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Food Safety Roundup


Private Label Pros And Cons: As US Retailers Look To UK Example, There Are Many Caveats To Consider… Find Out More At Global Trade Symposium When he heard Jacqui Green left her position as CEO of Berry Gardens, we wanted to grab her up quickly. With sales of close to half a billion US dollars, this company is a berry giant in the UK. Berry Gardens also has an exclusive arrangement with Driscoll’s, tying them into a large breeding and marketing program.12/9/2019

New Chapter Begins For Tim York As He Reflects On 34 Years At The Helm Of Markon And Plans To Contribute Again At The New York Produce Show And Conference With the shared goal to increase produce consumption at restaurants, Tim York joined us when we launched the Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum, co-located with The New York Produce Show and Confer­ence. This year that event, held on Friday, December 13, is focused on menu-plan­ning, and we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects editor Mira Slott to talk with Tim. 12/3/2019

The Words That Can't Be Spoken: Who Is Buying Product Not In Compliance With Leafy Greens Metrics? Where Are The Industry Leaders Stepping Up To Solve This Problem? Tightening Water Metrics Is Great — But Not Enough. Eliminating The 1% From Commercial Trade Is A Financial And Moral Obligation The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement announced they would be tightening metrics related to surface water used for overhead irrigation in response to the food safety issues of 2018. Taylor Farms announced it would only source product from growers who perform on-site treatment of water used in overhead irrigation. These are both very positive steps for the industry and real signs of leadership. But in reading the LGMA release, we couldn’t help but be drawn to the missing 1%. It is obvious that even the 1% of non-compliance is a risk too large for the industry to take. 4/9/2019

At New York Produce Show Micro-Session, Rutgers Professor Paul Takhistov Makes A Case for Intelligent Packaging With the Romaine Crisis just now receding, issues of the role packaging could play in enhancing produce safety is top of mind. Professor Paul Takhistov of Rutgers University’s Food Science Department, one of this Wednesday's Educational Micro-session speakers at The New York Produce Show and Conference, will explain the concept of intelligent packaging — along with his Rutgers colleague, Kit Yam. We asked Linda Brockman, Contributing Editor to Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, to look deeper into this new technology and get a sneak preview of what Professor Takhistoy will present. 12/8/2018

At Upcoming Amsterdam Produce Show, Power Of Produce Researcher Anne-Marie Roerink Shows Ways To 'Get Produce Right' To Win In The New Disruptive Retail Environment One mega-trend that has transformed produce retailing more than any other is the move to data from intuition and experience. To make that data actionable, we need to transform it into insight, and few have helped in this effort more directly than the US-based Food Marketing Institute, or FMI. We are pleased to help gain international exposure for this important work by giving them a speaking forum in Amsterdam. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to gain more insights by speaking with FMI’s analytics partner in this study. 10/31/2017

Cornell’s Miguel Gomez Goes Double Duty At New York Produce Show: Gives Micro-Session On Northeast Greenhouse Potential And Teaches Foundational Excellence ‘Students’ About Global Trade Miguel Gomez has exemplified the way an academic can engage with industry to share the latest and most important new research. Professor Gomez also was a Charter Member of the faculty of our inaugural Foundational Excellence program last year. This year, Professor Gomez delivers a one-two punch combination, speaking at both the Foundational Excellence program and on the main trade show day in one of our Micro-sessions. We asked PRODUCE BUSINESS contributing editor Kayla Young to find out more. 11/30/2016

Can Labeling Impact Food Waste? Is Zero Waste The Optimal Standard? Cornell’s Brad Rickard To Present New Research At The London Produce Show & Conference shares how Cornell’s Brad Rickard has graced the stage at both The New York Produce Show and Conference and The London Produce Show and Conference. When we learned he was willing to come to London and present research he is doing on food waste and how food labels can interact with that, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. Mira reconnects with Brad Rickard for a sneak preview of his London talk. 6/6/2016

Chipotle Announces Intent To Spend $10 Million On Food Safety And $50 Million On Marketing. How Do The Choices We Make Define Us As A Culture? But Is 15 Cents Per Consumer Enough To Tell Your Story? shares how it certainly seems as if our society would be better served with more spending on substance — in this case, enhancing food safety — as opposed to marketing. Yet, it is not so obvious when one digs deeper. Our biggest problem is not with the amount of marketing expenditure. It is, instead, with what is being communicated in the marketing. 4/14/2016

Pundit's Mailbag — Staying Up-to-date On Chipotle: Does Marsden Appointment Mean It Was Meat? Will Chipotle Back Off Testing? Complete Information vs Continuous Change mentions how we have featured many pieces from Fred Stein, a food safety consultant with Safe Food Connection out of Florida. So it was nice to hear from him again after we ran our piece, Spinach Crisis Déjà vu: Dr. Mansour Samadpour Retained By Chipotle To Boost Food Safety Efforts. We appreciate the kind words though, alas, “completeness” of knowledge is not something we suspect we will ever obtain. 4/14/2016

Pundit’s Mailbag — A Closer Look At Food Safety Probabilities: Regression Toward The Mean, Gambler’s Fallacy, The Law Of Large Numbers And The Fallacy Of The Calendar explains that if one listens to sports commentators speak, one will often hear the expectation for a regression toward the mean — “Joe is overdue for a hit!” With food safety, the issue is somewhat different. We have no basis to expect food safety outbreaks over any period of time. So to say that one shipper is “overdue” for an outbreak is as silly as saying that one producer is “overdue” for a year without outbreaks. 4/14/2016

