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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



FMI & United Trade Shows In Flux

FMI announced its new show schedule:

The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) today announced a new show rotation and venue schedule beginning in 2008.

The FMI Show plus MARKETECHNICS® will take place in Chicago in May of 2007 as previously scheduled, and then move to Las Vegas in 2008 to begin an alternating year rotation with a new Leadership Education Forum. This new Leadership Education Forum will launch in Dallas in May of 2009. Holding the FMI Show in the even-numbered years accommodates equipment vendors who have asked FMI to be sensitive to an existing national equipment show already being held in the odd-numbered years.

"Combining the FMI May Show with MARKETECHNICS® starting in 2007 and continuing in 2008 creates a singular opportunity for the entire industry to connect with their peers, gain access to the industry’s most comprehensive exhibit floor, and take advantage of unique educational opportunities. This will be particularly valuable to our independent operators who cannot attend multiple shows each year. Our new Leadership Education Forum will help the industry develop the leadership talent we will need for the future and will serve as an ongoing showcase for FMI’s signature research projects," said Tim Hammonds, president and CEO, FMI.

Event dates:

  • 2007: May 6-8, Chicago, Illinois, McCormick Place — FMI Show plus Marketechnics
  • 2008: May 5-7, Las Vegas, Nevada, Mandalay Bay — FMI Show plus Marketechnics
  • 2009: May 4-6, Dallas, Texas, Hyatt Regency — FMI Leadership Education Forum followed by Marketechnics, May 6-8, Dallas, Texas, Dallas Convention Center

We wonder if FMI realizes how arrogant they come across to people. Here they have been partners with other organizations for several years, including United Fresh, and they issue a release as if everyone else has dropped off the face of the earth.

They don’t seem to know or care what any of their “partners” do or don’t do. After promoting the “Power of Five” — referring to the five co-located shows — for the past 3 years as an important benefit for attendees, they simply drop the notion without comment. It really shows a lack of respect for the intelligence of their potential attendees.

Anyway, we spoke with United and they sent a release.

The United Fresh Produce Association announced today that its Board of Directors has elected to continue its partnership with the FMI Show, first launched with the co-location of its trade shows in 2004.

“The partnership between our associations, serving our members in both the produce and retail industries, has created a unique strategic opportunity for building business alliances across the total produce supply chain,” said United Fresh Co-Chairman Maureen Marshall, Torrey Farms, Elba, NY. “We’re pleased that this partnership will continue on with our joint trade shows in Las Vegas in May 2008, and strong cooperative efforts in educational programs in 2009,” she said.

With this decision, the FMI Show and United Fresh Marketplace will transition from their home in Chicago in May 2007 to Las Vegas, Nevada. in May 2008. FMI will then host a Leadership Education Forum in May 2009 in Dallas, Texas.

“Chicago has been a wonderful city for the produce industry, and we’re looking forward to another great trip to the windy city this coming May,” said United Fresh President Tom Stenzel. “But, produce people seem to enjoy different venues and there’s no greater convention city today than Las Vegas,” he said. United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association’s last convention in Las Vegas was held in 1985.

“We’re also pleased with the ongoing commitment between our association and FMI to enhancing produce-retail relationships and increasing mutual knowledge and understanding across our memberships. Whether it’s the recent food safety challenges we’re confronting together, or the need to better anticipate consumer needs and opportunities, the strategic partnerships that we build between produce suppliers and retail customers are critical to driving win-win solutions for our member companies,” Stenzel said.

United Fresh Marketplace 2007 will be held together with FMI, the Midwest Fancy Foods Show, All Things Organic, and the U.S. Foods Export Showcase in Chicago, May 5-8. New this year, visitors can participate in three produce short courses on May 5 before the show opening, including sessions on retail marketing, foodservice marketing, and Food Safety 101, a hands-on training session for non-technical professionals throughout the supply chain. In addition, the Fresh Marketplace Welcome Reception will now be followed by a gala Retail Awards Banquet, featuring a celebration of front-line retail produce marketing with the annual Retail Managers Award presentation.

United FreshTech 2007 will be held in Palm Springs, California, April 25-28. FreshTech builds on its history as the successor to the former International Fresh-cut Produce Association’s Fresh-Cut Expo, and features the industry’s only concentrated venue where management personnel and other decision makers can spend undivided attention on the tools, technology, equipment, goods and services to improve the efficiency and profitability of their operations.

For more information about the shows or other United Fresh programs and services, please visit www.unitedfresh.org.

