so busy instructing the associations on what to do, it neglected to tell the industry what the buyers are willing to do.
How to minimize or prevent future outbreaks of E. coli 0157:H7 is the great question vexing the industry. The truth is we don’t know that much about E. coli. It is typically associated with ruminant animals, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) just announced that they found E. coli 0157:H7 of the same strain that was in the spinach bags and in the sick people in the digestive track of a wild pig, which is a monogastric animal, not a ruminant.
The pig was in a cow pasture adjacent to the implicated spinach field and they noted both holes in the fences around the spinach fields and tracks across the spinach field.
Although they have found the same strain of E.coli in a stream and in fecal material on the same ranch, right now they are focused on wild pigs as they both have the E. coli strain and a plausible method of contaminating the spinach field.
It is worth emphasizing that this is still just a theory, and they have found ZERO on the actual spinach field. In fact, here is a PR lesson for the industry. If you are going to use a portion of a ranch for fresh product and a portion for some other use, make sure you split up the land ownership into two separate companies. This way the government and the media would be unable to say that they have found something on the ranch where the spinach was grown.
In fact, the topography of this field seems to lay ruin to everyone’s various theories about the whole thing. There was a big article in The New York Times, which we linked to as part of one of our Pundit Mailbags. The Times article theorized that this whole problem was caused by cattle being grain fed. However, the cattle where we are finding the E. coli 0157:H7 next to the implicated spinach field was pasture-raised cattle.
The same Pundit Mailbag dealt with water leaking down on a field, which is another favorite theory but, in the actual implicated field, the spinach was on a kind of plateau over pasture, riparian land and a stream. In other words, nothing could drain down onto the spinach.
At this point we know that the testing that CDHS and FDA have done has resulted in nine isolates of E. coli 0157:H7 of the subject strain on one of the four implicated ranches. Though they have found E. coli 0157:H7 on other implicated ranches, it has not matched the strain found in the outbreak.
But how the E. coli got to the spinach fields, how it got on the spinach, why it wasn’t washed off in the processing — these are really unknowns. Is it is possible for spinach to absorb it through the roots? We don’t know. Is it possible that it adheres to the surface in such a way that it simply cannot be washed off? We don’t know.
It is a very good thing that PMA has appropriated $1 million for a food safety initiative, because we need to jump start some research on these questions. Hopefully we can use the PMA money, as well as more that Western Growers Association will raise in a public/private partnership with money from the state of California and the federal government, to really improve the science here.
Improved science possibly will lead to better processing solutions so that any pathogen can be removed with greater certainty.
In the meantime, however, we are looking for practical ways to minimize contamination of foods designed to be consumed raw. It is not an easy thing to do because, as we discussed in our review of the Spinach Town Hall Meeting, things can always be made safer and the regulatory agencies give precious little guidance as to what kind of tradeoff is acceptable between keeping food economical for consumers.
Still the dilemma is that the industry does not have the luxury of waiting for either perfect knowledge or perfect guidance from regulators. Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS, along with Sunkist and Sun Sweet, sponsored famous San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Steve Young to speak at a breakfast on Tuesday morning of the PMA convention. He provided an example of how his football career could guide business decisions.
Steve Young explained that being relatively small, compared to the massive guys that surrounded him, he often couldn’t see where his receiver actually was. So he had to develop the instinct of being able to throw the ball blind to the spot where the receiver was going to be.
In light of the limits of our knowledge of E. coli and the urgent need to act, so we too must develop the instinct of projecting where the science and the regulators are going to wind up and take action to bring the industry to that position now.
After the Pundit got his ear chewed off at the PMA convention on the issue of whether the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association ought to merge, we dealt with this controversial subject here. The gist of the article:
But others argue that whatever the merits of a merger, it wouldn’t have made a difference in this situation as there is a fundamental cultural problem in which Americans have grown so distant from the farm that there is no longer any tolerance for even the slightest risk — they argue that the government is virtually compelled by these large cultural forces to over-react to any health risk.
So effective government relations or not, it wouldn’t have mattered much here:
We have received many other pieces on this subject, including some very thoughtful ones, so we will be continuing to deal with this subject over time. Please feel free to send your thoughts as well.
We’ve been asked to make available in one place our coverage of the recall by Wm. Bolthouse Farms of certain 100% carrot juice products and the broader implications of this issue for food safety. This piece is updated regularly and will be re-run to include new coverage of this outbreak and issue.
We initiated our coverage on October 2, 2006, by publishing the FDA notice to consumers warning them not to drink the product, and we inquired as to the margin of safety on the product. You can find the piece, entitled Oh No! Another Outbreak, right here.
On October 4, 2006, we published Bolthouse And Juice Refrigeration, which analyzed the proper standard of refrigeration for vulnerable products and the ability of both the trade and consumers to maintain that cold chain. Read it here.
