The Centers for Disease Control are continuing to investigate the Salmonella outbreak. Although the authorities are comfortable saying it is produce-related, they are uncertain of the exact cause — although they report many patients reporting eating “red brown tomatoes.” We asked Pundit investigator Mira Slott to speak with Dr. Wences Arvelo, EIS Medical Officer in the CDC Foodborne Illness Division and try to learn more. A few key points:
- Bulk product is much harder to tie to an outbreak. If you eat bagged spinach you might have the bag in the refrigerator; if you eat a tomato, you probably threw out the rest of the tomato. And even if you had the tomato, there is no traceback on the product level.
- We need to find a better way than the kind of surveys that seem to get done with sick people. In the spinach case, there were many “false positives” with brands and types of spinach implicated by consumers that had nothing to do with the outbreak. This time it may be consumers not remembering that they had diced tomato on a taco somewhere. Better survey methodology might be an area of research investment.
- This final quote from Dr. Arvelo provides important perspective: Food in the U.S. has never been safer than it is right now. People are more aware, and we have great technological systems in place. Outbreaks were going on before; they were just not detected. Consumers view news of all these outbreaks now and get concerned, but the truth is they were always occurring. We’re just finding them, and finding them earlier.
Here is the full interview:
Q: It has been reported that the CDC detected the Salmonella outbreak two weeks ago through Pulsenet. Why is CDC just alerting the public about it now?
A: The first time we were aware of cases related to this scenario was on September 28. Two cases in Vermont were identified, and those results were shared with Pulsenet. By October 27, CDC identified all the other cases at the multi-state level that were being followed.
Q: What steps occurred during that time frame spanning more than a month?
A: As the cases get reported to Pulsenet, people at Pulsenet look for patterns and matches and put the cases with the same fingerprint DNA into clusters. Three in Connecticut come in with the same DNA fingerprint, and it raised suspicions they are coming from same source.
Q: Does Pulsenet normally communicate this information to the Connecticutt health authorities?
A: Pulsnet contacts the states and raises their level of suspicion of outbreak. Where the state may not investigate two cases, now it’s 5, 10 or 171 people involved.
Q: At what point do you determine it’s an outbreak? Do you have a threshold of the number of people sick, or number of states involved?
A: There is no qualifying number. Once we notice a clustering of cases, a DNA fingerprint that keeps coming up, we act on it.
Q: That still doesn’t get to the heart of the problem; the more-than-four-week timeframe from initial discovery of cases to CDC reporting the news of the outbreak.
A: Usually it takes approximately two weeks from when a person becomes ill to when Pulsenet receives a report. Each case is different, but often it takes a while for the patient to go to the doctor, to have the problem diagnosed, the patient goes home, brings back a stool sample, which is then queued in the lab. Then the lab needs to culture and grow the Salmonella, which takes 24 hours, and then conduct DNA testing. We get the tip of the iceberg in cases, because some people that got sick didn’t get tested. There are many places where timing gets prolonged. If you look at the timeframe, that’s two cycles.
On October 27, we reached a peak in the large number of cases in 19 states. In the meantime, cases come up in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other states. As soon as we know, we contact the states to start investigating to see if there’s a common source.
Q: And what investigative actions have taken place to that end?
A: Right now the source of the outbreak has not been identified. The preliminary investigations in several states have shown in many cases that people had been exposed to produce — lettuce and tomatoes. Once we get information in common like that, we want to look more closely into that product. In terms of public health, we want to implicate a particular source.
Q: Do you have any more specific information about the types of lettuce or tomatoes that could get us closer to the source?
A: All different kinds of lettuce, commodity and processed. Apparently, there is a commonality with many patients reporting they ate red brown tomatoes.
Q: Sounds like that opens up many possibilities.
A: The difference with the spinach scenario was that FDA could match the same fingerprint DNA from the product. If the consumers eat a tomato, they throw the leftovers away. Two weeks elapse from when the patient gets ill to the lab submitting DNA to Pulsenet and the likelihood of getting to that source becomes even more problematic.
Q: So is the risk of contamination at this point over?
A: At this point, very few cases are coming out and that would mean the source is not there anymore and risk is much less. Over the last few days, the incidents are a lot lower than before. Salmonella is very common. We always see it at a base level. E.coli pathogens lead to complications you don’t see in Salmonella.
Q: How frequently do you receive cases of Salmonella?
A: There are 6,000 to 8,000 cases reported each year of this particular Salmonella strain. Matching that exact same DNA and making the link happens at the patient level. The local health department has to interview the patient, and asks a series of questions. It’s hard because the patients might not report or even remember they ate lettuce in a burrito at a fast food chain one day. For the information to mean something, we need large numbers of people that remember the information correctly. We collaborate work with the states, local health agencies, CDC, FDA and sometimes USDA.
Q: There has been criticism that if Pulsenet were open on weekends, the process of discovery could be expedited, and in the end alleviate the number of people getting sick. What is your view?