Spinach Crisis Déjà vu: Dr. Mansour Samadpour Retained By Chipotle To Boost Food Safety Efforts: Increased Product Testing, Outsourced Processed Produce, & New In-Store Kill-Steps Are Part Of New Moves To Keep Customers Safe But Is Chipotle Over-Promising? Will Food Safety Be The Priority As Memories Fade? saw the CDC issued its “final update” on the Chipotle E. coli 026 outbreak without identifying a specific product as the source. Though finding a specific product at fault would have been satisfying, our experience is that it probably would have simply led Chipotle to change suppliers. Not finding a culprit may have helped the cause of food safety, as it has led Chipotle executives to order a comprehensive review of its operation, specifically focused on food safety.  To help drive this process, Chipotle retained a brilliant food safety expert. We asked Pundit Investigator & Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 2/3/2016

Chipotle, Bill Marler & Black Swan Events - How Much Money Do We Want To See Spent On Food Safety? saw the New York Times wrote an article that ran under the headline, Chipotle’s New Mantra: Safe Food, Not Just Fresh, and it contained these comments from well-known plaintiff attorney, Bill Marler: “I can’t think of any chain, restaurant or food manufacturer who’s ever reported that many outbreaks in just six months. Underlying that has to be a lack of controls.” Bill Marler is smart and knowledgeable and, certainly, engaged — but, in this case, he is almost certainly wrong. Indeed the precise reason why Bill Marler — just one man — could have “been involved in every food-borne illness outbreak, small and large, since 1993” — is because, statistically, these outbreaks are virtually nonexistent. 2/3/2016

Seminal Study On Organic Perceptions Based On Outlet And Food Safety Requirements Shows Bias Toward Farmers Market And Against Supermarkets And Supercenters asks, do considerations such as food safety also affect value perception? It is a fascinating question and when we learned of some intriguing research going on at the University of Delaware, we fought hard to get a presentation at The New York Produce Show and Conference. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 11/30/2015

Do Alabama's Restaurant Preferences For Local Translate To Other States, Especially The Garden State? points out the Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum has become an important part of the New York Produce show and Conference with operators, distributors, producers all joining together to find ways to boost produce consumption and bring us closer to the USDA goal of half the plate being accounted for by fruits and vegetables. So when we heard that a new hire at Rutgers had brought with her some research tying together produce farmers and independent restaurants we signed her up quick and we asked Carol Bareuther, Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS to find out more. 11/30/2015


JOHN BAYLES — AN AMERICAN IN TOKYO: Food Safety, Trust, Patience, Avoiding Change And Doing What You Say You Are Going To Do; Seizing Opportunities As The TPP Shifts The Focus To The Japanese Market reports that when the Trans-Pacific Partnership was announced, we thought we would reach out to Jack Bayles, an American who has long made Japan his home, with the hope of gaining an American’s perspective on doing business in Japan. One of the big breakthroughs for America is that the TPP would result in more liberal access to the Japanese market. But how does one translate this theoretical gain into an actual gain? We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 11/22/2015

Setting Producers Free — Production Agriculture And The Regulatory Burden: Can States Help Northeast Production Thrive? Are They Inclined To Do So? reports that UCONN Assistant Professor and Economist Ben Campbell has consistently demonstrated that interesting work relevant to the produce trade is being done in places many don’t realize. When we heard he was hard at work on a research project that implies agriculture in the northeast is burdened by regulations heavier than those in other parts of the country, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 11/16/2015

Rooftop Greenhouse, Gotham Greens, Highlights Brooklyn Retail/Urban Ag Tour At New York Produce Show mentions how each year at The New York Produce Show and Conference, we run a series of industry tours. On this year’s Brooklyn Tour, the highlight is the cutting-edge Gotham Greens facility sitting atop the Whole Foods Store in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It is a fascinating project and we asked Pundit Contributing Editor Mark Hamstra to find out more from Viraj Puri, Cofounder and CEO of Gotham Greens. 12/1/2014

Whole Foods’ ‘Responsibly Grown’ Program Turns Out To Be Pretty Irresponsible Implies Other Farmers Are Not ‘Responsible Growers’ finds Whole Foods has come out with a new marketing program called “Responsibly Grown” — the only problem is that it is a really irresponsible thing to do. Emphasizing the unique characteristics of a store is a great idea, but in praising one’s own procurement standards, it is not right to imply that all the other produce in the world is not responsibly grown, especially when the evidence to support such a proposition is basically zero. 10/16/2014

When Elmo Is Crying – Will The Sesame Street Brand Be Used To Market Sub-standard Product? Is The Legal Minimum An Acceptable Food Safety Standard When Promoting To Children? our piece, IMAGINE-NATION: Will The First Lady’s Sesame Street Campaign Reduce Produce Consumption, brought lots of calls and comments. They were universally unhappy about the program. One former chairman of one of the national produce associations sent this note and the comparison with the PBH programs is apt. This is pretty similar to our critique of PBH’s efforts — not that they are bad, but that they are set up in a way that never tells us if they are good. Our writer also clearly identifies the big risk in allowing good brands to promote lousy product. 3/3/2014

Industry Veteran Dawn Gray To Speak About Transparency At Global Trade Symposium  last year she wowed the audience with a presentation we previewed in a piece titled Industry Veteran Dawn Gray To Discuss The Concept Of “Glocal” At Global Trade Symposium. Now she proposes we do business, well, naked. We asked Keith Loria, a well-dressed Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS to give us a sneak preview of her talk at The Global Trade Symposium, co-located with the New York Produce Show and Conference. 12/10/2013

What Does It Mean For A CEO To Show He Is Committed To Food Safety? mentions how we have written a lot about food safety, and we highlighted the buyer-led food safety initiative, which Tim York and Dave Corsi spearheaded. The Salmonella St. Paul Outbreak was really where Martin Ley became prominent in food safety, and we have often discussed the legal issues around food safety. It has become a truism that one needs a food safety culture to be optimal in food safety and we feel the industry needs to push the conversation to the next level, specifically to compensation issues. 10/28/2013