October 5, 2006, we ran Botulism III, which detailed the 12 steps in the distribution chain that the industry needs functioning properly in order to maintain the cold chain. The piece challenged retailers to evaluate the integrity of their own cold chain. You can find the piece here.
In The Botulism And E. coli Connection, which we ran on October 6, 2006, we noted similarities between the botulism outbreak on certain Bolthouse carrot juice and the spinach/E. coli outbreak. The piece is right here.
On October 10, 2006, we noted, in Bolthouse Botulism Case Hits Canada, that two Canadians were now victims of this botulism case and noted that it was an unusual cluster to occur at one time if the problem was solely temperature abuse by customers. You can catch it here.
October 11, 2006, we ran Carrot Juice Still On Canadian Shelves, we noted that Canadians were getting upset over the inability of Canada’s public health authorities to execute a simple product recall and that the frequency of recalls was raising questions over the safety of California produce. Read it right here.
On October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration urging industry lobbyists to work on legislation to make sure consumers have the tools they need to keep product safe at home. The article is here.
October 18, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, disagreeing with our urging of legislation regarding thermostats and refrigeration. You can read the piece here.
With so much having been written in so short a time, thought it would be helpful to publish a sort of round-up of available material to help people understand the whole situation regarding spinach and this E. coli breakout:
The Perishable Pundit itself has dealt extensively with the subject in several major pieces. On September 15, 2006, we published Spinach Recall Reveals Serious Industry Problems, which addressed the implications of this crisis for the fresh-cut industry. You can read the piece here.
On September 18, 2006, we published Organic Dodges a Bullet, which deals with the implications of the outbreak for the future of organic farming. You can find this piece here. Also on September 18, 2006, we ran a piece called Ramifications and Reflections on the Spinach Recall, which provided our first 10-point analysis of the situation. You can read it here.
September 19, 2006, we asked Is FDA’s Concern Now an Obsession? — a piece in which we assessed whether a national recommendation to not eat spinach made any sense. You can review this here.
On September 20, 2006, we noted 10 Peculiarities about the E. coli Outbreak and reviewed why certain aspects of the situation are unlike past food-safety challenges and other unanswered questions regarding the outbreak. Read this one right here. Also on September 20, 2006, we did our third 10-point list, calling this one “Spinach Recall Begs for Solutions”, where we reviewed how the trade can deal with this issue for the future, including looking at the meat industry, the prospect of universal testing and the use of RFID and GTIN. You can read all this here.
On September 21, 2006, we asked Is FDA Causing Long-term Damage? Here we posed the question of whether punishing the innocent and the guilty alike doesn’t reduce incentives to invest in food safety. You can read this piece right here.
The September 25, 2006 edition of the Pundit includes our fourth 10-point list entitled Though Not ‘All-Clear’, Consumers Can Eat Spinach Again, which reviewed many issues facing the industry as spinach begins to reenter the market, including the FDA’s announcement, PMA consumer research, the behavior of industry association, battles over fresh-cuts and organics, the reintroduction of Salinas Valley production, the FDA’s capabilities, and more. You can read this piece here. Also on September 25, 2006, we reviewed The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that buyers have an important role in insuring food safety. Catch this piece here.
Additionally, on September 25, 2006, we ran the Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industryin which a panel of retail pundits gave us insight into the way the spinach issue played in store and with consumers. You can read it here.
The Pundit on September 26, 2006, included an articled entitled The California Department of Health Services Owes People An Explanation in which the question was raised whether certain parties received preferential treatment in the current spinach/E. coli outbreak. Read it right here. Also on September 26, 2006, we did a piece questioning the efficacy of our trace-back systems. The piece was titled More Recalls Trickle In, and you can read it here.
On September 27, 2006, the Pundit analyzed the bad publicity that the Salinas Valley has received and asked Is Salinas Getting A Bum Rap On Food Safety? The piece can be read right here.
September 28, 2006, the Pundit included a piece entitled Call For Stronger FDA that analyzed the demand of some in the food industry for beefing up the FDA and its budget within the context of the spinach/E. coli situation. You can read it here.
On September 29, 2006 we did a piece called Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics that explored the contradiction of modern life that has led things to seem less safe, even as they are actually safer. Read the piece here.
October 2, 2006 we ran The FDA Needs to Reexamine Its Methodology, inquiring why it was necessary to shut down a whole industry when, as far as we know, it was only Dole brand bagged spinach that was implicated? Read it here. Also on October 2, 2006, in a piece called Needless Recalls, we examined how even if many of the recalls were unnecessary, the recalls revealed big flaws in the trade’s traceback systems. You can find the piece here. Another piece October 2, 2006, entitled Deconstructing FDA, analyzed the FDA’s statement regarding the end of the spinach crisis. The piece is right here.