The comeuppance of all this:

The whole Power of Five group — FMI, United, Fancy Food show, All Things Organic and US Foods Export Showcase — will be in Chicago in 2007.

In 2008, FMI and United will go to Las Vegas. No word yet from other shows, but US Foods Export Showcase will probably go along. The Export Showcase is not so much a show as an area within FMI focused on export. It makes little sense for the Fancy Food Show to go as they have annual shows in New York and San Francisco. Supposedly the organic people want an annual show. Perhaps the Fancy Food and Organic shows will continue to co-locate in Chicago.

In 2009, FMI will have an educational event and no show in Dallas. United has committed to participate in that. However United has NOT precluded doing a general trade show at some other time or place. As Amy Philpott from United put it:

The United Fresh Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly to co-locate the 2008 United Fresh Marketplace together with FMI in Las Vegas, May 5-7. We are not aware of what plans the other partners in the Chicago show may have. At present, we believe FMI and United Fresh are the only organizations announcing definite plans for 2008.

The Board has not made a decision on potential partners or locations with regard to the Fresh Marketplace show in 2009. We will be looking at those options in the future. However, we are committed to continuing our partnership with FMI during 2009 to provide produce industry involvement with their major educational conference in Dallas when they do not plan a trade show, and also exploring other educational opportunities that would help build a stronger produce industry-retail industry supply chain.

At present, FreshTech 2008 is scheduled for Sacramento, California, in late April 2008. The Board will be evaluating options for continuing on with that timing and location, or possibly different timing and cities for 2008 and beyond.

The United Fresh Board believes trade shows, educational conferences, seminars and the like must be operated as business events that meet real needs in the industry. We are committed to offering real strategic business value to our members, and are always open to discussing partnerships that might serve our members and enhance the success of the overall produce industry. That’s how the FMI partnership was originally launched, and continues today as a way to offer unique value to our industry.

We are all very excited about this new opportunity.

The real issue isn’t United but the viability of FMI. There are a few successful every-other-year shows — but not too many. And FMI is acting out of weakness. It is going to this every-other-year schedule because it was having trouble getting support.

If its annual event wasn’t successful enough to encourage firms to want to exhibit, it is hard to see how going every other year solves that problem.

And anyone who knows the way corporate budgets work knows that getting big money one year when you didn’t have it the previous year, isn’t easy.

The every-other-year trade show concept works on two big trade shows in Europe, but that is because they alternate years with SIAL in Paris on even-numbered years and Anuga in Germany on odd-numbered years.

United is probably doing the smartest thing. It is going to work its FMI connection for what it can. But FMI has to save itself.




Fighting E. coli At The Source

One of the problems with all the industry food safety efforts is that they are fundamentally defensive. This evil E. coli 0157:H7 is out in the environment and we, as an industry, are going to put up fences, test water, test product, etc., in the hope of stopping it from getting through.

We may have to play that way but, fundamentally, it is a loser’s game. We have to be perfect every time and the pathogen only has to get through once.

Reminds one of the dilemma in fighting terrorism.

Lately, however, there has been a switch in perspective with people looking, more and more, to do something that will achieve safety but without requiring perfection.

Here at the Pundit, we inquired as to whether E. coli couldn’t be perceived as a form of pollution with legal restrictions against those who would introduce it into the environment.

We also looked at irradiation as a way to introduce a “kill step” into fresh-cut produce.

Another option may be research in Canada of a new vaccine for cattle that could significantly reduce the level of E. coli 0157:H7 in the cattle:

Canadian health researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Saskatchewan have developed a vaccine that significantly reduces the level of Escherichia coli 0157:H7 (E. coli) in cattle. The vaccine will help to reduce the dramatic economic and healthcare costs associated with E. coli 0157, the toxic microbe responsible for hamburger disease, recalls of contaminated meat, and water contamination.

The team’s findings are published in today’s on-line edition of the scientific journal Vaccine. The experimental vaccine was created by UBC microbiologist and bacterial diseases expert Dr. Brett Finlay and Dr. Andy Potter, Associate Director (Research) at the University of Saskatchewan Vaccine & Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO).The research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Canadian Bacterial Diseases Network of Centres of Excellence, Bioniche Life Sciences Inc., and the Beef Industry Development Fund.

“I had studied this disease for years when it suddenly occurred to me to vaccinate cows instead of children,” said Dr. Finlay, UBC’s Peter Wall Distinguished Professor and a CIHR Distinguished Investigator. “There are no treatments for this disease in humans so I’m thrilled that the cattle vaccine works, and works well.”