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

The Rogue Operation At Sysco Of San Francisco Raises The Question: How Can The Industry Use Compensation To Incent For Food Safety? points out how Sysco got a black eye — and the industry didn’t win any glory — when Sysco of San Francisco was found to be using some outdoor public storage as a kind of improvised warehouse for perishable foods. Yet, precisely because the whole operation was directly opposite everything Sysco stands for, it raises the question of how all businesses ought to be thinking about food safety. 10/17/2013

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

In A Rush To Judgment, Taylor Farms Gets Connected To Cyclosporiasis Outbreak Without Sufficient Evidence explains that one thing we haven’t done is write anything at all about Taylor Farms, Taylor Farms de Mexico and the cyclosporiasis outbreak. The reason we haven’t written about it is that there was this unseemly rush to announce things without satisfactory evidence or even a coherent theory. The one thing we know about the situation is that the Center for Disease Control has found no evidence of the vast majority of cases having any connection to Taylor Farms de Mexico or to any other Taylor Farms operation. 9/26/2013

Pundit’s Mailbag – When Children Are At Stake: How Can Schools Prioritize Local Over Safe? our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — The End Of The Yeoman Farmer? Does Society Care Enough About PTI And FSMA To Put The Small Farmer Out Of Business? brought this note from David Sasuga, Founder of Fresh Origins, exploring the consequences of “loopholes and exemptions.” David’s letter is intriguing. Whatever the arguments for local or small-scale farming, could any parent forgive a school if a child ever died from a pathogen on produce and they learned that the school had elected to waive its requirements for all vendors to be third-party audited for food safety in order to buy from local farmers? 7/26/2013

Pundit’s Mailbag – The End Of The Yeoman Farmer? Does Society Care Enough About PTI And FSMA To Put The Small Farmer Out Of Business? shares this note from frequent Pundit contributor Bob Sanderson, who responded to our piece, With Wal-Mart’s PTI Mandate and 100% Guarantee On Produce, One Wonders If Local Is Included Or Is There More Fluff Than Real Stuff; Unions Will Be Watching. That article explained that we had real doubts about the extent to which Wal-Mart was going to enforce its self-proclaimed PTI standards on small local growers, heritage agriculture partners, etc. After acknowledging the possible difficulties this could pose for food safety, Bob is, in a sense, asking if this is bad or the way we want to develop the food system. 7/22/2013

With Wal-Mart’s PTI Mandate And 100% Guarantee On Produce, One Wonders If Local Is Included Or Is There More Fluff Than Real Stuff; Unions Will Be Watching Carefully reports how, like a one-two punch, Wal-Mart has roiled the produce industry with two separate announcements. It declared that it would begin to enforce the requirements of the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) on vendors and that it would “recommit” to providing consumers with the freshest fruits and vegetables by rolling out a “100 percent money-back guarantee” for consumers. Significant organizational change would also be executed in order to accomplish this goal. The announcements are sufficiently vague to sound like PR fluff. To the extent they are specific, they raise as many questions as answers. 6/6/2013

Obsession With Food Safety Distorts Public Policy Priorities highlights a presentation we gave at the University of Florida at Gainesville, focused on the role retailers play in promoting and hindering food safety. When Q & A time came, there were many questions. One person asked what advice we would give consumers. Our answer was that unless one is immune-compromised, very young, very old, has AIDS, just had chemotherapy, etc., one shouldn’t worry about the issue. Basically the risk is infinitesimal for a normal, healthy person. This obsession with food safety risk is damaging to the country because it diverts attention and resources from serious problems. 5/13/2013

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety And The Trade Off Between Short Term Sales And Diminished Long Term Consumer Satisfaction our piece, When Is The Retailer Responsible for Food Safety?, brought many responses. Most were from retailers who were surprised and disappointed that a retailer would be dumping older fresh-cuts in a non-refrigerated bin to sell at a discount but didn’t want to be quoted attacking a fellow retailer. Others, though, were willing to speak out. 5/13/2013

When Is The Retailer Responsible For Food Safety?? points out that everyone is in favor of food safety, and we have written extensively about the topic. There is, however, a terrible injustice in that all the attention is paid to growers and processors, and others in the supply chain are given a bit of a free pass. This is not right. 4/29/2013

How To Think Like A Bureaucrat: Extended FDA Comment Period Provides Rare Opportunity For Effective Comments To Guide Implementation Of The Food Safety Modernization Act follows our earlier piece titled, Science-based Or Emotion-based? As Food Safety Modernization Act Soon Goes Into Effect, Industry Looks At Extra Costs And Little Return To Public Health, where we discussed some of the implications of new food safety rules being proposed by the FDA to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act. On April 17, 2013 FDA extended the comment period by 120 days. So how does one write an effective comment? We asked the team from Jones Day to make an encore appearance and provide some specific suggestions on how to comment in a way that makes a difference. 4/29/2013

Balancing Priorities: Why Is Food Still Making Us Sick In The 21st Century saw the Association of Health Care Journalists recently held a conferenceagenda was extensive. Of particular interest to the food industry was a seminar titled, “Why is food still making us sick in the 21st century?” So why do we still have foodborne illness? Such problems exist for one of two reasons… either A) We don’t know how to prevent such illnesses, or B) We do know how but choose not to do so. Recognizing these two reasons leads to several possible explanations that could answer the question and that point to various policy responses. 4/11/2013

