With the FDA and CDC putting out a notice that tomatoes in restaurants have been linked to the recent Salmonella outbreak, we have a clear reminder that foodservice buyers have the potential to play a big role in setting food safety standards.
Here at the Pundit, we’ve been paying a great deal of attention to the Buyer-led Food Safety Action Plan. This effort grew out of discussions between Tim York of Markon Cooperative and David Corsi of Wegman’s Food Markets and, currently, has nine signatories from both retail and foodservice:
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
Most recently we dealt with the plan here and we stated the view of the Pundit:
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.
Specifically we urged the Buyer’s Group to look at the situation this way:
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 produce associations and the buyer’s group are remaining quiet, but others are obviously in agreement with the Pundit that having growers sitting at the table negotiating food safety rules doesn’t make sense: The National Restaurant Association has formed something called the Produce Safety Working Group, whose purpose is to develop new food safety standards for both growers and distributors who supply fresh produce to restaurants.
NRA is being secretive and doesn’t want to identify the names of the 20 foodservice operators contributing staff to this effort, perhaps because they are afraid these operators might be unduly influenced by their produce suppliers or, perhaps, simply because these consumer brand name restaurants don’t like their brands and words such as Salmonella, e. coli, listeria, etc., to ever appear in print together for any reason.
In any case, the “working group” is pushing for a quick turn around and is looking to have a new food safety plan approved by year end or early 2007.
Pundit investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, interviewed Dr. Donna Garren, VP Health and Safety Regulatory Affairs for the National Restaurant Association (NRA), Washington, D.C. Dr. Garren is familiar to many in the produce trade as she used to work at the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association:
Q: What is the purpose of NRA’s newly formed Produce Safety Working Group?
A: Obviously with what happened with the spinach E. coli crisis, and now the tomato Salmonella outbreak, NRA members felt an urgency to act. The food safety task force is made up of quality assurance/food safety experts who want to reinforce food safety requirements from field to table. Right now, the immediate focus is on leafy greens and tomatoes.
Q: Who is on the task force?
A: Twenty different companies are in the working study group representing the much larger membership at casual dining chains, QSR’s and restaurant companies that cover the scope of our membership. Out of respect to the people involved, I do not want to name specific companies.
Q: What are the key directives of the group?
A: We just defined our scope in a meeting last week. We are still gathering information from different restaurant operators across the industry to gain a comprehensive picture. From the standpoint of the members in the working group, they want an overall picture of the supply chain, all the players involved, the practices at different stages of the supply chain. It’s a learning process. I sent out a letter to restaurant QA teams asking for them to share their food safety specifications and what they are currently requiring their suppliers to do, so that we can start coming up with common requirements.
Q: What steps will occur moving forward?
A: We are in the beginning phases and haven’t yet delved into the specifics. We will be looking into water and soil amendments, micro testing and assuring that growers, packers, shippers and processors have solid food safety elements in place.
Q: Is the ultimate goal to create standardized food safety requirements that would be followed uniformly across the industry?
A: Hopefully the result will be standardizing food safety requirements, speaking with one voice and asking suppliers for the same things.
Q: How does the recent buyer food safety initiative directed to the three produce industry trade associations and signed by key industry buyers at both retail and foodservice impact your task force initiatives? Will NRA’s new food safety efforts overlap with these efforts?
A: We are aware of the buyer initiative. One of the people who sent the letter reached out to us to make sure we haven’t duplicated efforts. It is not our intent to duplicate efforts and resources. We want to make sure vulnerability and risks associated with certain items are mitigated. We need to make sure food service operators are asking the right questions of suppliers and doing due diligence with their brands.
Q: What is the proposed time frame to get these initiatives in place?
A: Right now the task force is conducting conference calls every two weeks, and there probably will be off site meetings at growing areas in Salinas and Florida, but plans haven’t been finalized on that yet. Everyone is working very quickly. We want fast turnaround, aiming to have new safety standards written either the end of 2006 or first quarter 2007. It is critical to be prepared for the next Salinas season.