“This work is particularly exciting to us because of the impact it will have on reducing human disease,” said Dr. Alan Bernstein, President of CIHR. “I am proud that CIHR funded the basic research that led to the discovery of the vaccine. The end result will have profound benefits for global health since it will significantly reduce the bacteria at the source, resulting in a significant reduction in food and water contamination.”

Dr. Potter worked with Dr. Finlay to take Finlay’s discovery of bacterial components required for E. coli to colonize its host and turn it into a vaccine.

“This type of E. coli doesn’t actually cause disease in cattle, but it can be deadly to humans. Vaccinating cattle in order to protect humans is a different twist on vaccine usage. If this vaccine is successful, it will be a significant development in the reduction of risk to humans by vaccinating animals,” said Dr. Potter.

The study tested the vaccine under both experimental conditions and conditions of natural exposure. For the latter, researchers tracked E. coli prevalence in 192 vaccinated and unvaccinated steers through 115 days on feed at the University of Nebraska. Vaccination reduced E. coli prevalence an average of 59 per cent compared with unvaccinated cattle. This data builds on earlier experimental tests that demonstrated decreased shedding of E. coli in vaccinated cattle over the unvaccinated cattle.

While E. coli prevalence varied in both vaccinated and unvaccinated steers throughout the study, it was consistently lower among vaccinated steers.

The E. coli vaccine is being developed by a strategic alliance composed of UBC, the Alberta Research Council (ARC), the U of S’s VIDO and Bioniche Life Sciences Inc., which is responsible for worldwide commercialization of the vaccine.

Clinical studies and field trials in Canada and the United States are continuing to establish the efficacy of the E. coli vaccine. Currently, alliance partners are collaborating on process development activities to facilitate manufacturing scale-up of the vaccine.

Recent events throughout Canada have highlighted the dangers of E. coli. Due to this bacterium, approximately 50,000 North Americans get sick each year and 500 of them die.

In May 2000, tragedy struck Walkerton, Ontario, after E. coli 0157 from cow fecal matter contaminated the town’s drinking water. Beyond the human toll, the economic cost to meat producers has been estimated at $5 billion annually.

There has already been a lot of news coverage on this discovery. And others in the U.S. have been working on a similar approach.

But we can’t get too excited as five years ago some were saying we could have a commercial vaccine of this type in three to six months.

Still, the notion of fighting E. coli 0157:H7 at the source and through kill steps makes a lot more sense than fighting over fence heights.

The Pundit hates playing defense.




A Little Holiday Nothingness

For those looking for an existential holiday, we offer The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook.









Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry:
Foodbuy’s Maurice Totty

Foodservice operators are a most difficult bunch for the produce industry to get in sync with. Typically, the problem is that while retailers have dedicated produce personnel, foodservice operators tend to buy many products, more often being general food and beverage buyers. One exception to that rule is Maurice Totty of Foodbuy, the purchasing arm of the Compass Group.

Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, spoke with Maurice as part of our series of Foodservice Pundit Pulses. We’ve reached out to foodservice because the general perception in the industry is that with an ability to focus on a limited number of items and an aligned supply chain driven by contracted produce; foodservice operators do a better job on food safety than do retailers.

However, recent outbreaks at Taco Bell and Taco John’s raise the issue of whether foodservice operators’ reliance on fresh-cut product, especially at quick-service restaurants, doesn’t offset any benefits from an aligned supply chain.

We started out by hearing from Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins and thus got the perspective of a smaller QSR chain and a single campus university foodservice operator. Though both of these individuals are with smaller operators, they share a broader industry perspective due to their service on the main PMA board, of which Janet Erickson was Chairman last year. We then spoke with Michael Spinazzola of Diversified Restaurant Systems, which supplies the Subway chain, to get the perspective of a larger organization, but one still focused on a select group of products. Michael serves on the PMA Foodservice Board as does Maurice Totty.

We turn to Maurice today in a part because the Compass Group offers a different perspective. A highly diversified operation, operating globally, they do not have the luxury of focusing on only a few items as a limited-menu QSR chain might. Additionally, Maurice is both frank and broadly experienced.

The Pundit wishes to express enormous appreciation to Janet and Dan, Michael and Maurice, as well as to their organizations: Del Taco, the University of Notre Dame, Diversified Restaurant Systems, Foodbuy and the Compass Group.