Science-based Or Emotion-based? As Food Safety Modernization Act Soon Goes Into Effect, Industry Looks At Extra Costs And Little Return To Public Health feels that executives at the FDA really do want to target their efforts where they would have an impact. They do not want to burden farmers and businesses with unnecessary regulation to no point. However, the difficulties of framing regulations and the institutional imperatives of the FDA will doubtless lead to much bother and expense being imposed on farmers and businesses with little, if any, return when it comes to public health. We asked Harold Gordon, a Partner at Jones Day, if he and some his colleagues could weigh in on the Food Safety Modernization Act, and what follows is the first of two pieces related to this subject. 4/11/2013

SALAD BAR SPECIAL EDITION: Now Is The Moment To Step Up: Industry Races To Place 350 Salad Bars In California Schools finds that industry leadership is now poised to achieve what once seemed impossible: The donation of 350 salad bars to California schools! This movement in California is likely to be a trendsetter. There is a little concern about food safety and salad bars, especially in elementary schools, and we dealt with that subject in a piece titled Every School Needs A Salad Bar AND A Commitment To Operating It Safely, but there are no known incidents and, most likely, the issue is more hygiene than e. coli 0157:H7.  3/18/2013

SALAD BAR SPECIAL EDITION: Diane Harris Of The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention Speaks Out On Salad Bars: “Some Answers Won’t Be Entirely Satisfactory, But That’s Where We Are.” reports that the donation of 350 salad bars to California schools at the United Fresh Produce Association Convention this May is likely to be a trendsetter, so we decided to devote a whole issue to the Campaign and the broader questions around salad bars. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more by speaking to six leaders of the effort. In this article Mira spoke with Dr. Diane Harris, Ph.D., M.P.H., C.H.E.S., Health Scientist, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 3/18/2013

Costco, Sheri Flies, The James Beard Foundation Leadership Award And How Sustainability Differs From Charity extends a hat tip to Andreas Schindler at Pilz Schindler GmbH. He sent us a link to year-old video of Sheri L. Flies, accepting the 2011 James Beard Foundation Leadership Award. Costco is a fascinating company and, by all accounts, Sheri is a wonderful person  not only highly competent but genuinely caring about the fate of people in the whole supply chain. She deserved this award, and Costco deserved the award — mostly because so many who address sustainability choose to ignore the ethical component. 1/22/2013

Ten Years, Ten Lessons Learned: A Look At The European Produce Industry Through The Eyes Of Freshfel’s Philippe Binard as the trade gathers for the PMA Fresh Summit convention in Anaheim, we thought we would look half-way across the world to Belgium, where Freshfel, sort of a PMA and United combined for Europe, is headquartered. It is a young association — just having celebrated its 10th anniversary. We reached out across the Atlantic and asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to ask Philippe Binard, Secretary General of Freshfel Europe, to identify ten lessons learned during the last decade. 10/25/2012

What Makes Consumers Willing To Pay More? University Of Delaware’s Kent Messer To Unveil A Unique Synthesis Of Multiple Studies At The New York Produce Show And Conference mentions how when we learned about some really intriguing research being done at the University of Delaware, we knew we had to reach out to Kent Messer, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. We are thrilled he accepted the opportunity to make a presentation to the industry in New York. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more. 11/16/2012

DECISIONS FOR ELECTION DAY: From California’s Proposition 37 (GMO Labeling) To The Presidential Election Coming Down To Maine’s Potato Growers finds that the election is, of course, upon us. The big food-related issue this election is Proposition 37 on the California Ballot, which calls for labeling of any food that has been genetically modified — this is about 90% of all the processed food in the country. It is a superficially appealing proposition — give people the “right to know” about their food — but it fails intellectually. 11/5/2012

Putting Mango Recall Into Perspective our piece, Without Clear Proof, Industry Suffers From Mango Recall And Is Left To Defend Itself, featured a letter from Dave Westendorf of Bay Area Produce, San Clemente, CA. He is trying very hard to look at the Splendid mango situation and find solutions that might help the industry in the future. He was kind enough to share his thoughts with us once more. We certainly feel the angst that Dave is expressing and appreciate his efforts to think through to a solution. We think he raises points well worth thinking about. 9/20/2012

As Certified Greenhouse Farmers Look To Develop Guidelines, Mexico’s Protected Agriculture Industry Continues To Build Marketshare found that a trade association called Certified Greenhouse Farmers, which represents many greenhouse growers in North America, is calling for standard definitions for what it means when consumers are sold “greenhouse-grown” product. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from their president, Ed Beckman. Mira also spoke with Dr. Jeff Dlott, CEO and Chairman of the Board at SureHarvest, as well as Eric Viramontes, CEO of the Mexican Association of Protected Horticulture. 9/6/2012

Without Clear Proof, Industry Suffers From Mango Recall And Is Left To Defend Itself shares a letter from Dave Westendorf of Bay Area Produce, who writes to us with his thoughts on the Daniella Mango Recall. We appreciate Dave’s note, partly because it is heart-felt and thoughtful and partly because it gives us an opportunity to review many attitudes commonly shared in the produce industry — attitudes that although “true” may still require reexamination. Here we examine four specific points that Dave makes. 9/6/2012

Lots To Think About When It Comes To Recalling Lots received a note from Alan Siger, President & CEO of Consumer’s Produce. Alan brought up a recent salad recall and he asks, “if there is a possibility of contamination, how can any processor only recall the salads from the specific lot tested?” This is a pattern that we often see when there are test results positive for a pathogen — recall the whole lot to reassure the industry, regulators and consumers that steps have been taken to address any problem. Do the lot numbers mean anything and, if so, what do they mean as far as food safety goes? 4/24/2012

Thinking About The Secret Service Scandal — Implications For Food Safet And Employee Management feels that many have argued that food safety can only be secured with government employees, implying they are somehow always more reliable than private employees. Yet, events such as what happened in Colombia should give us pause. After all, the Secret Service is the elite of the elite. These men are the private bodyguards of the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world. Yet our hiring, training and monitoring is insufficient to stop them from consorting with prostitutes, drinking and carousing while on official business. On what basis can we possibly assume that lower level government employees can be counted on to act with propriety in the enforcement of their duties? 4/24/2012

