As the past weekend approached, both United and PMA sent out to each of their respective members another of their issue updates, this one dealing with the salmonella outbreak. Both were virtually identical, and I received copies of both from various industry members complaining again of waste and duplication.
As we reported here, many industry members see these virtually identical issue alerts as evidence of duplication of efforts and waste of industry funds. Association executives must scratch their heads when they read that. After all, the associations now work together closely to make sure they are communicating the same message and everyone is on the same page.
They doubtless feel frustrated with a kind of “damned if you, damned if you don’t” feeling. If they don’t coordinate, and each does its own thing, they will get chastised for not having a unified message. If they do send out single messages, they get attacked for being duplicative.
The problem, of course, is that we can’t really ask association executives to resolve this problem that the industry creates by sustaining two associations with vague differentiation between them.
Reading the sentiments of those who are e-mailing me, the core objection is not that they want each association to have its own message; it is that they don’t want to pay to have the same thing sent to them twice. In fact, even the notion of the associations “coordinating,” though better than the alternative of giving conflicting stories, is distasteful as it implies paying two people or two teams to spend their time coordinating.
One wonders if anyone has ever tracked the cost in staff time of all the meetings, phone conversations, e-mails, letters and faxes that must be involved in all this coordinating.
We’ve been dealing with the issue of possible merger of PMA and United here, here, here, here and here.
It strikes me that this little issue on the e-mails is pointing to a real understanding of what the industry is groping toward.
Compromise Versus Separate Spheres
The Pundit once read a study in which couples that had been married for many years and some that didn’t make it were questioned to ascertain the secrets to a successful marriage.
Going into the study, the researchers expected that the key to success would be an ability to compromise, negotiate out disagreements, work issues through. They were shocked to find that those couples that had succeeded at marriage did very little compromising. It turned out that the process of negotiation was too time-consuming and difficult and the end product often satisfied neither husband nor wife.
The most successful marriages had a division of labor in which each spouse had a “sphere of authority” and the other spouse bowed to their husband’s or wife’s expertise in this area.
So to use some traditional gender roles, a family in which the husband took care of the investments and money and the wife decorated the house and made decisions about the children’s education was more likely to be a happy marriage than a family that had to negotiate every decision. Now the corollary to this, of course, is that spouses had to have mutual respect and feel comfortable that their spouse would handle their “sphere of influence” well.
And that strikes us as what the industry is really saying at this point. Coordination is fine, but it takes too many resources and, perhaps, doesn’t always return optimum results either.
This leaves exactly three alternatives:
A merger so the industry only sustains one organization.
A clear differentiation between organizations — so that, for example, activities are divided by functional area or membership type. So one association simply won’t do government relations and another won’t do education and training. Or one communicates with growers but not retailers.
A consortium for certain functions. So the industry sustains two groups but they cede certain functions to a consortium, so neither association handles, for example, food safety; that function would be handled by a new entity.
These are all theoretical possibilities but, practically, some seem unobtainable. The core issue: It is not as if each association has an identical membership that can divvy up the responsibilities or the money of the industry.
Most PMA members, for example, are not members of United.
Which points to a possible solution. Here at the Pundit, we belong to many organizations. Some maintain a dual structure in which there is a local chapter and a national organization. When one joins, a certain percentage of one’s dues automatically go to the local chapter with the rest staying with the national organization.
What if we sustain one national organization, augment it with the strengths of the other and form an affiliated organization to represent regional interests of growers?
Here’s the Pundit’s specific suggestion: Sustain the successful business model of PMA but augment it with United’s very successful programs such as the Leadership Program, respected technical/scientific department and a D.C. office for lobbying and government relations. United’s very successful field outreach program, with people such as Jeff Oberman (recipient of the PRODUCE BUSINESS 40 under 40 award), would also be continued.
At the same time, a separate “Congress of United Fruit and Vegetable Growers of America” would be founded and housed in the D.C. office of the new association. Existing strong grower groups, such as Western Growers Association, Texas Produce Association and Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, would be included as well as other regional groups with an assurance that every state in the union has a regional representative.
Then, the new national organization would cede government affairs for any grower-specific issues and dedicate to the regionals, say, 50% of the dues paid by growers.
This would end duplication, yet secure a financial stream to support the interests of growers.
