Here at the Pundit, we’ve been focused quite heavily on the role buyers can play in helping the industry produce safer produce. We initially reviewed the Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety here, here and here, which is signed on to by the following:
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Tim York, Markon Cooperative
Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
We then went on to analyze a process that the National Restaurant Association has begun in forming a Produce Safety Working Group.
Now FMI is stepping into the game, organizing a food safety conference on December 5, 2006. We sent Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more about it. She spoke with Lawrence C. Edwards, Director Food Safety Programs, and Bill Greer, Director of Communications, Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C.:
Q: Why is FMI instigating this food safety conference on December 5?
A: Edwards: Stemming from the E. coli outbreak, there has been a flurry of food safety initiatives. With 21 outbreaks, FDA is requesting a better food safety action plan. Retailers are demanding more stringent food safety measures. A buyer-led initiative pushed by key retailers and foodservice operators was submitted to the produce trade associations. Separately, the National Restaurant Association just launched a food safety task force to formulate a tougher food safety plan for suppliers. The Western Growers Association brought to the table mandatory government regulations.
With these outbreaks, the industry trade associations started putting together an action plan. This meeting is intended to bring all the players together to share and examine the different recommendations and proposals and enhance them, so new action steps can be taken for a more unified plan moving forward.
A: Greer: We feel it is very important for key buyers and wholesalers to work closely in identifying the gaps in the food safety supply chain that led to the outbreaks, and upgrading best practices, particularly applied to spinach and other leafy greens. While regulations certainly make sense, right now buyers can put into place practices very quickly, working with suppliers to upgrade food safety a lot faster than a government agency, which could take months or years. We are looking to have improved practices in place for next year’s spring plantings, and that is the general industry consensus.
Q: Who will be attending?
A: Edwards: Key people from the government, retail, food service and the produce industry are invited. No media will be present. We set the meeting up in different parts. First, the FDA will address the outbreak investigation and current situation. Representatives will include Barbara Cassens, San Francisco District Director; Dr. Jeff Farrar, Chief Food and Drug Branch of the California Department of Health Services; and Faye Feldstein, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Dr. Katherine Swanson, Vice President, Food Safety at Eco Lab, which does auditing analysis for growers, will be coming in to discuss micro-bacteria testing, water and soil issues, and methods for controlling concerns and hazards. Dr. Trevor Suslow of the department of plant sciences, at UC Davis will be sharing his expertise.
In addition, Western Growers Association will be presenting its marketing order and United will introduce its lettuce and leafy greens action plan. Consumer research will be brought forth by PMA about leafy greens and the state of consumer confidence.
Later in the day, Toni Hofer, Food Safety Manager at Raley’s, will talk about coming together to partner with suppliers. Then Paul Ryan, Executive Director of FMI’s Safe Quality Food (SQF) Institute, will speak to the group, and then there will be an open discussion to brainstorm the best solutions.
Q: Does FMI envision a role in standardized food safety procedures and auditing requirements?
A: Greer: Yes, that would be our hope. We are looking for the SQF program, which we have developed a variant of for produce and leafy greens specifically, to provide strict standards across the industry. Through the general SQF program, we have issued over 5,000 certificates for food suppliers around the world. Certification is not just based on what the auditor sees on a particular day, but closely monitored for ongoing commitment and compliance. There is no question that in the wake of the spinach E. coli outbreak, the requirements will need to be tweaked, but the important point is that FMI has the infrastructure in place.
Q: Are there any other planned activities at the conference?
A: FMI has a food protection committee that will be meeting on December 6. It is made up of leading food scientists from all the major food companies. It is a very elite group of the foremost food safety experts in the retail industry.
Q: In the end, what do you hope this conference will accomplish?
A: Greer: This will be a forum to scrutinize the proposals, discuss how effective they are and how they can be adjusted or improved.
A: Edwards: The regulatory agencies’ involvement will be important. Many resources have been expended and drained with these outbreaks. It’s about time we dig into the problem as a unified force.
Obviously FMI wants to be involved and the conference which, they tell us, will have representatives from every major retailer, is important.
One super big mistake: Media have been banned from the conference. As readers of the Pundit know, we have our sources and will find out what we need to, but if the goal is to build public confidence in the process the industry is going through, you not only open it to media, you send a velvet invitation to the big consumer media groups.
It smells of smoke-filled rooms where deals will be cut in secret. If you let in some light and air, everyone will have more confidence in the final product.
