Now that we are all done with our Thanksgiving feast, we might want to know what was in it. The ever useful Elizabeth Whelan, President of the American Council on Science and Health, wrote a piece that reminded us that for all the attention paid to organic food, those who focus on eating organic for health reasons have to address the fact that natural chemicals are every bit as carcinogenic as are synthetic chemicals:
These days, people think the word “chemical” means “bad” — and supermarkets are filled with foods that claim to be “chemical-free,” “all-natural” and “purely organic.” Almost daily, media stories tell us, for example, how a “carcinogen” known as acrylamide is showing up in French fries and other cooked high-starch foods.
We’re told that nitrite in bacon, saccharin in Sweet ’N Low and PCB traces in farmed salmon are “carcinogens.” The basis? They cause cancer in lab rats that have been fed enormous doses.
So it may be a surprise to learn that even 100 percent natural foods — including the holiday feast that will be coming your way shortly — come replete with chemicals, including toxins (poisons) and carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals), which average consumers would reject simply because they can’t pronounce the names.
Whelan then gives a detail of what kind of naturally occurring chemicals a Thanksgiving dinner would contain:
Assume you start with a soup course, then munch down some crispy, natural vegetables, move on to a traditional stuffed bird with all the trimmings (washing it down with a few glasses of wine) and then top it all off with dessert and coffee. You will thus have consumed holiday helpings of various “carcinogens” (again, in lab animals fed high doses). Yes, Mother Nature makes “carcinogens,” too:
hydrazines (mushroom soup)
aniline, caffeic acid, benzaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, quercetin glycosides, and psoralens (your fresh vegetable salad)
heterocyclic amines, acrylamide, benzo(a)pyrene, ethyl carbamate, dihydrazines, d-limonene, safrole, and quercetin glycosides (roast turkey with stuffing)
benzene and heterocyclic amines (prime rib of beef with parsley sauce)
furfural, ethyl alcohol, allyl isothiocyanate (broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes)
coumarin, methyl eugenol, acetaldehyde, estragole and safrole (apple and pumpkin pies)
ethyl alcohol with ethyl carbamate (red and white wines)
Then sit back and relax with some benzofuran, caffeic acid, catechol, l,2,5,6,-dibenz(a)anthra-cene with 4-methylcatechol (coffee).
These carcinogens in your 100 percent natural holiday meal are accompanied by toxins — popularly known as “poisons,” also from Mother Nature. These include the solanine, arsenic and chaconine in potatoes; the hydrogen cyanide in lima beans; and the hallucinogenic compound myristicin found in nutmeg, black pepper and carrots.
But we then get some reassurance:
Now the good news: These foods are safe.
Four observations are relevant here:
When it comes to toxins, only the dose makes the poison. Substances — like salt — are potentially hazardous at high doses but perfectly safe when consumed at low doses like the trace amounts found in our foods.
While you probably associate the word “carcinogen” with nasty-sounding synthetic chemicals like PCBs and dioxin, the fact is that the more we test naturally occurring chemicals, the more we find that they, too, cause cancer in lab animals.
The increasing body of evidence documenting the carcinogenicity (in the lab) of common substances found in nature highlights the contradiction we Americans have created up to now in our regulatory approach to carcinogens: trying to purge our nation of synthetic carcinogens while turning a blind eye to the omnipresence of natural “carcinogens.”
While animal testing is an essential part of biomedical research, so is common sense. A rodent is not a little man. There is no scientific foundation to the assumption that if high-dose exposure to a chemical causes cancer in a rat or mouse, then a trace level of it must pose a human cancer risk.
You can read a more in-depth report on the same subject here.
We’ve devoted extensive space to analyzing the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. In addition to our previous list of signatories, we can also add Mark Hilton, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Harris-Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, as a signatory:
Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
Craig Carlson, Pathmark Stores
Jim Corby, Food Lion
Greg Corrigan, Raley’s
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Bryan Gannon, Big Y Supermarkets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Don Harris, Wild Oats Markets
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Mark Hilton, Harris-Teeter
Craig Ignatz, Giant Eagle
Mike O’Brien, Schnuck Markets
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Roger Schroeder, Stater Bros.
James Spilka, Meijer, Inc.