Q: What is your view of the Western Growers proposal for mandatory government regulations through state and federal marketing orders?
A: We wouldn’t be opposed to government regulations for the industry. We are already regulated at state and local levels with adoption of the food code.
Tim York is a foodservice guy. We hope that the call Dr. Garren mentioned came from him. These plans seem duplicative, so why not join forces with NRA and come up with one buyer-driven plan? If the retailers are concerned, we could get FMI involved too. But because produce is a small expense in foodservice, we might wind up with tougher standards if we let the foodservice folks take the lead.
Both United and PMA may be able to help facilitate all this as well. United recently had NRA’s CEO, Steve Anderson, speak at the Washington Public Policy Conference, so there is an appearance of a cooperative relationship. PMA also has been carefully cultivating a relationship with NRA, particularly on food safety matters. PMA, for example, was a “Campaign Sponsor” for National Food Safety Education Month, a program run by the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation.
The strategy would be to use the force of the buyers to insure higher food safety standards until such time as the standards can be codified via a marketing order, first in California and then nationally as Western Growers Association has proposed.
What we should have learned from the FDA loss of confidence in the industry is that food safety is not something that we negotiate over. It has to be driven by the best scientific knowledge we have. This initiative seems a way to move in that direction.
One of the issues we’ve been dealing with is that food safety does not stop at the production of the product, and so retailers and foodservice operators need to take action to reduce their own contribution to foodborne illness.
We pointed out that in the midst of the spinach outbreak, Wal-Mart had a problem with a Salmonella outbreak believed to be caused by its own employees. We also pointed out the problem with retail case temperatures. Additionally, we explained the challenge of maintaining the cold chain throughout many steps.
We also pointed out that the produce industry’s Buyer-led Food Safety Action Plan would have been better received if the buyers had indicated a willingness to change their own operations to increase food safety.
Apparently the FDA also has some concerns in this regard as they have announced a new satellite broadcast:
Mark your calendars and make arrangements to download the satellite broadcast, “REDUCING RISK FACTORS IN RETAIL AND FOOD SERVICE” on Thursday, November 30, 2006 from 1:00 to 3:30 pm (Eastern Time).
This program will provide ideas, examples and tools for regulators and the food industry to reduce the occurrence of risk factors that cause foodborne illness at retail. Effective strategies to overcome common business and behavioral problems are featured in the success stories in this broadcast. Their educational tools and materials are available to download from our website along with contact information for follow up.
It is a little awkward to arrange to see this. You either have to have access to a satellite dish receiver or go to various facilities around the country where you can view it.
We haven’t seen the program yet, so can’t specifically recommend it — still if the FDA is running a program such as this, it would certainly make sense for larger retailers and foodservice operators with access to a satellite link to have someone listen in.
You can find details at this website.
One of the great things we love about the Internet is that the entire readership is in a massive quick-error-correction mode. We published a piece called Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t, which pointed out that the Centers For Disease Control estimate that tens of millions of Americans get sick with foodborne illness every year but only a tiny fraction of these presumed sufferers are ever identified. As identification technology improves, we are likely to experience more reports of foodborne illness even if the food supply gets safer.
It didn’t effect the main point of the article, but we happened to link to and quote a paper by Robert A. LaBudde, an Adjunct Professor of Food Science at North Carolina State University and President of Least Cost Formulations, Ltd., a food industry consultancy that included this quote:
“A bout of diarrhea once in 20,000 meals seems an acceptable risk, given that one in 28,500 Americans die from lightning strikes each year.”
Fortunately, ever vigilant Pundit reader Louis D. Albright, Professor of Biological and Environmental Engineering and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University, was on the case:
Jim — About the lightning deaths per year figure in today’s issue, http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_lls/fatalities_us.html suggests a far smaller number. 28K+ sounds more like the number of highway deaths???
We turned this information over to Robert LaBudde for comment and this is what he came back with:
I am no expert on lightning strikes, so I’m not the source of this number.
