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Cantaloupe Listeria Outbreak

Industry Representatives From All Sectors Weigh In On Criminal Prosecution In The Jensen Farms Case, But Trade Associations Remain Silent our piece, It Surely Is A Tragedy, BUT Should Not Be A Crime: Arrest Of Jensen Farms' Owners Betrays Elemental Principles Of Justice And Sets Stage For Less Investment In Production Of Food, brought many responses. One large buyer thought it best to remain confidential, many, however, thought it important to speak out on this issue. Some were farmers, some were marketers, some were distributors and some food safety experts with special expertise in cantaloupes spoke out on the issue. There seems to be this terrible disinclination to have the produce industry defend the Jensens in any way. This is not, however, about defending the Jensens. This is about respecting oneself and defending one’s profession. 10/28/2013

It Surely is A Tragedy, BUT Should Not Be A Crime: Arrest Of Jensen Farms' Owners Betrays Elemental Principles Of Justice And Sets Stage For Less Investment In Production Of Food describes how we have written a great deal about the Jensen Farms cantaloupe situation and we are no fans of the farm. Yet news that the owners have been arrested on criminal charges on grounds they introduced adulterated food into interstate commerce is very bad news — for the produce industry and for the country. 9/26/2013

Auditing And Food Safety: California Agencies Weigh In On Cantaloupe Crisis received an important letter from the leadership of two organizations at the forefront of industry food safety efforts: Ed Beckman, President of California Tomato Farmers; and Scott Horsfall, President & CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Many of the scenarios regarding industry food safety efforts have revolved around the question of audits and what is reasonable for the world to expect from audits. So we were very pleased that this joint letter was from two men involved with innovative efforts to use audits successfully as part of food safety programs. We appreciate this letter and think it important as it raises seven key points. 1/4/2012

Pundit’s Mailbag—Food Safety Must Be An Executive Imperative: 24/7/365 our recent pieces on the cantaloupe crisis brought this note from frequent correspondent Richard Yudin of Fyffes Tropical Produce. Clearly no audit can be enough, and anyone who procures on the assumption that an audit is enough needs to reassess their practices. Yet it is not easy to develop a food safety culture. The challenge therefore is to get the whole team to redefine what the test actually is. Of course, the audit is not the test; properly understood, the test is producing safe food every single day. The challenge is to make the whole team loathe the thought that they could be part of a supply chain that ever kills even one person. 10/27/2011

SPECIAL EDITION The Cantaloupe Crisis: Audits, Auditors And Food Safety with 25 people dead and one miscarriage, the horror of the listeriosis outbreak on Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupe from Jensen Farms weighs on the industry. To those in the supply chain that have been implicated, they must rise every day carrying the burden of knowing they were part of this catastrophe. To those not implicated, it is worth remembering that all the work on food safety in cantaloupes was really done on salmonella, not listeriosis. When word broke that the packing facility had been audited and received a high mark, the venom of a world looking for answers turned to attack auditors. To address these issues and more, we’ve decided to focus this issue solely on the Cantaloupe Crisis. 10/23/2011

CANTALOUPE CRISIS ANALYSIS: While “Blame The Auditor” Frenzy Rages, It Pays To Look At Best Practices Vs Standard Practices reports that when Elizabeth Weiss of USA Today broke a story, “Listeria-linked Cantaloupe Farm Had Rated High In Audit,” that detailed the fact that Jensen Farms had received a top score — 96% — in a Primus audit done just six days before the first person fell ill from these cantaloupes, we received many letters including this one from Craig K. Harris, in the Department of Sociology, National Food Safety and Toxicology Center and Institute for Food and Agricultural Standards at Michigan State University. It would be a terrible mistake for the industry to think this was some horrid facility. It was not. And to expect auditors to impose world-class best practices on the trade without the support of either government regulation or buyer demand is to place bizarre weight on a very thin reed. 10/23/2011

Trevor Suslow Of UC Davis Speaks Out: Reflecting On Pathogens, Produce, And Practices highlights Trevor Suslow, who is an Extension Research Specialist in Preharvest to Postharvest Produce Safety at the University Of California, Davis. There is nobody in the world who has spent more time studying the food safety issues surrounding cantaloupes. In light of the Jensen Farms outbreak, we are pleased to share this reflective piece titled, “Mirror, Mirror On The Wall.” Trevor is a good person and, without a doubt, he has been shaken to the core of his being with the thought that a supply chain to which he has offered much counsel should now be responsible for such loss. 10/23/2011

When It Comes To Audits…Retailers Get What They Specify in response to a New York Times article titled, “Listeria Outbreak Traced to Cantaloupe Packing Shed,” we received a note from David Cook of Deardorff Family Farms, who writes in to raise more issues to think about. On the issue of PrimusLabs’ contracting out the audits conducted at Jensen Farms, two thoughts come to mind and we expand on them here. There are, of course, audits and then there are “audits,” as David Cook says, but Wal-Mart gets exactly what it wants and what it is willing to pay for. 10/23/2011