A: This is a numbers game. Two cases on one day won’t make a difference. We need the cumulative effect of cases reported over a period of time. Being closed on the weekends won’t tip the scale one way or the other. That said, we are always striving to get to the source of the outbreak faster.
Q: How are efforts progressing?
A: Food in the U.S. has never been safer than it is right now. People are more aware, and we have great technological systems in place. Outbreaks were going on before; they were just not detected. Consumers view news of all these outbreaks now and get concerned, but the truth is they were always occurring. We’re just finding them, and finding them earlier.
Much attention has been focused on the Buyers’ Initiative for Food Safety, which was conceived by Tim York of Markon Cooperative and David Corsi of Wegman’s Food Markets — and which we dealt with here. The initiative gained added support when Gene Harris of the Denny’s Corporation expressed support right here. Gene’s addition to the list of signatories means we have the full panoply of retailers, distributors and operators with big names from the buying side supporting this proposal:
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
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Although we felt the signatories deserved great praise for proactively trying to advance food safety in the trade, the Pundit was skeptical about how the proposal would be received and concerned about its practicality.
To date, no trade association has made any statement concerning the proposal, including whether they intend to meet the deadline the buyers gave, and the buyers have said nothing beyond their initial letter about what will happen if that deadline isn’t met.
We’ve written pretty extensively, including a recent column in PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, urging buyers to take responsibility for food safety. One difficulty with this particular proposal is that the decision was made to work through our industry trade associations.
This is normally a wise idea but, on food safety, it probably is a bad idea because, truth be told, the growers shouldn’t be involved in setting the standards.
That is a shocking statement, maybe even a little cruel, as the growers are the ones who have to live with the standards, but, inevitably, in the discussions that ensue, the proposals will get watered down as growers fight for their own interests.
It is not just growers; it is true with everything as it is the nature of committees with diverse members that have diverse interests. As an example, Bryan Silbermann of the Produce Marketing Association and the Pundit had a recent discussion on the product produced by a special PMA task force on transportation, specifically trucking. The Pundit found the proposal strong on examples of “best practices” but weak on mandatory requirements or policy changes. Why? Because the solutions to the problems of trucking in the produce industry were solved by a committee of diverse people.
So, you start out with a committee charged with finding a solution to a problem, such as a shortage of trucks willing to haul produce. The very knowledgeable people on the committee identify a cause of the problem, say that truckers are not unloaded quickly and are detained unreasonably. A bright person on the committee then announces a solution: All trucks must be unloaded within two hours of an appointment time or the truck must be paid money for each hour delay beyond that.
That sounds like a triumph: committee given problem, committee identifies the cause of the problem, committee figures out a solution to the problem.
Except, typically, someone says no. The hand goes up, and if they are honest they say it: “No, we don’t have enough warehouse space and we use the trucks as additional warehouse space so that would cost us way too much money.”
And in the end you wind up with a watered-down compromise.
Now this is no big deal on trucking; nobody dies on that issue.
But the exact same process gets involved if growers are sitting in on the negotiations over food safety. And what should be a science-based process gets corrupted by the parochial interests of individual growers. So someone makes a proposal that nobody should grow spinach within 500 feet of a cow, and the guy whose ranch is 400 feet from the cow sets his site on negotiating a change in that requirement not for food safety reasons but because it suits his economic interest.
This is not hypothetical. It is the true story of why the regulators so lacked confidence in the spinach industry that, in the face of the E. coli outbreak, they felt the need to shut down the industry.
The shocking thing about all the food safety action plans being proposed now is that it was only April 25, 2006 — just six months ago — that the Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Lettuce and Leafy Greens Supply Chain was published. Yet now we are suddenly told that there are lots of things we should be doing that aren’t included in those guidelines. How is this so?
Well, during the two-year process it took to negotiate this document, it got watered down. In fact, it took TWO YEARS and then only got done because the FDA published a Letter to California Firms that Grow, Pack, Process, or Ship Fresh and Fresh-cut Lettuce, and that letter was pretty overt in warning the industry to stop the delaying tactics:
“…claims that ‘we cannot take action until we know the cause’ are unacceptable. We believe that there are actions that can and should be undertaken immediately to address this issue.”
Obviously, grower/shippers have many technical experts on staff, and we may want to access some of that staff. But there are non-affiliated technical experts as well at universities and consulting firms.
Fundamentally, though, food safety standards should be determined based on science and not under the influence of any particular grower’s economic interests.
Now that the Western Growers Association has announced its desire to see a mandatory food safety regimen imposed, the industry needs two things: An actual plan of what might be included in the mandatory food safety regimen imposed by law, regulation or a marketing order and interim food safety standards that can be used until the legislative and regulatory process runs its course.
Here is where the Buyer’s Group could find its glory in service to the industry. In the initial letter, Point 10 was written as follows:
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.
Here’s the Pundit’s suggestion to the buyers: Don’t wait for the deadline to pass. Withdraw the letter to the associations, which can only lead to endless negotiations with grower/shippers and watered-down food safety standards. Instead, create a temporary ad hoc consortium to spearhead the quick development of science-based food safety standards.
