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Taco Bell Makes Ready Pac Its Scapegoat

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, December 12, 2006

Taco Bell announced that it has dropped its produce supplier in the Northeast, which was Ready Pac. In its press release, the company said:

The company also switched produce suppliers in the region even though it has no indication they were associated with the illness. “We are not willing to take any risk with the publics safety…”

But, of course, firing a company for which there is “…no indication they were associated with the illness…” is not going to help the public’s safety.

In fact it is a PR stunt that evades responsibility by attempting to shift it to a third party. After all, Yum!Brands is one of the largest foodservice operators in the world. In addition to Taco Bell, it owns Pizza Hut, KFC, Long John Silvers and A&W, plus an international division and a Chinese division.

What’s more, the problems with green onions are well known. Taco Bell itself had a Hepatitis A Outbreak in 2000.

So we are dealing with an enormous company that has the money, the scale, the technical capabilities and notice of the need for vigilance — all the prerequisites for a world-class food safety plan.

Look at it this way: Green onions are a critical control point in the Taco Bell HACCP plan.

This means that Yum!Brands’ Quality Assurance people should have been in the scallion fields, approved the growing and packing techniques, approved the HACCP plan at grower, packer and processor level.

Yum!Brands is a big buyer, big enough to get Ready Pac to open a separate scallion packing operation just for Taco Bell. If Yum wanted rodent traps every five feet in the field or a different irrigation system, a simple willingness to pay for it would have been all that was required.

So in the absence of a specific allegation that Yum!Brands was somehow defrauded, to drop a supplier is mealymouthed, an attempt to make it look like it was betrayed, that this problem is someone else’s fault when really there is no indication that Yum!Brands got anything except for the food safety system it elected to buy.

Dumping a supplier so unceremoniously means more food safety problems down the road. The Pundit estimates that the Taco Bell business was more than half the business at Ready Pac’s facility in Florence, New Jersey. If the message to suppliers is that if there is a problem we will dump you overboard whether you did anything wrong or not, the message is also “don’t tell us your problems.”

This attitude is inimical to the attitude of shared responsibility for food safety that is essential for success.

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