It is only because individuals of this caliber share their insights and organizations of this stature encourage them to do so that our industry advances and that, ultimately, we will produce safer product for everyone. These folks and others who contribute to building a better industry and food safety system are part of the solution and our debt to them meaningful.

Maurice Totty
Senior Procurement Manager Produce, Foodbuy, Charlotte, North Carolina, purchasing arm for the
UK-based Compass Group.

Q: Could you describe your role at Foodbuy?

A: Foodbuy is the purchasing arm of the Compass Group, made up of numerous foodservice operations, including restaurants, higher education and K through 12, corporate food establishments, hospitals, nursing homes, canteens, vending machines, and sports arenas in the United States and 93 other countries, making it one of the largest foodservice providers in the world.

Based out of the Charlotte, North Carolina, office, I’m in charge of produce sourcing, logistics, and distribution for produce in all sectors across the United States. There are now about 12,000 outlets in the U.S. that operate under the Compass banner.

Q: What food safety mechanisms do you have in place for produce procurement?

A: Much of our distribution network for produce is fragmented. One of the reasons I was brought into Foodbuy was to reduce the number of distributors, get to know them and understand their food procurement systems. Do they understand GAP is something other than a clothing store? Part of the supply chain link is making sure distributors’ food safety standards are as high as ours.

In some instances we deal directly with suppliers. We have 15 suppliers contracted in different areas, some regional processors, many on the West Coast, potato suppliers in different parts of country. We require audits of all facilities to make sure proper GAP plans are being followed all the way down to the fields and harvesting. We specify one of three auditing companies knowledgeable in foodservice operations; Primus Labs, Silliker Labs, and Cook & Thurber are the three that we accept.

We do realize other companies out there also do this for their business and can provide the necessary food safety expertise and testing we require, but we’ve thoroughly evaluated these three and feel confident in them. These labs are very objective, understand the foodservice industry and provide the most accurate audit.

We also must require the same auditing requirements for produce distributors. We have a very large number of produce distributors in the system and we are in the process of consolidating that number down to select those that provide audits from one of these three companies, and that have agreed to purchase from our approved suppliers.

Food safety is extremely important to me and the Compass Group, and the quality assurance team is right there with the changes we’re now implementing.

If you can control distribution, you can control the entire supply chain. The distributor ensures it buys the products from your approved suppliers.

Q: But even then, do you really have control over all areas where food safety issues could arise?

A: Even with the upgraded food safety programs, knowing the distribution base, and striving to evolve by contracting directly with suppliers, there is never 100 percent guarantee of removing foodborne illness. The best you can do is try to leverage the odds to reduce the potential risks that are out there. You do what you can.

Later in the supply chain, I believe foodservice has a higher risk variable than at retail. The retail sector usually has no human contact directly with the product inside the package. Basically, the employee is taking it out of the case and placing it on the shelf and that is the entire contact. On the foodservice side, most product being used has to be processed, taking the tomato out of the box being sure it’s washed, before it’s sliced and diced, it’s properly stored, cooled and handled down the line.

A lot of potential risks stem from human contact, which is of high importance in controlling food safety through the supply chain. If the pathogen is on the outside, the triple washing chlorine bath should remove it. But once it enters the leaf, all the washing in the world won’t remove it. Unfortunately, food safety issues are complex and often difficult to trace. That is why we need to approach food safety from many different angles.

Q: How has your varied career background helped you in this regard?

A: I’ve worked in both retail and foodservice at all levels of management, to now being on the procurement side at Foodbuy. My first real job out of high school was in grocery stores, and I stayed in retail 15 years working for Big Star Foods. I gravitated to the produce section and eventually became responsible for 30 grocery stores in the state of Virginia. Then I went to owning a restaurant by the name of Southern Delights located in the Waterside Festival Marketplace in Norfolk, Virginia, one of most fascinating, rewarding experiences where I learned about the responsibilities and challenges on the operations side.

From there I worked at Chi Chi’s restaurants in management positions, becoming director of operations in corporate, heavily involved in food and beverage. When the company decided to relocate to Irvine, California, from Kentucky, I didn’t want to move there. I left before the green onion outbreak, where four people died and more than 600 people were sickened. The chain never recovered from that and, eventually, ceased operations.

I joined Applebee’s in management on the produce purchasing side, which also afforded me the opportunity to get to the East Coast. Understanding all sides of the business and gaining different perspectives is beneficial in making food safety decisions at Foodbuy regarding distribution changes, product specifications, and operational adjustments.