Mark Vanderlinden, Price Chopper
Tim York, Markon Cooperative
It is an impressive list, but there are many important organizations on both the foodservice and retail side of the business that have not signed. The Pundit has been hearing from many of those who declined to sign.
Different people have different reasons but a common thread was a sense that the public nature of the initiative was counter to industry interests:
One respected industry leader put it this way:
I did not comment on Tim York’s efforts due to the fact that, although I think he and others involved in this effort are trying to help the industry, they are misguided in the process. My main concern was their process of sending the letter to the mainstream media including USA Today and other publications. What was the purpose of that except for them to look good in the eyes of the public? I think it had a divisive effect on the industry and public opinion.
Another echoed these concerns:
My concern is about the “media noise” regarding this. These types of issues need to be worked out quietly and thoughtfully. Grandstanding the original letter to the press does absolutely nothing to get to the real issues. Food safety is EVERYONE’S CONCERN, not just a group of major buyers.
One executive put it this way:
We should not suggest to the public that one side of the industry has to force the other side to do the right thing. We, the entire industry, are responsible for where we are today and should all take the responsibility to fix it. Pushing it off with public demands on one segment of the industry is not a positive approach in my opinion. It is a good place to apply pressure but within the industry, not in the public domain.
Put another way, many buyers tell us they are objecting to two things:
First, the notion that growers have to somehow be compelled to produce safe food is both not true and damaging to the industry. If government and consumers come to believe this, it will hurt — not enhance — efforts to rebuild regulatory and consumer confidence.
Second, many see the effort as misguided and, perhaps, self-serving, particularly the decision to promote the effort to the consumer media. This may allow some companies to seem to the public as being on the side of the angels, but the divisive nature of such a pronouncement complicates the ultimate resolution of the problem.
Pundit Note: Many growers and shippers are irate over the effort as they see it as an evasion of responsibility. These buying organizations get exactly what they value enough to pay for. All too often, some of the same companies who signed the letter on Monday will, on Tuesday, buy some product without the slightest knowledge of where it came from.
More responses from non-participating buyers in the days to come.
Wal-Mart announced an agreement with Bharti Enterprises, a company based in India, to enter the Indian market via a joint venture. Probably because the law in India prohibits foreign ownership of department stores, a plan was devised whereby Bharti will actually own the stores and Wal-Mart will provide the logistics, distribution and sourcing along with the store concepts.
The announcement followed Wal-Mart’s disclosure that Wal-Mart’s extensive price-cutting efforts did not boost November numbers domestically as same store sales are expected to fall 0.1% in November, the worst performance in a decade.
One wonders if Wal-Mart couldn’t make a virtue of necessity and pick up the model they are going to use in India and franchise the Wal-Mart concept, Neighborhood Market, or some variant thereof in urban areas.
Look at all the problems it would solve:
- From a “big is bad” enemy of the people, Wal-Mart would be perceived as providing entrepreneurial opportunities for people all over the country. This would provide upward mobility for current Wal-Mart employees and an opportunity for inner city residents, particularly ethnic minorities, to own their own business.
- Real estate difficulties in getting big box stores would be avoided as these smaller stores, owned by community residents, would be easier to site and less controversial.
- Wal-Mart’s political difficulties would be easier to overcome, as the owners of these franchises would be de facto lobbyists for Wal-Mart in congressional districts where Wal-Mart has little influence right now.
- Operational issues that might make it difficult for Wal-Mart to successfully operate in inner cities would be overcome by having owner/operators in the stores.
- Product and merchandising relevancy, particularly to various ethnic groups, would be gained from the franchisees. Basically all good product ideas at McDonald’s grew out of franchisee suggestions. This learning could be carried over into company owned stores.
Wal-Mart could develop the concepts, acquire the real estate, build out the stores, provide marketing support, handle procurement, distribution and logistics. The store owners provide community knowledge and a willingness to get their hands dirty. Unlike the India deal, we would suggest franchising only to individual operators.
They would not be the first to franchise. Competitors such as Supervalu’s Save-A-Lot make it a cornerstone of their success. Become a Save-A-Lot retailer here.
With all the attention paid to the big Salinas-based processors, it is worth remembering that many regional processors produce fresh-cut and bagged items every day.