I was quoting a number from the same website you list above: http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_info/media.html. The website says, “Your risk of being killed by lightning is 1:28,500 per exposed individual. (NPH Newsletter January, 1992)”.
The difference in numbers can be assigned to exposure period. The period you quote is 756 deaths in 14 years for 280 M people, or 1:370,000 persons per 14 years, or 1:62,000 per lifetime (assuming an 84 yr lifetime). This number is not far away statistically from the 28,500 number, particularly if such deaths were more common in the past.
It’s clear that the website is not completely consistent on estimates, and my statement should, in any event, have read “one in 28,500 Americans die from lightning strikes”, with the “each year” dropped. I believe this correction is what should be made.
I have made the correction indicated above and uploaded a new file. Its link is: http://www.lcfltd.com/downloads/tr161 food-related illness in the US.pdf
Thanks for bringing this error to my attention.
Which sent the Pundit scurrying back to Professor Albright:
The 1 in 62,000 is a sensible number. The National Geographic several months ago had a graphic that contained the odds of dying due to lightning in the U.S. as 1 in 79,746, based on 2003 National Safety Council data. It is an interesting graphic, actually — with odds as follows for a few possibilities:
fireworks discharge: 1/340,733
legal execution: 1/62,468
bee sting: 1/56,789
hot weather: 1/13,729
alcohol poisoning: 1/10,048
firearm assault: 1/314!
I should stop there!
So we wind up learning a lot from our mistakes. We will correct the archives but the point remains precisely the same: Over roughly the same period, while 756 people died from lightning strikes, five died from spinach and lettuce. Public health resources may be better off invested in other areas than produce safety.
As we mentioned the other day, United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel was kind enough to send the Pundit a letter. With a food safety crisis every week, we know he is busy and appreciate the effort.
For clarity’s sake, we divided the letter in two parts. The first dealt specifically with the issue of a United/PMA merger and we wrote about that here. Today, we wanted to review the main body of Tom’s letter, which deals with some comments the Pundit wrote regarding the relationship between our associations’ government affairs efforts and the regulatory agencies:
Here at the Pundit, we take pride in allowing our space to be shared by the whole industry, so we are pleased to run Tom’s complete comments, complete and unabridged.
And if the Pundit wrote so unclearly that everyone understood us the same way Tom did, we can only fall on our sword and apologize.
Tom doesn’t actually quote any offending passage but, as best as we can tell, he got a bit peeved as a result of this section of our article PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds:
Tom is a very smart and talented guy, and we’ve read and reread his letter because we really wanted to think hard about what Tom was trying to say. Perhaps the confusion is over the use of the word “friend.” It was not our intention to imply that the crucial problem was that Tom or anyone else doesn’t “pal around” with FDA regulators. Although good personal relationships with regulators, their funders in Congress and those who appoint agency heads in the White House can only help, we were utilizing the term “friend” in a professional sense — one who we turn to for valuable information, etc.
From a substantive industry perspective, we would think Tom’s letter raises the following issues regarding government relations:
Is it worth the effort?
We are sure he didn’t intend it this way but Tom’s letter comes very close to saying that any government relations program, at least as far as outreach to regulatory agencies go, is a waste of time and money. After all if, as Tom explains, “…regulators do not take action based on who their friends are, but on their best judgment to protect the public health,”and if we cannot influence that “best judgment,” then why spend money pursuing the matter? Tom basically is saying these are technocrats beyond our reach, which means don’t bother wasting the money running expensive government relations programs.
But actually, don’t friends or, at least, politics count?
Many would disagree with Tom on two points: first, many think there is a lot more politics involved than Tom is prepared to acknowledge. Just look at the actions of the FDA in terms of the clearly political move to block consumer access to the “morning after” pill. An assistant FDA Commissioner quit her post because Commissioner Lester Crawford overruled a science-based, fully evaluated decision to make the “morning after” pill more accessible. Perhaps Tom would contend that it wouldn’t make any difference if the President is a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican, as the FDA is composed solely of technocrats who make strictly science-based decisions — but there are many smart, well-informed people who don’t believe that.