The Pundit also ran a piece entitled Action Plan to Regain Consumer Confidence that both discussed the industry plan and proposed an alternative plan. Read about it here. Also on October 2, 2006, we did a piece called Collateral Damage vs. Assumption of the Risk, which analyzed some of the liability issues surrounding the outbreak. You can find the piece here. Additionally, on October 2, 2006, we published the second in our series of Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry. This one including insight from Bob Edgell of Balls Foods and Ron McCormick of Wal-Mart, regarding reaction at retail as spinach outside California became available. Read it here.
On October 4, 2006, the Pundit ran a piece entitled In Defense of Salinas, in which, based on a discussion with a Salinas farmer, we outlined five points you need to understand about the relationship between the Salinas Valley and this outbreak. You can find it here. Also on October 4, 2006, we published Notes On Natural Selection: It Could Happen To You, which discussed the new food safety plan revealed by Natural Selection Foods and discussed the necessity of product testing. Read it here.
October 5, 2006, we analyzed the implications of the FBI raid in Salinas with Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… You can read the piece here. We also explained on October 5, 2006, the involvement of Growers Express in the FBI raid in a piece entitled Bailando Juntos (Dancing Together), which you can find right here. What’s more, we discussed on October 5, 2006, why Canada is still banning U.S. spinach and what that implies about relations between the FDA and CFIA. The piece is called U.S. Spinach Still Banned in Canada, and you can read it here.
On October 6, 2006, the Pundit pointed out the importance of considering the human costs of our actions in A Look At The Faces, which you can read here. Also on October 6, 2006, we analyzed how increased use of a federal network was bound to mean the recording of more frequent food safety outlets in a piece entitled PulseNet Ups Ante In Food Safety Battle, which can be read right here.
Although not strictly speaking spinach-related, when one company voluntarily recalled certain green leaf lettuce, it was a decision affected by the overall environment caused by the spinach/E. coli situation. In Nunes Recall Reveals Testing Dilemma, published on October 10, 2006, we analyzed how stricter standards may lead to more frequent recalls. Catch the piece here.
October 11, 2006 we pointed out that the Center for Disease Control was beginning to see fresh-cut in a whole new light. You can read CDC’s Aha! Moment right here. Also on October 11, 2006, we offered Heads Up — Political Posturing On Spinach Begins, pointing out that the a State Senator in California was going to start some hearings. Read the piece here.
On October 12, 2006, in PulseNet Asleep At The Wheel, we detailed that the nation’s food safety bulletin board likes to take off on weekends. Read this astounding piece here.
Dangerous E. coli Found On One Ranch ran on October 13, 2006, and points out that this finding doesn’t tell us much. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Fast Testing For Pathogens Necessary, which pointed out that product testing is bound to happen and discussed options and obstacles. You can read it here.
October 18, 2006 the Pundit ran a piece in which PulseNet Explains Why It Doesn’t Work Weekends.You can find the piece here.
On October 19, 2006, the piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouses and Vertical Farmingexplores the potential of greenhouse and hydroponic growing in the light of the spinach/E. coli crisis. The article also explores the potential for vertical farms in urban neighborhoods. Read it here.
On October 24, 2006, we published Town Hall Spinach Meeting: Unanswered Questions, in which we analyzed what we learned and what was still a mystery after attending a Town Hall Meeting on the spinach crisis at the PMA Convention in San Diego. You can find this piece here.
October 27, 2006, we ran a piece entitled PMA Commits $1 Million To Food Safety Fixes and you can read it here. Also on October 27, 2006, we thought part of the fallout from the crisis would be a reexamination of the industry’s government relations efforts and so wrote PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds. You can read it right here. Additionally on October 27, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouse Solutions dealing with whether Controlled Environment Agriculture might be the solution to the trade’s food safety issues. Read it right here.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE CRISIS
In addition, the Pundit has done several smaller pieces that touched on various aspects of this crisis. On September 18, 2006, we raised the issue of whether food safety outbreaks such as this raise long-term issues about the viability of cartoon character tie-ins in Who Has Marketing Fortitude? You can read about it here. Also on September 18, 2006, we wrote Fit To Be Tied, which dealt with the way some companies have little sense of decency when it comes to marketing their products in the midst of a crisis. You can read this one right here.
Additionally on September 18, 2006, our Pundit’s Mailbag focused on letters received by United President/CEO Tom Stenzel and incoming Chairman Emanuel Lazopoulos of Del Monte Fresh, which dealt with the confluence of United’s Board Meeting and the spinach crisis as well as issues of industry leadership. You can find this one here.
On September 19, 2006, we noted that there might be a Greenhouse Opportunity in all this. Read this here. Also on September 19, 2006, we noted that, though fruits and vegetables are healthy, fresh produce is not necessarily the best choice for those with a compromised immune system. The piece is called Marketing Nightmare and you can find it right here.