One of things we try to do at the Pundit is give a “heads up” on things that may wind up being important. For example, on September 12, 2006, just as Hannaford Bros. launched its Hannaford Guiding Stars program, we ran a piece pointing it out to the trade. For example we pointed out:
Hannaford has launched an exceedingly ambitious program to rank the nutritional merit of almost the whole supermarket with a one-star, two-star or three-star system. It is a good, better, best program and, implicitly, leaves a lot of products at zero stars.
Now, The New York Times picked up on the story eight weeks later and ran a front page story on the program. The focus:
Of the 27,000 products that were plugged into Hannaford’s formula, 77 percent received no stars, including many, if not most, of the processed foods that advertise themselves as good for you.
The program is interesting because it takes random information — this product is low-fat, this is low-sugar, this is high-protein — and tries to systematize it into useful information about food.
In the end, it is also problematic for the same reasons all ranking programs are problematic:
Individuals have different nutritional issues. Many of the packaged products that promote themselves as healthy received zero stars. Often, the reason for the low ranking was excessive sodium.
But for a healthy person with a good body mass index, no family history or evidence of high blood pressure, there is no reason he can’t enjoy a V-8 juice if he wants to. Even drinking it frequently.
A person with high blood pressure, on the other hand, will be advised to lay off the salt.
The fact that different people have different nutritional issues makes all broad-brush rankings problematic.
Even if a consumer has a particular need, such as limiting salt or fat, what matters is not any individual food, but the total diet. Nutritionists repeat like a mantra that there are no good foods or bad foods only good diets or bad diets.
So, even if you want to keep total fat in your diet under, say 30% of calories, you don’t have to keep each individual product under that ratio.
A consumer can balance an occasional piece of birthday cake with snacking on celery sticks.
In some ways the measurement of all foods against each other is less helpful than measuring foods within a class. We all know if we are going to bring a cake to a party that the cake is not the healthiest option. But we are electing to bring an indulgence.
We might favor a carrot cake over a chocolate cake if we thought it was easier on the waistline or had some nutritional advantage, but to just say that all cakes get zero stars and all platters of celery sticks get three stars is probably not going to change the mind of too many gift-givers.
Exercise or calorie expenditure is a big issue. Many of the products without stars rank that way because they can contribute to obesity, not because they are “bad” in some other way. But if you are fit and exercise off the excess calories, there may be no deleterious effects to these foods.
My father has a weakness for cheesecake but used to exercise vigorously on his cross-country ski machine. He would look at a sliver of cake, calculate two hours of exercise as the price to pay and make a decision. You can do the crime if you are willing to pay the time.
Sometimes the most significant news is shrouded in seemingly idiosyncratic announcements. So you may be surprised that in the midst of all these food safety crises, perhaps the most significant piece of news for the perishables industry recently is word from Bentonville that Bob DiPiazza, Senior Vice President and General Merchandising Manager for Fresh, is resigning from Sam’s Club.
The official word is that he wants to move back to Chicago (Bob was the Vice President of Produce at Dominick’s in Chicago) to spend time with the grandchildren and, doubtless, that is true.
But we’ve known Bob for two decades and he is still young and vibrant. Our bet is that his departure tells us something about Wal-Mart, because if each day at work was truly satisfying, we think he wouldn’t be resigning.
To us, it signifies a company that has lost its way.
When we listen to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott talk about sustainability, organics, upscale marketing — we know that the danger is not in any one of these initiatives; it is that the core culture of the company gets off track, that people don’t, in a sense, know anymore what they are supposed to do.
Lately the newspapers have been filled with reports that Wal-Mart is going to be ultra-competitive on price this holiday season. But what does that mean? This is a company whose fundamental appeal was built on Every Day Low Pricing (EDLP) — but this sounds suspiciously like a sale. And exceptionally low-sale prices are, inevitably, balanced by higher prices elsewhere to produce adequate margins. So is Wal-Mart abandoning EDLP?
Wal-Mart is now the biggest buyer of food in the country. An uncertain Wal-Mart will be like the proverbial bull in a china shop, knocking things over every which way as it tries to find a way out of its dilemma.
We made a point of not talking to Bob about this stuff. It wouldn’t be fair to him.
But Pundits are paid to read tea leaves, and Bob’s departure is emblematic of deeper issues. A team that built Wal-Mart on simple theories — buy stuff, keep expenses low, sell it cheap — is suddenly being pushed and prodded by 50 new consultants and new hires to do different things.
Now change can be good, but these particular changes seem random, incoherent and unlikely to produce long-term results. They strike at foundational values and methods of operation but replace them not with new, better values or methods but with a series of short-term tactics.