Nanotechnology And Food: FDA Speaks Out. Will Industry Act To Avoid The PR Mistakes Made In Introducing GMOs To The General Public? found that during the course of my father’s battle with pancreatic cancer, I constantly came across references to the future use of nanotechnology in medicine. It may also change the food supply — both food and food packaging. One of the top areas of research is the development of nanosensors, which would be placed in packaging and would detect microorganisms including pathogens. Forget test-and-hold — these products would monitor the produce continuously until it is consumed. 4/24/2012

Marketing Gone Wild: The Use And Abuse Of Food Safety ‘Certifications’ states that the produce industry has come to work so hard on food safety. But each company and the industry as a whole has to make sure the marketing efforts don’t get ahead of themselves. Particularly, those who offer seals or indicias or who use them in their marketing have a responsibility to make sure that these are not misused to imply things that are not justified. We check out a lot of industry web sites and we find these seals are often misused. The most obvious and most egregious problem here is the use of PMA’s Gold Circle in this fashion. 2/27/2012

FDA, Stealth Recalls, Public Health And Other Interests thought that our piece, Food Safety, Recalls And Why Consumers Don’t Always Need Notification, was fairly persuasive. We didn’t, however, persuade the person we addressed it to, microbiologist Phyllis Entis. Ms. Entis responded with another piece, this one titled, “FDA and Stealth Recalls.” Ms. Entis went out and researched other recalls that had not been publicized by the FDA and noted that these were not sold in totes as in the original issue. Although the original comments related to a specific situation with spinach packed in totes, the real issue is whether consumers will benefit from knowing of a recall. 2/27/2012

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

Government User Fees And The Inherent Conflict Of Interest They Create observes how with all the severe fiscal problems government at all levels is experiencing, there is a temptation to impose lots of user fees on industry. In fact, it is hard to imagine how the Food Safety Bill that President Obama pushed will ever be funded without substantial user fees. There is just no budget for all the inspections called for in the law. Yet user fees create a horrible conflict of interest for regulatory agencies. 2/20/2012

Food Safety, Recalls And Why Consumers Don’t Always Need Notification saw that Phyllis Entis, a food safety microbiologist, aka the “bug lady,” runs the eFoodAlert blog and recently ran a piece titled, “114 Tons of Spinach Recalled by Stealth.” Many other publications and web sites have picked up on this, most seeming to think that the failure to issue a consumer notification is some sort of outrage or scandal. The key item here is that this spinach was packed in 30-lb. totes. Retailers don’t sell spinach out of such totes and restaurants don’t buy such totes. The market for these totes would generally be processing plants that were either going to bag the spinach whole, use it in blends or use it in other processing. 2/15/2012

Finding Humor In Harmonization extends a hat tip to Robert Stovicek, PhD, President of Primus Labs, for sending along the following wry cartoon from xkcd, a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. We have to confess that though we understand and appreciate the desire of growers and packers to see one standard and one audit, we suspect that differences of opinion as to the science and marketing considerations all are unlikely to lead to one harmonized standard. 2/15/2012

Pundit’s Mailbag — Closer Look At Auditing Process May Require Rationale For Each Component Of The Audit our piece, Auditing and Food Safety, brought this note from a longtime Pundit contributor Bob Sanderson of Jonathan’s Sprouts. Bob raises a very good point. Very often, people require audits because they want things safe, because they wish to mitigate liability and because it may be required by law, regulation or clientele. Very frequently, they really don’t know what is being audited or why. They just know they need an audit. 2/9/2012

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. 10/23/2011

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: 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

FDA QUICKLY SETTLES WITH DEL MONTE FRESH Aggressive Strategy Vindicated Will the FDA Change Its Approach? received big news from Del Monte Fresh Produce that they “were able to reach an amicable resolution with the Food and Drug Administration resulting in the rescission of the import alert.” This is perhaps unprecedented. Though the release is all sugar and light, we can’t help but believe that Del Monte’s legal strategy worked. Del Monte Fresh had also indicated it had filed with Oregon a “notice to sue” both Oregon’s Health Authority’s Public Health division and one of its officials. It seems certain that a knowledge that one could be sued for erroneous statements could lead to more caution before speaking. The question is whether that is bad or not. The public policy goal is, after all, not just to encourage public health authorities to speak, but to have them speak accurately. 9/27/2011

Del Monte Fresh Stands Up To FDA’s Bullying Tactics explains that the FDA often comes across as a bully and, once having acted, FDA executives feel the enormous priority to avoid any admission of error, regardless of the costs or consequences to others. The problem is obvious: There are no ready checks on FDA’s power. Of course, what tends to stop a bully is the shock he experiences when someone stands up to him. As such, the produce industry now owes a debt of gratitude to Del Monte Fresh as it has announced that it is not going to simply sit around and be abused. Del Monte is going to stand up and fight and has filed a lawsuit against the FDA in U.S. District Court seeking a reversal of FDA action restricting importation of cantaloupes. 9/7/2011

Attack On Hawaii’s Genetically Modified Papayas Sparks Debate About Science, Organics And Freedom To Choose felt that the headline on the Associated Press article by Jennifer Sinco Kelleher reads like a joke — “Hawaii’s Genetically Modified Papayas Attacked” — but it is a deadly serious matter. It touches on the rule of law, the integrity of democracy, the possible use of a veneer of public policy debate for private gain and a distortion of legitimate concerns regarding science and food safety. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Delan Perry, Vice President of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, and President of the Volcano Isle Fruit Company. Mira also spoke with Dr. Richard Manshardt, Assistant Professor in Plant Breeding at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. 9/7/2011