Food safety strategies can’t be made in a bubble. You have to involve the operators, distributors and suppliers. Every decision has a ripple effect through the food chain network, and it is important to assure that everyone understands why changes need to be made. Most often changes are pushed back and people are quick to say why they won’t work. I’ve found that the more involved people are in the decisions and in understanding how it will benefit the company, the more they buy in.

Q: Some industry executives believe the only way to get everyone to buy in is with government regulations.

A: I believe within the next year, the government will be getting involved in mandating food safety standards applicable within the produce industry. We prefer to monitor food safety ourselves without government intervention. However, with the recent food outbreaks and the issues that continue, we won’t have a choice.

With government intervention, we won’t reach the level of food safety we need.

We still see mad cow disease. We haven’t been struck by bird flu yet, but risk of it occurring in the United States is very high. I believe we would have more control and flexibility to react quickly to incidents by taking charge of food safety requirements ourselves.

In the produce category, people are involved because they have a passion for it. I love the people in the industry I have the opportunity to work with. It is like a large family. Yes, we compete against each other, but if needed, produce executives would give the shirts off their backs. I think in terms of food safety, the industry will continue to work together to find solutions and hopefully not have government intervention pushing unsatisfactory solutions at us.

The other issue is that government regulation is focused on addressing grower/shipper problems or concerns, but will it have any control over freight and transport, handling in retail and foodservice operations? Will it do anything to educate consumers? For years, produce has been a commodity people don’t think can kill you. Outbreaks have proven that wrong. People understand that you don’t leave chicken out because it may get you sick. How many people wash produce before they pop it in their mouth?

Q: Wouldn’t the string of recent food outbreaks increase consumer awareness of food safety issues in produce?

A: Everyone is hypersensitive about food outbreaks now. Sadly, we’re seeing the media jumping on stories that never would have been stories or made the press a year ago. The Canada spinach salmonella news, which turned out to be an isolated incident and not a food outbreak at all, is the perfect example of how a story was blown out of proportion.

Unfortunately since the spinach outbreak, every hint of a potential issue has made it on 6:00 national news. A lot of companies are being hurt badly because of inaccurate, or misinformation or not having the full story available. Most of the time, the public never gets the rest of the story. They just hear foodborne illness, people in hospital, produce is bad.

Q: What is your opinion of how Taco Bell has handled its food crisis?

A: Taco Bell’s handling of its food outbreak is not good, the accusations being made and the determination to fire suppliers without justification do nothing to solve food safety problems. First it’s green onions, no, white onions, no, lettuce, maybe. Every time a speculation appears in a Taco Bell advertisement, a publication or over the internet, it hurts the industry and the suppliers of those products.

I’m sure Boskovich Farms and Ready Pac sales took a downturn. This is particularly unfair when these companies were doing what was asked of them. Suppliers and distributors will become extremely leery to come out and announce there is an issue.

Q: Have food outbreaks hit a tipping point in terms of consumer trust with produce?

A: In the case of Chi Chi’s, the outbreak was the final straw that the company couldn’t recover from. You ask how outbreaks affect consumers. Just like the outbreak at Chi Chi’s, I think over time these recent outbreaks will be forgotten, the industry will rebound, there will be changes, increased food safety measures put in place. I have talked to suppliers who are now testing or looking into testing sample lots of products that come out of the field after they are packaged before they are shipped, taking at least a day or two off the shelf life.

The continued efforts by the different produce groups — PMA, United Fresh — are critical. They need to stay involved in pushing for safer controls with growers/shippers and suppliers. The PMA has been a tremendous learning vehicle in my growth on the procurement side. It has allowed me first-hand experience on the grower and distributor side and access to a great cross section of all parts of the industry.

The reality is that in the produce supply chain, it’s not always at the grower level where food safety problems originate or reach the scope of an outbreak. There are so many areas where contamination could occur if the proper cold chain is not maintained from harvesting until the product is eaten by the consumer, during transport from the west coast to the east coast, when it reaches the distributor, how long that door stays open in that summer heat when the truck makes the delivery, etc.

The discussion cannot only focus on the grower. In foodservice, are operators handling the produce correctly or is it sitting in the kitchen un-refrigerated for two hours? With my restaurant background and exposure to all parts of the supply chain, maintaining food safety doesn’t fall on one select group. We are all part of the problem and solution.