It seems as if being a publicly held company, where the family influence is now much less than it once was, encourages all kinds of actions to meet quarterly and annual numbers.
To someone like Bob, who knows produce cold and has become pretty facile with other perishables since being promoted, this constant yelping to do things differently to non sustainable purposes is probably more hassle than it is worth.
In other words, having to deal with bull excrement is causing losses for the industry far beyond the spinach fields.
Here at the Pundit, we’ve dealt quite extensively with the future of Sunkist. Among the more prominent pieces: We published Sunkist Wakeup Call? which asked what the message was in the loss of Paramount Citrus as a Sunkist shipper. We wrote a piece entitled, International Positions of Two Citrus Companies, which suggested that the grower/owners of Sunkist should think about where Seald Sweet would be if it hadn’t gone international in a big way.
The Pundit’s Mailbag overflowed with a lengthy letter from Rick A. Eastes, Director of Global Sourcing, Sunkist Global LLC, explaining Sunkist’s international efforts, and the Pundit responded by praising the effort but pointing out that these were the easy, non-competitive decisions to make. The grower/owners of Sunkist still had to deal with competitive regions such as China.
Most recently, we extended congratulations to the newly appointed President and CEO of Sunkist, Timothy J. Lindgren, but asked Will Tim Lindgren Go To China? The question was both literal — would Tim Lindgren establish a strategy for Sunkist in regards to Chinese citrus such as opening packing houses in China — and figurative — Tim Lindgren was called back from retirement, he had no experience marketing fruit and the question was whether someone with such a production orientation could actually persuade the grower/owners of Sunkist to recognize that they were so focused on selling California and Arizona citrus that they were leaving big value on the table.
We held out hope, but the news isn’t good. Rick Eastes — the same Rick Eastes who wrote the letter referenced above — is going to be leaving Sunkist:
Rick Eastes, Director of Global Sourcing for Sunkist Global LLC, has elected not to renew his agreement with the Sunkist subsidiary company beyond November 30, 2006.
Eastes joined the newly created Sunkist Global LLC as its first employee February 1, 2004 with the charge to develop counter-seasonal and complementary citrus from sources outside of the United States under the Sunkist brand.
In 2006, Sunkist Global LLC was able to source nearly 2.5 million boxes of Sunkist branded citrus from South Africa, Australia, and Mexico for sale not only in the USA and Canada, but throughout SE Asian, Japan, China and Korea.
According to Eastes, “Sunkist has been able to establish that there is worldwide demand for high quality citrus under the Sunkist brand that resonates not only with Sunkist’s worldwide customer base, but with consumers in many countries as well.”
“It has been a great experience working with Sunkist for 3 full seasons and I am grateful for the opportunity to have established some new relationships within Sunkist as well as with growers, packers, and wholesale and retail receivers around the world.”
“Working to start Sunkist Global LLC has been a great adventure. I believe it has added value to Sunkist’s growers as well as its foreign suppliers and receivers of Sunkist branded citrus. I expect Sunkist will continue to pursue the year-around supply concepts that have been put in place over the last 3 seasons.”
“Although I expect to remain in the fresh produce industry, I wish Sunkist continued success with their goal to become a significant entity in the global citrus marketplace.”
It is a very nice press release but, sometimes, actions speak louder than words. And Rick’s departure, being that he wants to stay in produce, is an indication that, to put it mildly, he didn’t think Tim Lindgen compared favorably with Jeff Garguilo, Sunkist’s last CEO.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many other top people at Sunkist who joined during the Garguilo years either have left or are looking.
Previously the Pundit praised Steve Barnard of Mission Produce, who is on the Sunkist Board of Directors and has both the intelligence and marketing experience to really help the grower/owners. But nobody seems to be listening. Steve was originally appointed as one of Paramount’s appointees to the board. Paramount is gone and Steve stayed to try and help. But he is not going to waste his time being the conscious of the board if Sunkist’s growers aren’t interested in maximizing the value of the brand they own and would rather watch the value of the Sunkist brand gradually atrophy away.
Just wait for some of the plantings in China to start producing, and Sunkist will lose its Asian markets as it has already lost its European markets.
In the meantime, a talent like Rick is available for hire. Sunkist’s loss is going to be a big win for someone else.