On September 21, 2006, we did a piece called Wal-Mart Deli/Bakery Has Crisis Of Its Own that draws a link between the difficulty of preventing a Salmonella outbreak at one store with the difficulty of preventing an E. coli outbreak on an industry-wide basis. You can read this piece here.
On September 25, 2006, the Pundit noted Another Oddity In Spinach Crisis and raised the question whether some or all of the product being marketed as conventional might not be organic. Read it right here. Also on September 25, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag which dealt both with the utility of loyalty card programs and with the nature of large, multi-line fresh-cut packing facilities. You can read this one right here. Also we did a short piece on what change was actually necessary if consumers were to be reassured of the safety of spinach. Read it here.
On September 26, 2006, we discussed the issue of recalls and how insurance plays into that. You can read this here. Also had an unrelated piece on Wegmans that included a video clip on how consumer media is dealing with the reintroduction of spinach. You can catch it here.
Additionally on September 26, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the causes of the outbreak. You can read this piece here.
September 27, 2006, we focused on a piece in the Washington Post that helps us in Putting Things In Perspective. How does the Spinach/E. coli outbreak relate to the total numbers that get sick and die each year from foodborne illness? You can read it right here.
On September 28, 2006, we published a terrific Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the frustration the buy side felt in dealing with the spinach/E. coli situation. Read it here.
October 2, 2006, we had some Questions For Western Growers that asked how far the WGA was willing to go to make sure foreign growers meet the same standards as Salinas area farmers. Read about it here. We also asked How Committed Is The Produce Industry To Broad/National Food Safety Program. You can read the piece here.
In addition, on October 2, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Another Despicable Marketing Attempt that pointed out how a seed company was taking advantage of the situation and, possibly, leading to harm, by pushing its products. Read about it here.
On October 4, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Primary And Secondary Suppliers, which details how this food safety crisis has to impact retail vendor selection. Catch it right here. Also on October 4, 2006, we discussed how to help innocent spinach farmers who were victimized by this crisis in Everyone Needs to Do A Little Bit. The Pundit pledged to do its own bit. Read it right here.
October 5, 2006, we ran a piece focused on another outbreak of foodborne illness — in this case, botulism in carrot juice. The focus, however, was on the necessity to change attitudes as the produce industry becomes less a packing industry and more a processing industry. It is called Botulism III, and you can read it here.
On October 6, 2006 we pointed out The Botulism And E. coli Connection where we explained that our focus on pathogens at the product source, though important, is insufficient. Read it here. Also on October 6, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: What Are The feds Up To? This answered a reader’s letter inquiring as to whether the FBI being in Salinas implied industry members weren’t cooperating. You can find this item here.
Food Safety, Good Delivery And Temperature Monitoring was published on October 10, 2006, and pointed out that old temperature recording devices have to be superseded by new temperature monitoring technology on all trucking of vulnerable products. Catch the piece here.
On October 11, 2006, we ran a piece that grew out of the decision of Publix to stop giving some perishables away because of food safety concerns it is called Culture of Risk-Aversion Hurts the Poor and you can read it here.
Nunes Tests Negative on October 13, 2006, raises the question of the appropriateness of recalls for generic E. coli in irrigation water. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration, which pointed out that consumers are not given the tools needed to be vigilant at home. Find it here.
In addition on October 13, 2006, we published PulseNet Redux pointing out, once again, that this outbreak could have been caught earlier had the government not taken off for the weekend. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006 we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Population Inured by Recalls? This piece raised the possibility that frequent recalls, with no subsequent illness, would rebound to the benefit of the trade. Please read it here.
On October 17, 2006, we ran Will Hydroponics Be A Solution To Spinach Woes? and analyzed the potential of hydroponics to head off future outbreaks. Read it here.
October 18, 2006, we had a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, in which the Pundit was challenged for urging excessive governmental interference. You can find it right here.
October 20, 2006, we had two pieces related to the Nunes recall on Green Leaf lettuce. First, in a piece entitled Closure For Nunes, we detailed that the product had been declared clean by the FDA. You can read it here. Second, we had a piece entitled Partial Closure In Mexico, which explained that Mexico had decided to allow the import of U.S. lettuce but not spinach. You can find the piece right here.
Several additional pieces appear in the Perishable Pundit today, and they will be incorporated into future iterations of this Spinach Crisis Summary.
In addition to our own work, there are many excellent sources of information out there that do not require payment, membership or registration. Three of the Pundit’s favorites:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has offered daily information on the crisis right here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deal with the outbreak here.
The Produce Marketing Association has maintained an excellent industry resource on the subject right here.
Please feel free to write or call if you are looking for specific information not included here. Note that many of the articles and websites have links to other resources.