Maurice’s comments are both intriguing and worth remembering. He points out that too many suppliers are difficult to monitor and so food safety has to start with a rationalization of the supply chain. Even then, the game is to improve your odds. It is not possible to guarantee success.

Even government regulation is no guarantee of success. Just look at more regulated industries such as beef and poultry and note that regulation doesn’t necessarily prevent mad cow disease or avian flu. Maurice also warns of the downside of government regulation: the loss of flexibility to respond to evolving food safety needs.

He reminds us, also, that source-based product problems are only part of the food safety puzzle. He cautions against forgetting about problems introduced throughout the distribution chain and warns us, particularly, that whatever advantages foodservice operators may have from better aligned supply chains, the advantages are substantially outweighed by the fact that restaurants are not selling sealed boxes of product but, instead, have to have human beings, with all their frailties, prepare and cook product. As we saw in the recent Olive Garden situation, you don’t need a problem in a field for a lot of people to get sick.

Maurice is critical, as was the Pundit here and here, of the new fashion of dumping suppliers who were doing everything asked of them. As Maurice reminds us: “Suppliers and distributors will become extremely leery to come out and announce there is an issue.” In other words, open lines of communication are crucial to food safety and are inhibited by such actions.

One refreshing note is how frankly Maurice acknowledges that all facets of the industry have a responsibility for food safety, even his own. The closing comments in the interview are well worth repeating:

The reality is that in the produce supply chain, it’s not always at the grower level where food safety problems originate or reach the scope of an outbreak. There are so many areas where contamination could occur if the proper cold chain is not maintained from harvesting until the product is eaten by the consumer, during transport from the west coast to the east coast, when it reaches the distributor, how long that door stays open in that summer heat when the truck makes the delivery, etc.

The discussion cannot only focus on the grower. In foodservice, are operators handling the produce correctly or is it sitting in the kitchen un-refrigerated for two hours? With my restaurant background and exposure to all parts of the supply chain, maintaining food safety doesn’t fall on one select group. We are all part of the problem and solution.

A lot of wisdom here. Thanks again to Maurice Totty, Foodbuy and the Compass Group. Your contributions help us build a better…and safer…industry.




Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Answers

We recently ran two letters, first, a letter from Jeff Hitchcock of Boggiatto Produce pointing out that the field implicated in the spinach/E. coli outbreak was being farmed organically and marketed as conventional due to its transitional status (farms converting from conventionally grown to organic must go through a three-year transition to make sure the soil is free of synthetic pesticides, etc.) Then we ran a letter from Bob Sanderson of Jonathan’s Sprouts questioning the implication of this.

Today we received another letter on this subject:

Thanks for providing such a lively and engaging forum for discussion of issues relevant to the produce industry. We appreciate your focus on the complicated issues relating to food safety in produce.

Today, I wanted to take a moment to respond to the transitional field and manure issue that you’ve covered, most recently in the Pundit of December 19th.

First, it’s important to understand that until very recently, neither the FDA nor CDHS had identified the farm that was located within the half mile or so of where they had found the cow fecal matter with a strain of E. coli O157:H7 that matched the outbreak strain. So we could not have shared any information on the subject with any certainty. All we knew from the investigators was that they were still investigating each of the four farms identified in the traceback. We knew that one of the four farms was in the first year of its three-year transition period and so was being farmed organically. But, as required by law, the spinach grown on that field was labeled conventional.

On 12/5/2006, at the FMI’s leafy greens conference in Phoenix, Dr. Jeff Farrar of California Department of Health Services (CDHS), announced that the cow fecal matter containing a strain of E. coli O157:H7 that matched the outbreak strain was found in the vicinity of a transitional field. It’s important here to note that, to date, despite extensive testing, no E. coli O157:H7 has been found on the field itself; it has been found only about a half mile away on the adjacent cow pasture. When Dr. Farrar made that announcement, he took care to clarify that they did not suspect that this contamination was in any way related to farming methods, organic or conventional, but rather to environmental issues. Charles Sweat, our President, who also spoke at the conference, made the same clarification.

Finally, no raw or composted manure was used on this field and, on the whole, our growers are not using it in the cultivation of organic fields.

You may or may not be aware of the multi-layered food safety protocols that we at Natural Selection Foods are currently developing and implementing as we work with some of the top food safety scientists in the country. I would like to share that information with you, also, and will follow this email up with a phone call. If you get to it sooner, please feel free to call me.

I hope this information provides some deeper insight into this issue. I look forward to continuing to read your column.