As The European E. coli 0104:H4 Outbreak Causes Illness And Death, It Wreaks Havoc On The Produce Trade And Breaks Confidence In Public Health: Lessons From Europe reports that our brethren in the European produce trade have suffered enormous damages as a result of the food safety crisis related to E. coli 0104:H4. One unfortunate part is that public health epidemiologists have come across like the Keystone Cops. Sitting in America, with very little information we are in no position to identify the source of the outbreak. We will see how the situation develops, but there are some valuable lessons that are already evident. 6/7/2011

Chiquita/Fresh Express Announces Roll Out Of Fresh Rinse To Cover Entire Salad Production: Peer-Reviewed Article To Be Published, Potential To License To Others, Marketing Campaign To Begin. No Word On How It Compares To Alternatives. Would It Thrive As A Spin-Off? explains that the produce industry has had an unwritten rule: “Not to market food safety to consumers.” The concern being that one firm’s promotion might cause a decline in consumer confidence in all other fresh produce. During the PMA convention this past October, an article appeared in The New York Times titled: “Post-Recalls, A New Way to Clean the Greens.”The piece was about the introduction by Fresh Express of a new wash solution it named FreshRinse. There were many reasons the piece caused a stir. Now, seven months later, Fresh Express is passing a milestone… As of today, all Fresh Express salads are being washed not in the traditional chlorine but in FreshRinse. 5/24/2011

Michael T. Osterhom Speaks Out On a Matter of Public Health Concern: Peeps! mentions how Dr. Michael T. Osterholm is no stranger to Pundit readers. He is one of the rare experts in public health who was willing to break ranks and publicly critique the FDA when it was running an incompetent investigation into the salmonella Saintpaul outbreak of June 2008. Yet, taking oneself too seriously is the occupational hazard for people of great authority and achievement. We came across this video and are pleased to be able to report that Dr. Osterholm remains immunized against pomposity. 5/2/2011

Salinas Flooding Brings Out The Consequences Of The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement describes how John Baillie has often shared with the industry insightful comments regarding how abstract proposals impact real life farmers. As floods recently began to effect acreage in Salinas, John sent us this note of concern because “farmers along the Salinas River have been told that any crop that had flood water in the field will be destroyed,” and John questions whether this decision was scientifically based. We thought we would turn to Trevor Suslow, Ph.D., Extension Research Specialist, Post Harvest Quality and Safety at UC Davis, for more insight on this issue. 4/7/2011

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? 10/20/2011Tips On Chemotherapy announces that Jan Fleming, whose travails we have mentioned here, here, and here, recently let her friends and family know that she was soon to start chemotherapy. We thought it valuable to print this wisdom-filled letter for Jan and her husband, Tim, and the rest of our readers from Virginia (Ginny) Morton of Tallman Family Farms in Tower City, Pennsylvania, who the Pundit has a special connection with. It was a pleasure to get a note from Ginny, and we thought it so helpful we wanted to share it. She also points out the dangers of fresh foods and salad bars to people with compromised immune systems, a caveat to the general rule encouraging fresh produce consumption that the industry, ethically, has an obligation to make clear. 2/9/2011

Fraudulent Farmer’s Markets ‘Detrimental To Legitimate Farms, Retailers And To Consumers’ our piece, Fraud At Farmer’s Markets, focused on the issue of fraud committed by vendors at these markets who sell produce that the vendors claim is grown on their own farm, grown locally, grown without the use of any “sprays” etc., etc., but in reality is conventional produce bought at the local wholesale market. We received a number of letters and thought this one particularly thoughtful from David Sasuga, Owner of Fresh Origins. Part of David’s point is that there is a public-policy concern here. In an age of tight municipal budgets — or for that matter in any age — it is obviously not acceptable to have people cheating on the fees due to the municipality. Of course, we would make the point stronger by asking what business any municipality has in giving any particular group of vendors control of municipal property. 2/9/2011

New Foodborne Illness Numbers Dramatically Lower: Points To Danger Of Basing Public Policy On Faulty Statistics notes that for more than a decade, anyone addressing the issue of foodborne illness in the U.S. has had little choice but to use the so-called Mead estimates. Everyone in food safety has used these numbers, there has been nothing else, but we always viewed them with some skepticism. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have come out with new estimates. There is no question that it is a more accurate estimate. Still, the vast majority of the claimed illnesses are not actually known or identified; they remain extrapolations. Doubtless there is much to learn in studying this report, but three things scream out. 12/24/2010

What To Expect From The New Food Safety Modernization Act feels that it has been a wild ride, but the Food Safety Modernization Act has passed both House and Senate and will soon be signed by the President. We are not at all convinced that when all is said and done, our food supply will be any safer as a result of this bill. With this law soon to be upon us, we asked Pundit Special Projects Editor and Investigative Reporter Mira Slot to speak with attorneys who work closely with the FDA. Mira talked with Mitchell Fuerst, Esq. and Kelly Lightfoot Esq., both with Fuerst Ittleman, PL, to see what we have in store. 12/24/2010

Food Safety Bill Now Seems Likely To Pass With Exemption For Small Producers: FMI And NRA Refused To Join Ranks With The Produce Industry To Stop It. Final Bill Is An Attack On Wholesalers And Distributors reports that although we have our doubts that, even without the Tester amendment, the law would have accomplished any improvement in safety, the Tester amendment was a blatantly political attack on the principles of science-based food safety. The House was clearly remiss in its responsibility to thoughtfully debate the issue. Of course, one reason they could act so flippantly is that the allies of the produce industry dropped us like — well — a hot potato the minute the going got rough. 12/9/2010