The Pundit received this thoughtful missive:
First let me commend you on the Perishable Pundit. It has become one of my “must read” emails everyday! Our industry has traditionally not been associated with being “deep thinkers”, and you have definitely become our Thought Leader. As you probably can tell from your rapidly expanding readership, we were long overdue to have a resource that delves deeply into issues impacting our industry. Kudo’s!
I wanted to respond to your story titled, Opportunity For Buyers’ Food Safety Initiative. For years now I have been concerned that Buyers have put too much responsibility for food safety into the hands of the growers. Too many retail and foodservice customers are content with suppliers who use a “third party auditor” and who sign a letter of indemnification.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking third party auditors. Companies like PrimusLabs.com and Davis Fresh Technologies have been driving forces in improving food safety standards at the farm level. The problem is that many growing operations only receive one or two inspections a season, and in many cases, these inspections are scheduled and planned. My experience is that if you find yourself preparing for an inspection, you are not implementing a proper food safety program. All a company has to do is have one inspection to claim they are third party certified. Is this enough?
I realize that retailers and foodservice companies have hundreds of suppliers, and to delve deeply into all of their suppliers’ food safety programs would be an intensive process. But in most cases, they are not part of the process at all. We try very hard to bring our customers to our fields for farm tours. Our company farms mainly in Mexico, and we’ve worked diligently over the last ten years to implement an intensive and rigorous food safety program. We do everything possible to get our customers into the fields.
Yet even when we get customers into the fields, they want to see the growing, picking and packing, but rarely, if ever, want to sit down and review our food safety documentation. Seldom, if ever, do they want to check employee training records, chlorine monitoring documentation, cleaning records, or water monitoring documentation.
I don’t want to sound too critical. I realize that the folks who come by to visit our fields are primarily buyers who don’t have a scientific background and who don’t specialize in food safety issues. However, it’s probably just as important, or maybe more important, to have the food safety folks in our fields. We know that our food safety programs will never be enough, that we can always learn and do more and that technology will continue to evolve, but it would be great to improve our food safety programs in concert with our customers.
A few years ago, when we were discussing how to improve our food safety programs, we decided to step out of the box a bit. We were working on a project with the DuPont Corporation and asked if their sanitation experts could review our farming and packing operations. DuPont brought a team of these scientists to our fields, many who had never been exposed to farming, ever. Their insights and recommendations completely changed our entire food safety focus. As “outsiders” to the produce industry, they identified many operational practices that needed improvement or needed to be changed all together. Our partnership with the DuPont Team allowed us to make huge strides in improving our food safety and sanitation programs, and was a terrific lesson in the power of thinking “outside the box.”
I also have to commend one of our customers, who I believe demonstrates the value of collective partnerships between growers and customers. Two years ago we began working with Darden Restaurants. Darden takes food safety very seriously. They have empowered a food safety team that must approve each and every supplier. They have inspectors in the field who make weekly random inspections of growing operations, picking and packing programs. When problem issues are identified, they work closely with our food safety team to help educate our team and to ensure that collectively we fix the problem. The knowledge that an inspector can be in any field or packing shed at anytime has forced us to treat every day as an inspection day.
Additionally, Darden’s food safety team is separate from their buying team. If a farm is not up to par, they have the authority to stop all transactions until the problems are fixed. They truly put their money where their mouth is and have helped us become a markedly better company. I cannot think of a better example of the power of collective thinking between suppliers and customers. I think the industry would be well served to learn more about their programs and create similar models.
From my twenty years in the industry, I strongly believe that most growers are smart, industrious, and firmly committed to developing and implementing strong food safety programs, I just think that we would all be better served if our retail and foodservice customers took a more active role in being part of the process. Ultimately, we are all responsible for ensuring that our products are safe from field to fork. Growers will not truly be successful if we continue to go at this alone!
Please keep up the good work and keep us thinking!
— Mark Munger
Andrew Williamson Fresh Produce
First, allow me to thank Mark for his kind words which are much appreciated. Second, I have to ask Mark if it is really possible that we’ve both been doing this for over twenty years? Third, let us all note the really vital things Mark brings up in this important letter:
Too many retail and foodservice customers are content with suppliers who use a “third party auditor” and who sign a letter of indemnification.
It has become obvious that a lot of “food safety practices” are scams, more designed to avoid liability than to solve food safety problems. Buyers all too often request indemnification, representations and warranties — but they rarely or never actually check on the practices being followed. All too many growers, especially the smaller growers who are not even members of PMA, United or even WGA, sign what they have to in order to sell their crop and then pray that their number doesn’t come up.