— Samantha Cabaluna
Senior Manager of Communications
Natural Selection Foods

We appreciate Samantha writing to help the industry understand this issue better. We last spoke with Samantha as part of our Pundit Special Science Report in which she detailed the new product testing regimen that Natural Selection Foods instituted after the recent spinach/E. coli outbreak. Today she also gives valuable information:

  • It is vital to remember that, to date, nothing has been found on any spinach field. That makes everything said on the subject conjecture.
  • She also does confirm that the field most proximate to the cow fecal matter that was found to be matching the E. coli 0157:H7 was being farmed organically.
  • She also does state that: “…no raw or composted manure was used on this field and, on the whole, our growers are not using it in the cultivation of organic fields.”

This last point strikes the Pundit as crucial for regulatory and consumer attitudes toward organic produce. We would advise Natural Selection Foods to be prepared to release audit reports and other material to back this up.

And, the great news in Samantha’s letter is that contrary to popular perception, its organic growers are not utilizing manure, raw or composted.

Which raises the obvious question: If even organic growers don’t need to use it, why in the world is the produce industry going to bat for this unappealing practice?

No consumer likes the image of their produce growing in manure. Surely we can just ban it on spinach and leafy greens without great consequence for the industry… and gain a lot of consumer and regulatory goodwill while doing it.




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Recap XXI

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 held a conference. 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.”

On November 28, 2006, we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative, and in this piece we added Mark Hilton, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Harris-Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, as a signatory to the letter.

We also quoted buyers who had declined to sign the letter mostly due to their objection to the public nature of the initiative. We also pointed out how vendors were thinking:

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.

On November 29, 2006, we ran Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which gave voice to the thoughts of some non-participating buyers that only mandatory government regulation is the way to go. Also on November 29, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, in which a processor there at the beginning of the national fresh-cut industry reminded us how uninterested in food safety most retailers were at the time.

On November 30, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers were declining to join the buyer-led initiative with Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives. Also on November 30, 2006, we received a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group, which we focused on in Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulation. We pointed out: “In terms of the difficulties on spinach and leafy greens, the key buyers are missing from the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. The buyers of the produce, in this case, are the processors.”

On December 1, 2006, we published Spinach And The Consequences Of Buyers’ Action, in which buyers who hadn’t signed on to the buyer-led food safety initiative pointed out that rigorous food safety systems will restrict supply and raise prices.

As we explained: “It is unknown if those who don’t buy spinach because of high prices will buy healthy alternatives. They may buy candy bars and die of complications of obesity. It is a completely open question as to whether safer spinach won’t cost lives in the end.”

Also on December 1, 2006, we responded to industry feedback claiming that foodservice did a better job than retail when it came to food safety by beginning a series of Pundit Pulses focused on foodservice. The first two, Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, dealt with how smaller buyers deal with these issues.

On December 5, 2006, we continued our discussion with buyers who refused to sign the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative by noting that some of them weren’t thrilled with the Western Growers Association proposal either. Our Piece Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job?dealt with the problems created for the industry when one region is declared “safer” than another and with the difficulty of utilizing a marketing order to legislate world class food safety practices.

On December 6, 2006, we ran Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline), which dealt with what will happen if the trade associations do not meet the deadline set by the buyers. Also on December 6, 2006, we continued our series on foodservice and food safety by running Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Of Diversified Restaurant Systems.

Additionally on December 6, 2006, we ran a letter from Tim O’Conner, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board in our Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing Worldin which Tim explained: “Given my experience with government inspection and regulation, I place much more value on a supply chain-led initiative to deliver meaningful long term results.”

On December 7, 2006, we ran FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered, which looked at the contribution of FMI’s effort to play a role in preventing a future leafy green crisis.

On December 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costs, in which a letter from Jack Vessey of Vessey & Company clued us in to the specific cost implications of food safety initiatives.

On December 12, 2006, we ran Taco Bell Makes Ready Pac Its Scapegoat, which explained that the attitude of shared responsibility for food safety that is essential for success can’t be sustained if a buyer dumps an innocent vendor at the first sign of trouble.

Also on December 12, 2006, we published New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety, which dealt with the way a cultural imperative to low prices could lead food safety to be sacrificed.

Additionally on December 12, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Aligned Supply Chains And Statistical Quirks, which analyzed the way the tyranny of large numbers can impact our perception of the food safety problem.

On December 13, 2006, we published Wholesalers, Independents May Get Windfall From Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out that a buyer-led initiative would likely leave lots of growers looking for homes for their product and that wholesalers and independents could benefit.