Not So Fast On Food Safety Bill mentions how after we wrote a piece in the Pundit titled, Produce Associations Withdraw Support of Food Safety Bill After Amendment Is added To Exempt Small Farms And Local Growers, we tried to nudge the political debate and wrote a piece for The Weekly Standard, titled, Food Safety Bill Will Not Make Food Safer, Will Increase Food Costs and Budget Deficit. Despite the unified opposition of the produce industry, the bill passed, and by an overwhelming 73 to 25 margin. Now it turns out that it may have been unconstitutional. The bill included tax increases that must originate in the House. 12/1/2010

Beyond The Produce Traceability Initiative: Solutions Needed To “Expediently And Effectively” Remove Product From The Shelves received a letter from our friend Richard Parker of H-E-B Quality Assurance-Scientific Affairs who asked for some help identifying vendors who can assist with another part of the traceability puzzle. This is actually a crucial issue. If we can target in on removing the right product, PTI will probably pay for itself. So, Ok, solution providers, stand up! 11/22/2010

Produce Associations Withdraw Support Of Food Safety Bill After Amendment Is Added To Exempt Small Farms And Local Growers reveals that a Who’s Who of produce associations has sent a letter to the powers that be in the United States Senate, announcing that due to an amendment to the food safety bill that would provide exemptions for small and local growers, they can no longer support the bill that they have been supported up to this point. Unfortunately, it may not matter. The Senate voted for cloture — to end debate — on the bill by a vote of 74 to 25, meaning the vote will take place within 60 days. Perhaps the industry can still influence the shape of the bill but we would say the math is against this effort. However, there are other issues. 11/22/2010

Food Safety Or Freedom? Government’s Zero-Risk Policy On Food Safety Leaves No Room For Compromise notes that we have paid a lot of attention to food safety over the years, mostly in the context of an unwitting consumer who, it is presumed, goes to the store expecting safe food. To select out food as the one and only area in life where, somehow, consumers expect perfect safety is most questionable. Still, this has provided a framework for thinking about food safety. We invite you to watch this video. It is about a raw foods “club” in which everyone who becomes a member has to sign a statement acknowledging they want raw foods and accept the risks. The club, Rawsome Foods in Venice, California, was raided, as was one of its suppliers, Healthy Family Farms. The question here is why the government is interfering with consenting adults who have decided what they would like to eat. 11/22/2010

Dr. Johan Van Deventer Travels From South Africa To Join Thought Leaders Panel at The New York Produce Show And Conference as we began the planning for the program content of The New York Produce Show and Conference we knew that rather than focusing on any one individual, we wanted the “keynote” to be a large panel representing the breadth and diversity of the region. So we are pleased to announce that completing our “Thought Leaders” panel is an industry leader who is traveling from the Southern Hemisphere to provide a completely different perspective to our panel. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Dr. Johan Van Deventer, Managing Director of Freshmark, Subsidiary of the Shoprite Group in Western Cape, South Africa. 11/5/2010

PTI Voice Pick Code Solution May Propel Progress, While Presentation By Gary Fleming At New York Produce Show And Conference Offers Path For Fragmented New York Region Closer To Compliance with The New York Produce Show & Conference fast upon us, we wanted to deal with traceability from the angle of how this can all play out among smaller supply chain members. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more and called upon Gary Fleming, who now heads his own consultancy but had previously been Vice President of Industry Technology & Standards at the Produce Marketing Association, where he headed up PMA’s traceability efforts. 10/25/2010

Setting The Record Straight On Fresh Express’ FreshRinse Wash explains that we had reported, after reading a New York Times piece on the composition of Fresh Express’ new FreshRinse, that it contained what appears to be a derivative of milk. Well, we were wrong on that one. The experts advise us, and Fresh Express now confirms, that there is no milk derivative used in making FreshRinse. Here is a sampling of the letters we received on the subject from Dan Cohen, Owner of Maccabee Seed Company; Brad Murphy, Horticulture Professor at the University of Arkansas; John Mount, Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee and Jan Payne, Business Development Manager with PURAC. 10/21/2010

Fresh Express Claims A Food Safety Breakthrough…But Does It Work And Will It Cause Consumer Confusion? reveals the big news at PMA is that Fresh Express leaked its new food safety innovation to The New York Times and so William Neuman, who writes much of the Times food safety coverage since Andy Martin went onto the bank beat, gave them a big story. The piece is titled, “Post-Recalls, A New Way to Clean the Greens.” Fresh Express has been aggressive in food safety, and we certainly hope this works and serves to enhance safety. But the way this was done is really problematic and raises at least three categories of concern. 10/15/2010