Here is a registration form and here is a tentative agenda.
Pundits of limited vision have been focusing on the switch of the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate as the big news of election day. The Perishable Pundit, however, knows where the real levers of power lie in America and is pleased to congratulate Dennis Donohue on his election as Mayor of Salinas:
PRODUCE EXECUTIVE ELECTED MAYOR OF SALINAS
Salinas, California — November 8, 2006 — Radicchio grower Dennis Donohue will become Salinas California’s first new mayor in eight years after beating city councilwoman Maria Giuriato in Tuesday’s election. Donohue garnered 72.9 percent of the vote to Giuriato’s 27.1 percent, with 100 percent of the city’s 42 precincts reporting.
According to the Monterey Herald, “Donohue has prepared for the job of taking leadership roles in three important ballot measures, including library-saving Measure V. His candidacy presents the city with an opportunity to think creatively and put together public-private partnerships that could change the shape of the agribusiness industry locally. Donohue sees the Salinas Valley as a Silicon Valley of agriculture — well-positioned to develop new skills and markets in such areas as bio-fuel. For some, it might sound like science fiction, but Donohue is immersed in agribiz and he’s bright enough to know what he’s talking about.”
The hometown Salinas Californian endorsed Donohue with these words of praise, “Donohue is a potent blend of intelligence and passion — the kind of attributes the city needs in a new mayor. And as his record of community involvement demonstrates, he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves to pitch in at the grass-roots level. To him, “Imagine a great city!” is more than a campaign slogan. He believes it in his gut. Donohue’s main platform is economic development. He wants to create a business-friendly culture at City Hall and make Salinas a center for agriculture innovation, such as farmed pharmaceuticals, bio-fuels and pest-resistant crops.
In agribusiness since 1988, Dennis worked for River Ranch, Fresh Express and Fresh Western before joining European Vegetable Specialties in 1996. He became president of the company two years later. EVS, a privately held company, is the largest producer of radicchio in the world, with growing operations and customers in North and South American, Europe and the Pacific Rim.
Dennis was endorsed by the Monterey Herald, the Salinas Californian and the Monterey County Weekly. The Salinas Californian was most cogent:
He believes a rising tide lifts all boats, meaning crime and social problems can be eased in a more prosperous Salinas.
“Everyone in this city is interested in opportunity,” he told the Salinas Californian editorial board. “It unites everybody to think their kids can come home to economic opportunity.”
The Pundit and his staff have always found Dennis to be a straight-shooter. Even when he had news we didn’t want to hear, he picked up the phone and put it on the table.
Salinas has long had many problems, and the economic and reputational blow the Salinas Valley took in the spinach crisis won’t help. We applaud Dennis’ willingness to be involved in public service and wish him and the residents of Salinas success in making “great city” more than an exercise in imagination.
We’ve explored the issue of cartoon marketing for kids here, here, here, here and here. The Washington Post picked up on it here and The Associated Press continued with the issue here.
Labeling of this sort can help but, in the end, satisfaction with a product is going to be determined by convenience, flavor and other product attributes.
This is especially true if our interest, as an industry, is not solely in selling product to children but, also, in having them eat it.
The Junior Pundits are now 3 and 5 years old, and they love sliced apples and Grapple apples. But now, Stemilt Growers has found a new way to flavor apples without chemicals and combines this flavoring with fresh-cut pre-sliced apples. Something tells us these are going to be pretty popular at the Pundit’s house.
Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, interviewed Roger Pepperl, Marketing Director of Stemilt Growers, to find out more:
Q: Your new flavored AppleSweets sliced apples have been described as akin to whole Grapple apples. Why are they different?
Q: Does the flavoring process add calories or impact the product’s nutritional content?
A: It doesn’t change the nutritional value in any way. The flavor is added after the slicing process and is so minimal that it does not increase the caloric value over plain slices. The process produces an unbelievably precise, consistent slice for a great clean visual image.
Q: What flavors are available and what’s in the pipeline?
A: We have sweet and tart options as well as flavors. We are starting out with caramel and wild berry, but will also have other flavors that will be coming out over time. You’ll see flavors like Mom’s apple pie, tropical mango, pina colada, and blueberry, which we’ll be launching in December.