Aunt Mid’s Produce Company in Detroit, for example, explains on its website that “In 1948, Aunt Mid’s introduced fresh spinach in a consumer package, beginning a tradition of high quality and convenience in healthy eating.”
Take a look at the video clip Aunt Mid’s puts on its website to let consumers know the facts about spinach. You can find it right here.
Regular readers of the Pundit know that we have been dealing regularly with the issue of the future of Sunkist. Our most recent piece was entitled Eastes Leaves Sunkist and dealt with the departure of Rick Eastes, who was Sunkist Global LLC’s first employee in 2004 and built it up to an organization that sourced almost 2.5 million cases of citrus in 2006.
We also congratulated Tim Lindgren on his appointment, after being called back from retirement, as President and CEO of Sunkist by asking a question: Will Tim Lindgren Go To China?This piece inquired as to what kind of CEO Tim Lindgren might turn out to be and what it might mean for the future of this iconic brand.
Now we receive a letter critical of the Pundit’s position:
We appreciate Bill taking the time to write. Over 90% of the Pundit’s communication with the trade is “off-the-record,” so we enjoy it when someone is willing to put their name to a letter. We also appreciate being called “…interesting and thought provoking.”
Yet, this letter leaves us in a quandary. Bill explains that he found the November 8th piece “…interesting even though inaccurate.” Yet, he quotes no words from the article and leaves us mystified as to what might possibly be “inaccurate” in the piece. We’ve read it over thrice and find no inaccuracies. So we stand by the piece.
As far as his allegation that the Pundit is “…morphing into some type of tabloid reporter,” it is not even clear what this means. We received a press release indicating that Rick Eastes “…elected not to renew his agreement with the Sunkist subsidiary company…” and then we wrote an article about it. What would Bill think was responsible journalism? To ignore the subject?
Bill writes a long paragraph claiming that we rely on “rumor and innuendo” that we should “…be motivated to get off your duff, get on a plane and go interview the man” and, more generally arguing that the Pundit doesn’t know that much about Sunkist.
The whole paragraph is odd. First because Bill hasn’t told us what, precisely, we said that was incorrect, so the extent or source of our knowledge doesn’t even seem to be at issue.
Second, considering the Pundit’s family was buying Sunkist fruit before Bill Washburn was born and the Pundit has been thinking, writing, editing and lecturing about Sunkist since 1985, including this column written over 15 years ago, it seems odd to claim the Pundit is ignorant on the subject.
As far as interviewing Tim Lindgren goes, the Pundit has been to Sherman Oaks and would be happy to go again. So far the invitation hasn’t come. Besides, many years of experience teaches us that interviews, almost always staid affairs, are often less enlightening than the commentary given by players behind the scene.
Look at Bill’s letter itself. We have no reason to doubt our letter-writer’s sincerity, but it is a reasonable assumption that if our correspondent did think Tim Lindgren’s appointment a terrible mistake, we would never receive a letter on that subject.
After all, as he mentions, our letter-writer is “…a consulting engineer to the organization for many years…” That means his bread is buttered by Sunkist. In fact, if you look at the “What our clients say…” page of our letter-writer’s company’s website, the first thing you read is a note from Fruit Growers Supply Company, the Sunkist affiliate that had been run by Tim Lindgren for so many years:
What our clients say…
Fruit Growers Supply Company
“Your firm was involved in all phases of the project beginning with the presentation of this concept to our Board of Directors, through the site selection, design and engineering, construction supervision and start-up of systems. There is no question that your involvement in this project saved FGS and the Sunkist Growers substantial time and money and this was most appreciated.”
So interviews are a source of information, as are signed letters such as Bill’s, but often the more valuable information is the things people can’t say out loud.
Besides, the Pundit’s opinion of Tim Lindgren isn’t what started the current interest in Sunkist’s future. It was the decision of Sunkist’s largest grower, Paramount Citrus, to leave the Sunkist co-op. An issue we dealt with here.
Our letter-writer alleges that the Pundit has made “…unkind comments about Tim [Lindgren] and Sunkist…” and here the Pundit takes offense. Once again our letter-writer identifies no unkind comments and thus leaves these assertions as unsubstantiated charges.