Doesn’t being “a credible information source” matter?
Beyond the question of politics, there is still the issue of influencing what Tom calls the “best judgment” of regulators. At a moment with imperfect information, much depends on the relationship and credibility of those in a position to provide industry information, or what John McClung of The Texas Produce Association in his letter chastising the Pundit on the same point called “…facts and details and insights…”
This was a very bad situation and FDA was going to take action, but it was not preordained that the action required was a total industry ban. There was zero data tying curly leaf bulk spinach from, say, Colorado, to the outbreak. For some reason, we were not able to effectively communicate the facts to the FDA that whatever the issues with Dole or with Natural Selection Foods, or with bagged spinach from Salinas or somewhere else, or even with foodservice usage that might appear as bulk but actually came from bags, there is no scientific evidence to support the notion that a “national outbreak” can even exist on bulk spinach. How could E. coli on bagged spinach from Salinas even be related to the condition of bulk spinach from Maryland?
Tom himself explains the situation: “…the FDA and CDC knew there was a major outbreak linked to some type of bagged fresh spinach, but they couldn’t pinpoint it further or find evidence that the serious risk was over.”So, why, if as Tom states, they knew this outbreak was “linked to bagged fresh spinach” did they ban bulk spinach? And, more to the point of this discussion, why couldn’t we persuade them not ban bulk spinach?
That we could not persuade the FDA to not advise against consumption of all fresh spinach was a sign that we, as an industry, did not have either sufficient access or sufficient credibility with these regulators.
Was FDA being vindictive, trying to teach the produce industry a lesson?
Since there was no cause to ban bulk curly spinach from Ohio, if nothing could be done, which Tom implies, then we have to assume that the industry didn’t have sufficient credibility with the FDA. Why not? The best indication is that the FDA was unhappy with the time it took and the watered-down nature of the end product of the Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for Lettuce and Leafy Greens Supply Chain.
Since the FDA did not have mandatory regulatory authority, perhaps it grabbed this opportunity to show its dissatisfaction in a way the produce industry would not forget.
Government relations is a two-way street.
Tom’s letter is focused on what was possible in terms of influencing government. However, an effective government relations program works both ways. It both communicates to government facts about the industry and communicates to the industry facts about government.
The Pundit pays pretty careful attention to these things and doesn’t recall anywhere near the kind of communication to the trade that would be justified by this, obviously, high level of dissatisfaction by government officials.
Was there even one warning sent to the trade to inform the trade that FDA had the authority to advise against consumption of a whole commodity? Now Tom explains we have a “serious situation.” One can argue whether anything could have been done to change the FDA’s actions once this crisis reached a critical point but, surely, government relations organizations should be utilizing sophisticated game theory models to predict the behavioral outcomes of different scenarios.
Then the association is supposed to warn the industry so we can act to change the outcome of the scenario.
Is the industry investing enough to build long term relationships?
Tom’s letter strikes the Pundit as very short-term oriented. The truth is that effective government relations depend on decades of investment — when there is no problem. The industry may not be willing to pay this price. Building confidence is not something an industry does in a week or a year or a decade — it is a long-term, permanent commitment.
Is there a legislative role?
Even if we accept that the FDA can never be influenced, certainly its power, authority and responsibility can be channeled by legislation. Many vendors complain that they lost their shirts because their insurance didn’t kick in since their insurance only covers recalls, not government recommendations to people not to eat things. Perhaps we should have a legislative change giving FDA authority to make mandatory recalls but not to issue these standardless advisories?
How proactive are we?
We know that CDC does a survey of sick people to ascertain whether they got sick from spinach, hamburger, etc. Has the industry done any good research on these studies so that we can walk into FDA and tell them what the percentage of false positives is? We know now that about 12% of the survey responders said they ate a brand of organic spinach. We also know that none of the product that caused a problem was marketed as organic. That is an enormous false positive rate.