In the short term, these will be enforced by buyer demand, hopefully including other buyers who will buy into the plan; in the medium run the plan will be turned over to state authorities in California and federal authorities in Washington, D.C., as the basis for new mandatory regulation.
Because this new initiative will have been developed by buyers without economic interests in farming, it will be perceived as more objective and acceptable to regulators than any plan drawn up by, say, WGA. And because buyers have the ability to act faster than the U.S. government, we can start the process in six weeks, not two years.
Although some grower/shippers may object, anything that quickly rebuilds consumer and regulatory confidence in the system is really in the interest of the whole supply chain, growers included.
The issue of United and PMA merging has caught the imagination of the industry. We originated the discussion with an article PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds that grew out of discussions with industry leaders at the recent Produce Marketing Association convention in San Diego.
We then published letters from Harris Cutler of Race-West Company and Phillip G. Ball Company and Richard Kaiser of The Richard Kaiser Company plus one from Bob Davis of the Maine Farmers Exchange, which we analyzed here. John McClung of the Texas Produce Association wrote an extensive letter relating United’s government relations efforts to the question of merger, and we discussed that right here.
Today we have some additional perspectives. If John McClung wants to run for President he has at least one vote:
I have to agree 100% with John. Stenzel has led the parade for the industry in Washington!
— Chuck Zambito
Zambito Produce Sales
With which, actually, the Pundit agrees as well. There is no question that of the national produce trade associations, United is the one with the more extensive focus on government relations efforts.
Which still leaves open the question of what organizational structure would best serve the industry in developing the most effective government relations program in the future.
Although not a scientific sample, we received some strong communication from grower/shippers pointing out the value they saw in United. This letter was typical:
For years we were members of both United and PMA. PMA always seemed to support the retail side of the produce industry. United always was a big supporter of the growing end of the produce industry. When we were still growers, there were certain concerns that we took to the PMA for help but fell on deaf ears. United listened and got things done for the growers’ interest.
I would support the idea of merging if the growers’ interest were not compromised. United is still working hard in Washington to help the growers survive. It is very important that we keep the American Growers healthy, for if we do not, we will end up like the auto industry and other goods that are produced elsewhere.
— Jerry Van Solkema
Van Solkema Produce, Inc.
Van Solkema is headquartered in Byron City, Michigan. We use the word “typical” because it both expressed the commonly expressed concern for protecting growers’ interests and because it came from a state without a voluntary association that does major work on government relations.
In other words, large grower/shippers in California didn’t write these kinds of letters, probably because they look to other organizations such as the Western Growers Association or the California Grape and Tree Fruit League for help with government.
This dynamic strikes us as problematic for the future of United. Its great reservoirs of support seem to be in places too small to support well-financed regional groups like WGA, for example.
The problem is that United gets a substantial portion of its revenues from the very grower/shippers who view WGA or Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association or another regional group as their primary government-relations vehicle.
What do the big boys who already belong to these regional groups think? Well on Tuesday night, October 31, 2006, the Pundit went home to do some Trick-or-Treating with the Junior Pundits. When they were done collecting their loot, I headed back to the office to be greeted by tons of e-mails, mostly from large California firms forwarding me the “Issue Alerts” they had received from both PMA and United regarding a Salmonella outbreak.
The alerts were virtually identical and, to these big companies, all dues-paying members of both associations, it seemed like their money was simply being wasted in redundant staffing and communication expense.
Lorri Koster, who as the newly installed Co-Chairman of Mann Packing Company, is looking to grow sales and profits through new products, product line extensions and driving unnecessary costs out of the system, sent both e-mails to us with this brief and to-the-point note:
Again, complete duplication of efforts. Received same communication from PMA and United on this.
In the minds of many, it is this waste that drives the urge to consolidate.
However, Jerry’s point must be addressed. Most of the time, there is little conflict between the grower and the buyer when it comes to government relations, but sometimes there is a head on fight and, other times, it is a question of priorities.
If we did have a consolidation of associations, how can we organize a mechanism to make sure that a grower in Ohio, Michigan or Massachusetts has a way of protecting his interests in D.C.?
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.
On October 30, 2006, we responded to a very important proposal from several leading members of the buying community with Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question of Buyer Commitment.You can read the piece here. After the government announced that it was looking at wild pigs as the culprit in the E. coli contamination, we ran, on October 30, 2006, a piece entitled Now We Know Why Spinach Salad Is Served With Bacon Dressing. Read it right here.
On October 31, 2006, we published Western Growers Association Calls For Mandatory Food Safety Standards, in which we discussed the epochal change taking place as the industry looked to move to mandatory, as opposed to voluntary, food safety standards. You can 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.
On November 1, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Canada Opens Door To More, But Not All, US Spinach.You can read it right here. Also on November 1, 2006, we had an interesting Pundit’s Mailbag — The Acceptance Of Risk, which included a fascinating comparison on how the FAA views safety in airlines as opposed to the FDA looking at food. Read it 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.