We have neither made nor intended to make any unkind comments toward Tim Lindgren, and it is nonsensical to say we made an “unkind comment” about a company. We have critiqued the strategy that Sunkist is following and the goal of this critique is to help Sunkist. But the critique is neither “kind” nor “unkind.” It is either “correct” or “incorrect.”
Just to clarify. We have heard good things about Tim Lindgren. And we agree with our letter-writer that “Tim not only knows the organization but he knows every player.” If you define “player” to mean important growers and board members, some might argue that the customer base should also be considered “players” — and Tim Lindgren doesn’t know those folks.
Yet, we have no reason to doubt his competence as a manager and, indeed, it seems likely that the board of Sunkist got exactly what they wanted when they selected Tim Lindgren as CEO. And in our article we expressed the hope that Tim Lindgren might be the man who is perfectly suited to the moment. Here is what we wrote:
As President, when Nixon went to the Peoples Republic of China in 1972 and officially recognized the government in Peking — now Beijing — as the official government of China, Nixon was not vulnerable to attacks from the right that he was soft on communism.
So only the rabid anti-communist could, politically, make peace with the communists.
Perhaps Mr. Lindgren, so close to the grower/owners of Sunkist, is the one who can convince them that their interests lie in separating their ownership of Sunkist stock from their business of selling their crops. If so, he will have provided a value far beyond what any produce marketer could have done.
We hope it happens. If it does not, the problem is not Tim Lindgren; the problem is the board and, more broadly, the grower/owners of Sunkist.
And it is a problem endemic to co-ops. The nature of a co-op is that it isolates growers from marketing because the co-op takes over that function.
In our article Will Tim Lindgren Go To China? we used the situation in China as an analogy for the kinds of problems Sunkist confronts.
Sunkist exports a lot of fruit to Asia. Pulling and screaming, the growers were convinced to sell counter-seasonal citrus. Developing this program is principally what Rick Eastes has been involved with. Today, many of the Asian accounts that purchase California and Arizona citrus from Sunkist also buy Sunkist brand citrus from South Africa and Australia.
Sunkist growers were persuaded that in order to sell domestic accounts such as Wal-Mart and Costco, plus many overseas accounts, it was crucial to be a 52-week-a-year supplier of every product Sunkist sold.
Even now, there is great resistance in the grower ranks to this concept. Many growers feel that every moment a Sunkist executive spends talking or thinking about anything but California or Arizona citrus is a waste. They think that salespeople should be selling California valencias rather than Southern Hemisphere navels.
But because of the justification for the counter-seasonal produce to maintain relationships to sell more California/Arizona citrus, the board approved it.
Now, the issue facing Sunkist is more stark. China is planting citrus like crazy. There are experts in China bringing the most modern sorting and packing equipment. People from America, from Chile, from Europe and from Israel are helping to upgrade the quality of Chinese citrus production.
China will have both quality and quantity available for export to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and other Asian markets. The fruit will be significantly less expensive and Sunkist will lose these Asian export markets.
Because China and California/Arizona are both northern hemisphere fruit, they will be in direct competition.
Here is what we wrote:
The great strategic issue confronting Sunkist is what to do about massive plantings of citrus in China. Already Sunkist has virtually lost its European outlets. Inevitably this Chinese citrus will drive Sunkist out of its important Asian export markets.
The Pundit has urged Sunkist to open packinghouses in China. It could save the Asian markets for Sunkist, provide inexpensive fruit for sale in Europe and position Sunkist as a multi-national producer.
The Pundit believes that it is in addressing this great strategic question that Sunkist’s future will be decided.
We believe that the strategy for value maximization would be to end the Sunkist co-op and give each grower shares in Sunkist, then do a listing on the New York Stock Exchange and allow growers to freely sell, buy or hold shares in Sunkist.
This would free Sunkist management to maximize the value of the Sunkist brand and Sunkist marketing organization and thus the value of the shares that growers would hold.
Growers would have an initial contract to market through Sunkist and after, say, three seasons, they could seek alternative marketing channels if they so desire.
This is a case where division of the company would provide a multiplication of total asset value.
Our letter-writer is entitled to his opinion on others who have been affiliated with Sunkist, but his opinions are not widely shared. To say that “Rick Eastes is a nice guy but was obviously not the man for the job at Sunkist and I’m sure that had nothing to do with the change in the guard” is to deny reality.