When A Buyer Is Short Of Product... Do We Have A Plan To Ensure Food Safety? received a letter from the President of a prominent Michigan-based produce firm, Randy Vande Guchte, President of Superior Sales, Inc. Randy has done an incredible job of building up Superior Sales over the last two decades. With a record of accomplishment such as his, you have to take what he has to say most seriously. We would say that his letter exemplifies many of the issues that the industry has to deal with: Randy points out that retailers who are short will buy what they need from a broker or wholesaler. So how can these buyers know they are buying acceptable product? And, the obligation of the grower, packer, shipper and processor to follow through daily that Randy mentions is certain. But it is not clear what they are obligated to follow through on. 10/23/2011

A Call To The Buying Community: Uniform Food Safety Standards Are Required our pieces covering the unfolding cantaloupe crisis here and here brought many letters including this one from a frequent correspondent, Eric Schwartz, President and Chief Executive Officer of Patterson Vegetable Company. As always, Eric is thought-provoking and, from a food safety standpoint, he is repeating what is both obvious and clear: That if we have carefully studied matters and determined that, say, a 100-yard buffer zone or daily tests of the water supply are essential for food safety, then these standards should be applied to all vendors, large and small. Yet even while we say this, the industry is doing itself no favor if we don’t recognize the problems with this argument. 10/23/2011

A Choice Had To Be Made: Which Was The Top Priority: Buying Cheap, Buying Regional Or Buying Safe? reports that we received more than a few irate contacts when we dared to suggest—that the Wal-Mart buyer who bought this produce was focusing on local and regional, not on the highest food safety standards. Of course, everything is relative, and to some, such as Dan Cohen of Maccabee Seed Company, Jensen Farms should be seen as neither local nor small. We appreciate him giving us a chance to comment on this issue. Local has no legal definition in produce marketing. Our point was that the buyers are not in any way incentivized to make this choice based on food safety. 10/23/2011

Vendors Risk Much By Not Standing Up For Food Safety Premiums after reflecting on our Cantaloupe Crisis coverage — a vendor of “organic, certified, pasteurized, walnuts,” Mike Poindexter of Poindexter Nut Company, sends a note urging producers to stand up to buyers when it comes to food safety. We appreciate Mike’s letter very much. In general, we do think that vendors do need to state their case more strongly. Still, the letter brings a few points to mind. 10/23/2011

Cantaloupe Crisis Discussion To Take Place At New York Produce Show And Conference feels that with all the benefits of technology, there is something about sitting down face to face that can make it easier to think through industry problems and move toward improving the situation. So at the upcoming edition of The New York Produce Show and Conference, we are going to steal a page from our IDEATION FRESH Foodservice Forum—and do some ideation—about this cantaloupe situation and its broader meaning for food safety and the industry. 10/23/2011

CANTALOUPE CRISIS ANALYSIS: The Need For An Aligned Supply Chain And An FDA That Won’t Punt On Food Safety reports the FDA has now published the results of its assessment into the Jensen Farms situation. The results generally buttress the points we made previously both here and here. The FDA’s report provides much insight into the situation, and its investigation is thorough and sensible, but there is not one thing new in the investigation. That is to say that every single thing mentioned as possibly contributing to this problem was a known hazard before this season began. So how did this happen? How is it that the produce industry — and we better face up to this — has killed 25 people and caused a miscarriage? How did the regulatory environment create conditions that allowed this tragedy? 10/20/2011

CANTALOUPE CRISIS ANALYSIS: Key Performance Indicators and Food Safety... Shall The Twain Ever Meet? examines how despite all the talk of food safety being a priority, retailers have been unable to find a mechanism beyond establishing minimum standards to enforce food safety as a corporate priority. By using the phrase “minimum standards,” we are not implying that the standards are low. We are simply pointing out that the buying staff is not incentivized to pay more for product in order to get product that is safer. Instead the buying staff is precluded from buying product below a set standard and then is given every incentive to buy on the basis of price above that standard. 10/12/2011

What’s In A Name? Professor Brad Rickard Of Cornell Produces New Research That Indicates Shakespeare May Have Been In Error… On Apples At Least describes how the apple category is actually a fascinating one. It has shifted significantly to new varieties that combine higher margins with better flavor. It could be a model for much of the produce department. But beyond the mere development of new varieties, how they are named and marketed and how production is controlled, both to keep volume in line and insure they are grown in optimal places for quality, can make a great deal of difference. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to see if she could get us a sneak preview of what Professor Rickard of Cornell University will be presenting on this topic at the New York Produce Show and Conference. 10/4/2011

Could There Be Common Ground Between The Spinach Crisis And The Cantaloupe Catastrophe? Might Both Have Been Sourced From Transitional Acreage? discovered that there seem to be quite substantial indications that Jensen Farms was sourcing product from a transitional operation. If so, this would indeed be a curious coincidence in that it would create an exceptional commonality between the spinach crisis and the cantaloupe crisis in that, in both cases, the product was sourced from transitional ground. Of course, and here is the rub, it may not be a coincidence at all. There might be causal links in both situations. 2/27/2012

 

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