We need to understand these surveys cold. One reason we can’t influence people is because we don’t have credible data. If you can go in and say “Look, before you act, we paid a fortune to Cornell University to study this issue and Cornell determined that you need to disregard as statistically meaningless anything less than 20% on a survey of only 100 people.” Then the FDA wouldn’t be so confused.
These eight issues seem to us worthwhile talking about. The Pundit doesn’t blame Tom Stenzel or United or all the associations together. But it is not a question of blame. I come from the “for profit” sector, and failures are failures. If you represent the government relations effort for any industry and your industry is shut down by the government, it is ipso facto a failure of that effort.
The most likely “cause” of the failure: A hesitation of the industry to do what the government wanted when it demanded a response to its earlier concern about Salinas-grown lettuce and leafy greens, which led to a decline in government confidence.
But that doesn’t mean that government relations efforts — and we refer here not to United, nor PMA, nor WGA, but to an “entity” that represents the sum total of industry government relations efforts — are off the hook. They did fail because they failed to prevent this industry closure either by persuading government to limit its actions or by persuading the industry to clean up its act.
All this is industry stuff, and Tom is not obligated to agree with the Pundit. We respect his opinions and take them for what they are.
Here at the Pundit, we have full confidence our readers will judge ridiculous accusations as such and so would like to leave it there with the industry stuff and simply ignore Tom’s allegations that the Pundit was involved in “…downplaying of the significance of the food safety issues our industry is facing”and his charge that there is a possibility the Pundit was “… just trying to be controversial.”
We’ll leave it up to our readers to decide if our work does “… a disservice to those companies who work so hard in the real world to produce the safest possible foods” and whether our work is done by “serious” people or is a supposedly frivolous production of “Balderdash and poppycock.”
Unfortunately, things on the internet are e-mailed around the world to people who don’t know us. So, for the record:
We are fourth-generation produce in the United States and far longer in Europe. We were brought up to care about this industry at the kitchen table and have, for our entire adult life, been engaged with trying to make it better. This work on behalf of the industry merited Jim Prevor with being named the first person ever chosen “member of the year” by the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.
During the spinach crisis, the Pundit wrote over 75 articles comprising over 100,000 words and gave up family activities and remunerative activities because we thought our responsibility to this industry, during a time of such crisis, necessitated that sacrifice. We felt it was our responsibility to stay up all night, night after night, to do our job and help put what was happening into perspective.
Obviously, many agreed that the contribution we made was a valuable one as the Perishable Pundit web site was visited frequently by the most influential and important leaders in this business, including members of the board of United, PMA and the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Advisory Board. Not to mention important staff at USDA, FDA, CDHS and other important players.
The Pundit also spent several hours a day, at no pay, dealing with consumer media and attempting to guide them to responsible coverage.
Here is a link to the work we’ve done on the spinach crisis. It is fair to say that we wrote more articles, more quickly and to greater acclaim than anyone else in the world.
Leaders of the industry were constantly thanking the Pundit for his contributions and forwarding articles to people at the highest levels of government and industry.
Reasonable people can differ, but progress for the industry requires civil discourse and respect for those whose opinions may differ from your own. We’ve done nothing but work very hard to help this industry and do not deserve such attacks on our good faith efforts to help this industry not merely endure this crisis but prevail in a newly complex operating environment.
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.
November 2, 2006, we published Opportunity For Buyer’s Food Safety Initiative, which raised the idea that not involving growers in setting food safety standards was a good idea. Read it 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.
November 3, 2006, we published Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t, which dealt with the way enhanced detection technology is likely to increase reports of foodborne illness — even as the food supply gets safer. Read it here. Also on November 3, 2006 we ran a brief note entitled Broader Concern For Food Safety, which linked to an FDA-produced slide show on the spinach outbreak as part of a broader food safety perspective. You can catch it right here.
Additionally on November 3, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — CPMA’s President Sets The Record Straight, in which CPMA’s President Dan Dempster addressed the importance of communication between the public health authorities in the U.S. and in Canada. 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.