I have no doubt that every processor in Salinas had letters on file from every grower they dealt with. A lot fewer actually did any kind of real check on whether these representations and warranties were true.
If buyers are going to be effective in helping improve food safety standards, they have to care about food safety, not indemnifications.
The problem is that many growing operations only receive one or two inspections a season, and in many cases, these inspections are scheduled and planned. My experience is that if you find yourself preparing for an inspection, you are not implementing a proper food safety program.
During the Town Hall meeting in Salinas during the spinach crisis, the government officials explained that when they were actually out in the fields they found that the typical foreman on the farm or packinghouse was completely unaware of things such as the Good Agricultural Practices documents or the Commodity Specific Guidelines.
Mark’s notion that preparation for an inspection is evidence of a flawed program is absolutely correct. All too often, farmers have one really great person in this area and trot him around for all the inspectors and third-party auditors to meet. No inspection by a buyer or a third-party auditor should ever be scheduled; they should all be surprises.
All a company has to do is have one inspection to claim they are third party certified. Is this enough?
Interesting idea. Maybe a vendor should need a track record of successful implementation of food safety protocols before being certified as compliant.
I realize that retailers and foodservice companies have hundreds of suppliers, and to delve deeply into all of their suppliers food safety programs would be an intensive process. But in most cases, they are not part of the process at all.
One wonders if a consequence of this spinach crisis won’t be a decision by buyers to, at least on the products deemed higher risk, reduce the number of suppliers to a quantity they can actually “delve deeply into.”
Yet even when we get customers into the fields, they want to see the growing, picking and packing, but rarely, if ever, want to sit down and review our food safety documentation. Seldom, if ever, do they want to check employee training records, chlorine monitoring documentation, cleaning records, or water monitoring documentation.
Most of the buyers who do these field tours wouldn’t know how to evaluate the information anyway. What we need is separate visits by quality assurance and food safety personnel.
DuPont brought a team of these scientists to our fields, many who had never been exposed to farming, ever. Their insights and recommendations completely changed our entire food safety focus. As “outsiders” to the produce industry, they identified many operational practices that needed improvement or needed to be changed all together.
This is another good idea — bring in someone who sees things afresh.
Darden takes food safety very seriously. They have empowered a food safety team that must approve each and every supplier.
This is crucial but resisted by many buyers who like the freedom to play suppliers off against each other. The bottom line is that, certainly on vulnerable commodities, buyers need their hands tied — they can only buy from vendors approved by a food safety team. This eliminates the possibility of a “race to the bottom” in which food safety standards are lowered to keep prices low to get the business.
They have inspectors in the field who make weekly random inspections of growing operations, picking and packing programs… The knowledge that an inspector can be in any field or packing shed at anytime has forced us to treat every day as an inspection day.
This will certainly help keep suppliers vigilant about following the rules.
“…their food safety team is separate from their buying team. If a farm is not up to par, they have the authority to stop all transactions until the problems are fixed.”
This is crucial. It is a way of saying that food safety is not negotiable.
What is great about this letter is it comes from a producer. A producer that, obviously, is trying to do the right thing.
What isn’t said, but is also true, is that if buyers such as Darden truly demand great food safety practices — which means, literally, they won’t buy, at any price, from companies that don’t follow their approved procedures — good growers not only don’t object, they breathe a sigh of relief. It is actually a competitive advantage for top growers to have less sophisticated farmers out of the running for business.
It is also a competitive necessity for the produce industry to make sure all sub-par producers know they will have no outlet for their product. It has to be the safe way, or the highway. There is no other choice.
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.
The Pundit originally ran the Pundit Rewind on September 21, 2006. We continuously update it in order to keep everyone organized with respect to reference material on this subject; we have updated it with new items and run it again today.
Spinach Crisis Summary
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.
On November 7, 2006, we ran a piece entitled NRA Forms Produce Safety Working Group that discussed a new National Restaurant Association initiative to impose standards on suppliers to foodservice. You can find the piece here. Also on November 7, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — United’s President/CEO Responds (Part 2), which dealt with the question of how much difference a good government relations program can be expected to accomplish at a time of crisis. 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.
On November 7, 2006, we ran FDA Focuses On Retail And Foodservice Food Safety which gave news of an FDA satellite broadcast for retailers and foodservice operators and addressed the general issue of buyers and food safety. Read it here. Also on November 7, 2006, we ran an Erratum correcting some calculations in our previous piece Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t. You can find it 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.