Q: Seems as if the opportunities are endless…
A: We have about 40 flavors we’ve tested at different levels, with a wealth of flavors to explore as we broaden the concept. We will have seasonal flavors, warm weather and winter flavors. We’ve talked about orange ‘creamsicle’ in the summer. The fact we are vertically integrated with orchards, processing and packing allows us continuous raw product management that we control.
Q: Could this process be adapted to other commodities besides apples?
A: Yes, in our long-term vision, but I don’t want to elaborate on that except to say the process is pending.
Q: Will your product vision continue to build on the theme of healthy convenience?
A: In today’s society of convenience, people eat on the run, while walking, unfortunately while driving. Snacking out of the bag at one’s desk or at school, people are able to enjoy the flavors like caramel, but they avoid the mess of dipping as well as the extra calories, sugar and fat. Many studies have proven if a child is presented with sliced apples versus a whole one, consumption jumps off the page. Also, women find sliced apples more socially friendly to eat in public places. The optional flavor profiles broadens the market appeal.
Q: What’s your marketing strategy?
A: In our testing, the concept appeals to all age groups. We are marketing the product line as a healthy snack option, and obviously kids and mothers are our target audience. We are one of the early adapters to put the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s More Matters logo on the packages. We’ve soft-stepped the introduction, but this concept could make real noise down the road as the new potato chip of the produce department.
What a great idea. So often the Pundit hears people complaining that they can’t make money shipping a commodity — well here are people with some savvy saying let us not just ship a commodity.
It is great that Stemilt is utilizing the new More Matters logo, but the whole product teaches a lesson about increasing consumption. It is not just a matter of marketing; it is also a matter of our industry developing substantively better products.
We are running a few graphics to show you some sample bags, you can also learn more at the AppleSweets web site right here.
Another hat tip to Lou Cooperhouse, Director at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, for taking the time to point out the following and for providing some excellent resources for the industry:
Food safety outbreaks have now occurred over the past few weeks in three very different value-added agricultural products, due to three different causes, and from three different bacterial organisms (E. coli 0157:H7 in spinach, C. botulism in bottled carrot juice, and Salmonella in tomatoes).
I wanted you to know that a number of excellent resources are available to your readers, including the agricultural extension agents and food science departments from state universities throughout our country. A link to extension offices nationally can be found at http://npic.orst.edu/countyext.htm
There are also some excellent publications on Good Agricultural Practices or GAP’s for agricultural producers. Among the ones I reference typically include:
This University of Maryland publication on GAPs http://www.jifsan.umd.edu/PDFs/GAPS_English/II__Good _Agricultural_Pract.pdf
The USDA Agricultural Research Service, which includes animal manure management strategies at this link, and has many other resources as well: http://fsrio.nal.usda.gov/document_fsheet.php?product_id=63
This document from the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), which published proceedings from a conference they held on GAPs from a 2003 conference, and the link to this is at http://www.fao.org/prods/GAP/archive/ gapatcoag_files/cl124fao_files/Y8704e.htm
Of course, as the Pundit has discussed, having GAPs is but the first food safety link in the chain to the consumer, as proactive “hurdle technologies” need to be employed at the field and packinghouse level and also “upstream” in value-added products, which include the product’s formulation, processing, packaging, and distribution… food safety in fact literally spans from farm to fork.
Dick Spezzano, once Chairman of PMA and for many years Vice President of Produce at Von’s, sent a note regarding the Pundit’s piece on the state of Wal-Mart and Bob DiPiazza’s resignation from Sam’s:
Before anything else, let me thank Dick for his note. To have a man of Dick’s stature in the trade call the Pundit a “must read” means a great deal, and we appreciate it.
We are working on the length of our Pundit, but we’ve gotten waylaid a bit with an extra 100 articles on E.coli, botulism and salmonella that weren’t exactly in the editorial plan. Truly, Dick, thank you.
Seeing Dick Spezzano and Bob DiPiazza’s names intertwined like this reminds me of the “good old days” when these gentlemen were leading PMA and the regional retailers they worked for. They, along with a few others, were the true fonts of innovation, passion and leadership in the trade.
It is also true that they did all this while maintaining their spirited personalities. In fact, as we’ve run our Pundit series on leadership here, here and here, and we’ve heard from so many readers about a style of leadership gone, we often remember the passion these gentlemen brought to everything, from the annual contest by board members to solicit more members to pushing 5-a-Day in its early years.
Dick had the Pundit out to give the keynote address for one of the old Von’s Produce Days, and I got to see a master at work. I still remember Dick’s enthusiastic words once as he pulled me aside during a PMA meeting, “Is this a great organization or what!?!”