In what sense was Rick not the man for the job? He built the company from nothing. And, why our letter-writer is so “sure” that Rick’s departure had nothing to do with the changing of the guard is beyond this Pundit.
To say that “Sure, there have been a few people leave Sunkist recently but that had a lot more to do with their incompetence than with Jeff’s leadership or lack of same.” Who are these incompetent people who left? Jim Padden, who was Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Sunkist? Would that be the same Jim Padden who David Krause, then Chairman of Sunkist’s Board of Directors and President of Paramount Citrus, identified as an “in-house candidate” for President and CEO when Jeff Gargiulo announced his intention to leave? It is an absurd claim.
But the money shot is our correspondent’s explanation that Sunkist made “…two mistakes in a row in the selection of a CEO…” and his attack on Jeff Gargiulo as a “person who would spend most of his time nurturing a wine operation in the Napa Valley.”
It is a fascinating critique of Jeff. Note that our writer doesn’t point to any failures on Jeff’s part, doesn’t claim Jeff was negligent and didn’t do his job. He just leaves his ownership of a winery out there kind of hanging like an accusation.
Jeff is a highly intelligent and successful entrepreneur. He started out his career in produce with the Naples Fruit and Vegetable Company. Eventually he started Gargiulo, Inc., which was to become the market share leader in fresh tomatoes and was one of the top companies in strawberries and raspberries. He sold the company to Monsanto, where he served as president of the Produce Business Unit for two years.
During his time at Sunkist, Gargiulo improved revenues and payments to the cooperative’s members by introducing new products to leverage the Sunkist brand, expanding Sunkist’s distribution into Wal-Mart and Costco, and by sourcing fruits from other parts of the world to satisfy demand for year-round availability of citrus fruits. Gargiulo also served as chairman of the Produce Marketing Association.
Yes, Jeff and his wife, Valerie, have a winery. Their daughter, April, runs sales and marketing. More power to Jeff and his family. You can find their website here. Download an order form and fax it over.
What is interesting about our letter-writer’s critique is it echoes the kind of complaints about Jeff that board members at Sunkist told me about. Several Sunkist growers told me that they knew that Tim Lindgren would be a big win for Sunkist over Jeff Gargiulo. How did they know this? Well, it was explained to me that Jeff spent a lot of money on travel and Tim would spend a fraction of that.
We’ve never seen the Sunkist travel logs but that mode of thought strikes us as ridiculous. Sunkist is roughly a billion-dollar organization. The CEO’s travel is simply insignificant.
But our letter-writer’s complaint about the vineyard, the board members complaint about the travel expenses and the failure to keep Jim Padden and Rick Eastes, all speak to a cultural divide between the grower/owners of Sunkist and the necessities of a worldwide produce market.
We wish Tim Lindgren well and we are reminded of the advice Russ Hanlin gave his successor when he retired as Sunkist’s CEO after 47 years at Sunkist: “Remember every day that Sunkist is a voluntary membership association. You have to have the consensus of the membership to make it work. Massage that consensus, get out there and try to communicate as best you can what it is you’re trying to do. Work on that constantly and don’t feel that it’s an intrusion on your job. That is your job.”
And that is why Tim Lindgren may yet prove to be a great CEO for Sunkist. If he is able to persuade the grower/owners of Sunkist that converting to a stock company will enhance their interests, he will go down in history as the greatest Sunkist CEO ever.
A Pundit thanks to Anthony Barbieri of Acme Markets. We received a request to run a photo and description of a child who was supposedly “missing” — the girl’s mother supposedly worked as a deli manager at Acme.
Here at the Pundit, we don’t run things that are just sent to us, so we called Anthony to see if this story was accurate.
Turned out it was wrong. The girl was never missing or kidnapped. It was some kind of prank. You can imagine the heartbreak news like this floating around can cause for a family.
So thanks to Anthony for setting us straight.
This gives us a good opportunity to explain our letter policy. We appreciate all letters and are certainly willing to read whatever we are sent.
If you don’t want your name published, just write: “Off the record” or “Deep Background” or “Don’t use my name,” and we will honor that request.
But we don’t publish anonymous letters if we don’t know where they came from.