Botulism And Carrot Juice Summary XXXVIX

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.




Spinach Crisis Summary Rewind XLIX

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.

November 28, 2006 we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative that explained one objection to the way the initiative was being handled. Read the piece here. Also on November 28, 2006, we wrote Don’t Forget The Regional Spinach Processors, which showed how Aunt Mid’s Produce Company in Detroit, Michigan, was communicating with its customers. Catch it here.

On November 29, 2006, we ran a piece called Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative that focused on the thoughts of some buyers that only mandatory government regulation would help the industry. Read it right here.

On November 30, 2006, we published Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives, a piece that continued our series on why some buyers don’t wish to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. You can find the article here.

On December 1, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers elected not to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative with Spinach And The Consequence Of Buyers’ Actions, a piece that looked at how food safety might impact prices and public health. Read it here.

Also on December 1, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, which explored how smaller foodservice operators were looking at food safety. Catch it right here.

Additionally on December 1, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sprout Lessons Echo Food Safety Dilemma, which pointed out what the broader produce industry can learn from the food safety woes of the sprout industry. You can find the piece here.

On December 5, 2006, we asked Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job?This piece discussed both the difficulties of setting different food safety standards in different regions and the difficulty of establishing food safety standards through a marketing order. Read it here.

On December 6, 2006, we ran Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline), which dealt with what will happen if the trade associations do not meet the deadline set by the buyers. Read the piece here. Also on December 6, 2006, we continued our series on foodservice and food safety by running Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Of Diversified Restaurant Systems, and you can find this article here.

Additionally on December 6, 2006 we ran a letter from Tim O’Conner, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board in our Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing World, catch this piece right here.

On December 7, 2006, we ran FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered, which looked, from a retailer’s point of view, at the contribution of FMI’s effort to play a role in preventing a future leafy green crisis. Read it right here.

December 8, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costsin which a letter from Jack Vessey of Vessey & Company detailed some costs being incurred as a result of buyers’ demands for various food safety efforts. Read it right here.

On December 12, 2006, we published New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety, which dealt with the way a cultural imperative to low prices could lead food safety to be sacrificed. Please read it here.

Also on December 12, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Aligned Supply Chains And Statistical Quirks, which analyzed the way the tyranny of large numbers can impact our perception of the food safety problem. You can catch this right here.

On December 13, 2006, we ran Wholesalers, Independents May Get Windfall From Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out that a buyer-led initiative would likely leave lots of growers looking for homes for their product and that wholesalers and independents could benefit. Read it here.

Also on December 13, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Eliminating E. coli 0157:H7, which argued that we should look for legislation to prevent cattle from polluting with E. coli 0157:H7 and look to eliminate E. coli 0157:H7 from the food chain. Catch the piece here.

On December 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Ground, which dealt with the food safety implications of the presumption that the spinach implicated in the spinach/E. coli outbreak was grown with organic methods on ground being transitioned to organic. Read the piece right here.

On December 15, 2006, we published the Pundit Special Science Report: Part 1 — Food Safety Vulnerabilities in Yuma And Salinas; Part 2 — The Science Of Waterborne Bacteria; Part 3 — Product Testing At Natural Selection Foods & McEntire Produce. The whole report can be found here.

On December 19, 2006 we published Irradiation Will Prevent Future Outbreaks which dealt with the need for a “kill step” in produce. You can read it here. Also on December 19, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Organics And Manure which dealt with the issue of the use of manure in modern agriculture. You can find the piece right here.

December 20, 2006 we published The Cultural Contradictions of Food Safety which analyzed how growers are placed in a financial and ethical dilemma by issues of food safety. Read the piece here. Also on December 20, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — WGA’s Ambiguitiesin which Bob Martin of Rio Farms discussed the WGA’s proposal along with the challenges buyer’s demands place on growers. You can find the piece 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.

November 29, 2006 featured Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, which reminded us that retailers weren’t always focused on consumers or safety in the early years of the national fresh-cut industry. You can find the piece right here.

On November 30, 2006, we published What’s In A Name, recognizing the birth date of Theodor Escherich, for whom the genus Escherichia of which Escherichia coli is the most common member. Read it here.

Also on November 30, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulations, which dealt with a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group trying to find a reasonable proposal on food safety. Catch it here.

On December 1, 2006, we ran Speaking Of Produce Washes, which revealed a study that found that washes and water are all about the same. 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.

RESOURCES
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.

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