That passion is still with Dick as he sticks up for his friend.
The Pundit apologizes if the piece came across as disparaging to Bob in any way.
We owe Bob a lot: First — and Bob may not even know this &dmash; we were both at an industry function at the Wig-Wam Resort in Arizona. While Bob and the Pundit were tied in meetings, Bob’s wife, Terry and the Pundit’s not-yet-wife, Debbie, sat next to each other at the pool.
It was Debbie’s first produce function, and Terry’s warm and friendly way, along with a bit of advice on how to handle produce guys, made Debbie feel so welcome she wanted to stay. It is many industry meetings, a wedding and two children later, but perhaps it happened the way it did, in no small part, because Terry was great that day by the pool.
Years later, our debt to Bob grew in another way. Last year’s publication of the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, may not have been printed in time for the PMA convention had it not been for Bob DiPiazza in a funny way.
After Hurricane Wilma knocked our power out for days, we needed to get up and running or we would miss the show. The Pundit made a mad dash to Orlando to buy generators but there were none to be had. We followed a truck to a Sam’s Club and offered to buy them off the back. The deal was made, but there was just one problem: We weren’t a member. No problem, the Pundit joined fast.
Then another problem arose: Sam’s Club only accepted Discover card (they just started accepting MasterCard on November 9, 2006). Unfortunately, our limit on the Discover card was a fraction of the cost of the generators, so we had to pay with a check.
Next problem: You had to have been a member 30 days and we weren’t a member for 30 seconds. We needed those generators badly and had no intention of letting them go. A life in the penitentiary briefly passed through our minds when they offered the chance to talk to the Club Manager.
Turns out the Club Manager had the authority to OK checks, but this was several thousand dollars more than he was used to accepting. We begged, we pleaded, we mentioned that we knew Bruce Peterson of Wal-Mart Supercenters. No interest. Then we mentioned we knew Bob DiPiazza, and the manager took a step back and said, “Well, any friend of Bob DiPiazza is a friend of mine.” Then he initialed the check and said I should say Hi to Bob.
So we owe Bob a lot.
We didn’t talk to Bob for that piece because, as we said: 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.
Had we spoken to Bob, this is what he would have virtually had to say, and, as Dick confirms, it certainly is true.
That is not to say, however, that if the world was different than it is, Bob might not have made a different decision. We could have asked Bob to speculate on this subject but, first, he is too smart to do so and second, we wouldn’t advise him to do so.
Some writers want to catch people in inopportune statements, but that is not the Pundit’s style. We would rather have a friend than a story. And, absolutely no good for Bob could come from talking about this subject.
Of course, things change and, when they do, Bob knows how to reach the Pundit.
Besides, the critique we made was not of Bob, but of Wal-Mart and, as Dick correctly points out, there are real reasons why there is intense pressure on everyone working at Wal-Mart:Wal-Mart has been reporting 4% and less “same store sales,” which is way off their peak years of 8+%, and their stock price has been stuck at $45 to $50 per share for about five years. As a Wal-Mart stock holder, I would expect them to make “step” changes to their model and to update the model to today’s changing consumer. This should be especially true as they are encroaching on and entering the urban areas of the US.
No question that everyone wants to see stronger performance. As Dick well knows, however, the easy part of getting stronger performance is wanting it.
The hard part is knowing how to actually make it happen.
Wal-Mart is an incredible company. Most companies would do anything to have the problems Wal-Mart has and my bet is they will work their way through these issues and succeed on a big scale. Still, the pressure is intense right now.
And that, inevitably, affects the personal decisions of people working at the company, including when to retire and when to stay.
We did, though, use Bob as a kind of vessel through which to talk about Wal-Mart, and if others interpreted that as Dick did, it was a bad idea. The Pundit’s company has a small office north of Chicago and Debbie loves Chicago, so we get there every now and again.
We pledge Bob and Terry a free dinner at the restaurant of their choice as penance. And since Bob will be retired from Wal-Mart by then, he can even accept.
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.
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.
November 8, 2006, we ran a valuable Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Growerthat focused on the value buyers can bring to food safety programs. You can 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.
November 9, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Bigg’s Marvin Lyons, the first of a series of retail interviews looking at how sales at retail are going post-spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 9, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sticking Up for the Pundit, in which an industry leader wrote in to support the work of the Pundit. You can find the piece 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.