As with this story of the little girl, we receive all kinds of stuff everyday, and it is our job at the Pundit to separate the legitimate from the illegitimate.
We can’t judge the legitimacy of an anonymous note so we will read it but can’t pass it on.
So, please, write us a letter. We can publish your name or keep it “off the record” if you need to, but understand that we can’t publish anonymous rumors.
Thanks and “keep those cards and letters coming.”
There is an ad-hoc group that started it all, the National Restaurant Association has its group working on a program and the Food Marketing Institute has a conference planned. All these buyer-led initiatives can get confusing, so to assist the trade in keeping track of them all, we are publishing this recap of coverage all in one place.
As new developments, occur we will continue to update this recap to help keep the trade organized on this important subject.
On September 25, 2006, in the midst of the spinach crisis, we published The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that it is the “representations and warranties” that buyers demand that define the food safety programs we get:
“…in the end, the strength of our food safety systems is at least as dependent on what retailers demand as they are on what the government does for the simple reason that what retailers pay for is what they are going to get.”
Then in the issue of the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, which was unveiled at the PMA Convention in San Diego on October 21, 2006, we published Food Safety Is A Retail Issue,which pointed out:
“…what holds suppliers back is not that they need an FDA regulation — it is that they need to see a willingness on the part of buyers to pay more to obtain a higher level of food safety and security. So far that is missing.”
The Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety was then announced. In time it came to be signed on to by nine important buying organizations:
Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Tim York, Markon Cooperative
Here at the Pundit, we applauded the buyer-led effort but on October 30, 2006, ran a piece entitled Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question Of Buyer Commitment, in which we pointed out:
“What would be helpful from these buyers is…a reassurance to the grower/shipper/packer/processor community that investments in food safety will be protected.”
As Gene Harris of Denny’s added his endorsement to the Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety, we published, Pundit’s Mailbag — Denny’s Weighs In On Food Safety Efforton November 1, 2006, and we pointed out that the Western Growers Association was now looking for mandatory standards:
“Buyers can impose standards on their suppliers, but it seems as if the big grower members of WGA are more inclined to go with a mandatory program. Perhaps because this is more easily “saleable” to consumers, perhaps because the growers have no confidence that buyers will ever agree to a uniform standard on food safety and, perhaps, because growers know that buyers today can have the best of intentions but situations change and buyer’s change — and if legal product is available for much less money, that will put a lot of pressure on an organization to change its standards.”
On November 2, 2006, we highlighted an Opportunity For Buyers’ Food Safety Initiative, where we wrote the following:
“Here’s the Pundit’s suggestion to the buyers: Don’t wait for the deadline to pass. Withdraw the letter to the associations, which can only lead to endless negotiations with grower/shippers and watered-down food safety standards. Instead, create a temporary ad hoc consortium to spearhead the quick development of science-based food safety standards.
In the short term, these will be enforced by buyer demand, hopefully including other buyers who will buy into the plan; in the medium run the plan will be turned over to state authorities in California and federal authorities in Washington, D.C., as the basis for new mandatory regulation.”
We pointed out that this initiative may not stay in the hands of the ad hoc group leading the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative when, on November 7, 2006, we announced: National Restaurant Association Forms Produce Safety Working Groupand pointed out:
“What we should have learned from the FDA loss of confidence in the industry is that food safety is not something that we negotiate over. It has to be driven by the best scientific knowledge we have.”
Mark Munger of Andrew-Williamson Fresh Produce, a grower/shipper, pitched in his thoughts on the important role buyers play in the food safety arena and, on November 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Grower, which specifically praised one foodservice customer:
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.
Not surprisingly, the Food Marketing Institute was not going to be content to sit this one out and, on November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into The Food Safety Fray,which detailed a conference scheduled for December 5th at which FMI would host representatives from industry, associations, academia and government to advance food safety issues. Unfortunately, FMI decided to exclude the media and we pointed out:
“…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.”
On November 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag: Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer Led-Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower/shipper pointed out that “This is where the retailers must step out of their ivory towers and get their walk (vendor relationship) to match their talk (aligned supply chain)… If those who signed on to this letter would get committed to buying only from “qualified suppliers,” the laws of supply and demand will drive the solution and we will quickly catch up with the rest of the world in this critical area.”
On November 17, 2006, we featured Tale Of Two Buyers, in which we pointed out: “If the VPs are sincere about wanting the buyers to place food safety first, the VPs have the responsibility for changing the culture and the economic incentive systems.”
On November 21, 2006, we published Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which features an extensive interview with Tim York of Markon Cooperative as well as the announcement that the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative gained ten new retail signatories:
- Mike O’Brien, Vice President Produce & Floral, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, Missouri
- James Spilka, Vice President Produce, Meijer, Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Mark Vanderlinden, Vice President Produce Merchandising , Price Chopper, Schenectady, New York
- Greg Corrigan, Director Produce & Floral, Raley’s, West Sacramento, California
- Craig Carlson, Vice President Produce, Pathmark Stores, Carteret, New Jersey
- Don Harris, Vice President Produce & Floral, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colorado
- Bryan Gannon, Director Produce & Floral, Big Y Supermarkets, Springfield, Massachusetts
- Jim Corby, Vice President, Produce Merchandising. Food Lion, Salisbury, North Carolina
- Roger Schroeder, Vice President Produce, Stater Bros., Colton, California
- Craig Ignatz, Vice President Produce Merchandising, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Despite the impressive show of buyer support, we expressed some concern: “…it is also pretty clear that the prospect of one unified food safety standard acceptable to every one of the signatories, much less to those who have declined to sign, is somewhere between nil and nothing.”
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.
On November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into Food Safety Fray, which details the role a food safety conference FMI is organizing might play in helping the industry develop new food safety protocols. You can find the piece here.
November 14, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower pointed out that growers needed retailers to walk the walk not talk the talk. Read it here.
On November 15, 2006 we published PulseNet, And The Pundit, In The News, which linked to a TV station that picked up on our reporting on ways to improve PulseNet. Read it here. Also on November 15, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Westborn Markets, Schnucks, Wal-Mart, in which these retailers updated us on how the market for spinach and bagged salads is recovering. You can find the piece here.
November 16, 2006, we had a piece entitled Pundit’s Mailbag — Kill Steps And Irradiation that dealt with the industry concern that no matter how we strengthen our agricultural practices, only a “kill step” can really solve the problem. Read it here.
On November 17, 2006, we published GAPs/GMPs And HACCP Plans, in which United Fresh President/CEO Tom Stenzel gives his take on what happened during the spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 17, 2006, we ran Tale Of Two Buyers, which pointed out that culture and compensation may matter more than intent when it comes to food safety. Find it right here.
November 21, 2006, we ran Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which updated us on the progress of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. Read it here.
On November 22, 2006 we presented The Perishable Pundit’s Unsung Heroes Awardto Hank Giclas of Western Growers Association, David Gombas and Jim Gorny, both of United Fresh Produce Association. Read all about it right here. Also on November 22, 2006 we reported the explosive news that the whole consumer advisory not to eat spinach might have been avoided had certain processors cooperated with the FDA. The piece is called Spinach Farmers Won’t Be Thanking Certain Processors This Holidayand you can read it here. Additionally, on November 22, 2006 we explained that restricting product usage could reduce the impact of future outbreaks. The article is called If You Are Eating Out For Thanksgiving… and you can find 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.
On November 10, 2006, we highlighted a quick directory of Farm-to-Fork Food Safety Resources. Catch it here.
November 21, 2006 we ran Capitol Report: United Helps Coordinate ‘Spinach Fest’ which focused on an event in D.C. reintroducing spinach to consumers. Read it here. Also on November 21, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Woeful Costco Experience, which detailed the difficulty of getting accurate information down to store level personnel. You can find the piece here.
On November 22, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Thankfulness in which Harris Cutler of Race-West Company offered a common sense perspective on food safety. Read it here.
Several additional pieces appear in the Perishable Pundit today, and they will be incorporated into future iterations of this Spinach Crisis Summary.
In addition to our own work, there are many excellent sources of information out there that do not require payment, membership or registration. Three of the Pundit’s favorites:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has offered daily information on the crisis right here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deal with the outbreak here.
The Produce Marketing Association has maintained an excellent industry resource on the subject right here.
Please feel free to write or call if you are looking for specific information not included here. Note that many of the articles and websites have links to other resources.