Stewardship Index Still Has High Hurdles To Overcome received a letter in response to: The Battle Over The Stewardship Index: Will Wal-Mart Wind Up Taking Over, from Jeff Dlott, President and CEO of SureHarvest; Hank Giclas, Vice President Science and Technology, Strategic Planning, Western Growers Association; Hal Hamilton, Co-Director of Sustainable Food Lab; Jonathan Kaplan, Health Program Staffer with the Natural Resources Defense Council; Kathy Means, Vice President Government Relations & Public Affairs with the Produce Marketing Association and Tim York, President of Markon Cooperative. We appreciate the effort that went into this letter but must confess it leaves us in a quandary…and the nature of the quandary speaks to some of the points about mission drift that were raised in the article. 10/1/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — Are Public Sector Food Safety Inspectors More Apt To Cut Corners Than Private Inspectors? our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag – The Ethics of Employees in Private Enterprise Versus Public Institutions, brought this note from Walter A. Hill, Ph.D., FAAM who is Dean of the College of Agricultural, Environmental and Natural Sciences and also Director of the George Washington Carver Agricultural Experiment Station at Tuskegee University. Hill states that the threat of federal prosecution of government inspectors makes private inspectors more apt to being crooked. Regardless of which sector of employees is more likely to be corrupt, it is not debatable that, sometimes, public employees are mistaken, negligent and, yes, corrupt. Therefore any estimate as to the efficacy of a public policy that depends on public employee intervention needs to incorporate such expectations in anticipating the efficacy of the measure. 8/10/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — Hairnets In The Field There For A Reason revisits our piece built around a letter from Alan Siger, President & CEO at Consumers Produce Co., Inc. in Pittsburgh, PA. It poked a little fun at the idea of wearing hairnets in an outdoor field as a food safety measure. We received letters from both Lorri Koster, VP of Marketing and Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors with Mann Packing Company, as well as Gina Nucci, Director of Food Service Marketing at Mann Packing Company, who make good points on quality and food safety. Ultimately, wearing hairnets sends a message to everyone associated with the operation that safety and quality are the highest priorities and that even the smallest rules are there for a reason and apply to the biggest bosses. 7/27/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — Hair Net PR shares a letter from Alan Siger, President & CEO of Consumers Produce Co., Inc., who comments on an interesting picture of a United Fresh tour of Salinas. In a sense, running around the fields in hair nets is sort of harmless industry PR, showing how conscientious we are. Yet, maybe, we are also shooting ourselves in the foot. Those hair nets are a symbol of sophisticated food processing facilities. In wearing them in the fields we might be setting an expectation that fields, open to all the elements, can be expected to deliver the kind of sanitary conditions that a food processing plant does. 7/20/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — Industry Tired Of EWG’s Smear Tactics our piece, New Scientific Report Shoots Down EWG’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ List As Misleading And An Impediment To Public Health, brought many nice notes including this one from Bryan Silbermann, President & CEO of the Produce Marketing Association. PMA’s members include a diverse group of growers and they are now tired of these types of anti-scientific smear tactics. Thus Bryan Silberman, the staff at PMA and the board of directors have taken this opportunity to provide tangible support in the form of funding for the Alliance For Food and Farming and its new website. 7/20/2010

New Scientific Report Shoots Down EWG’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ List As Misleading And An Impediment To Public Health takes on the Environmental Working Group who has been publishing a “Dirty Dozen” list of produce items one should always buy the organic version of. Despite sensible voices to the contrary, the media is just a sucker for these types of lists, regardless of their lack of scientific merit. The Alliance for Food and Farming has undertaken to support a study on this whole “ Dirty Dozen” concept. To understand the report better we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Dr. Carl Keen, MARS Chair in Developmental Nutrition, Professor of Nutrition & Internal Medicine and a Nutritionist in the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of California, Davis; and Dr. Richard Reiss, Sc.D., Principal Scientist, Chemical Regulation and Food Safety at Exponent in Alexandria, Virginia. 7/15/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — Does A 1,200-item Audit Necessarily Result In More Safety Than A 40-item Audit? heard from frequent correspondent Bob Sanderson, President of Jonathans Sprouts, who asks: Do large audits lead to safer food than smaller audits? Because, “having looked at two of the big audits, I can say that neither one of them addresses the key components of sprout safety.” It is a very interesting question and one for which we are not aware of any actual research. On an issue of this complexity, we felt the need to bring in an expert, so we asked Dr. Robert Stovicek, President of PrimusLabs.com, for his thoughts on the subject. 6/29/2010

Have You Washed Your Reusable Shopping Bags Lately? owes a hat tip to the American Council on Science and Health for sending along this study by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University. The study is titled, Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags. To us the issue demonstrates how difficult it is to make things better. We consciously will an environmental improvement by urging reusable bags and, inadvertently, increase food safety risks by creating another environment for pathogens to grow. 6/29/2010

Center For Produce Safety Concludes First Research Symposium With Much To Be Proud Of mentions that the Center for Produce Safety recently opened its inaugural Produce Research Symposium. The event focused on the unveiling of research reports that the Center for Produce Safety had financed. Of course, for every action there is a reaction, and if there was a hesitation about the success of the undertaking, it was whether the FDA would rise to the challenge of a more scientifically knowledgeable produce industry. The reviews on that were mixed. One attendee put it this way in a note to the Pundit. 6/29/2010

Public Policymakers Pick Up On Pundit’s Proposals For Safer Food our piece, How to Improve Food Safety: Aggrandizing The FDA only Distracts from Real Solutions, written for The New Atlantis, a Washington, DC-based journal of technology and society, has begun to percolate through the public policy community. William (B.J.) Lawson, a 36-year-old Republican candidate for Congress in North Carolina’s Fourth District, picked up on some of the ideas we raised on proper public policy toward food safety. We will leave North Carolina politics to the North Carolinians, but at least Mr. Lawson and his staff are reading widely and seeking ideas outside of the conventional wisdom. 6/29/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Ethics Of Employees in Private Enterprise Versus Public Institutions our recent food safety piece questioned whether giving more power to the FDA was, in fact, an effective way of increasing food safety. In questioning the assumption that government is the solution to the problem, we seem to have inadvertently angered some government employees, including Jim Schmidt, Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS), with the Deschutes County Environmental Health Division, who writes us asking for an apology. We never said, and don’t believe, that all government inspectors are crooks, just that crookedness is a failing of both those in the public and private sectors and that recognizing this has profound implications for the choice between various public policy options. 6/16/2010

Another Example Of Certifiers Lacking Integrity: USDA Drops Organic Certifier In China saw in The New York Times a piece titled, “U.S. Drops Inspector of Food in China”, reporting that the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) is being dropped as an organic certifier in China because they used employees of a Chinese government agency to inspect state-controlled farms and food processing facilities. It is very difficult to imagine some lone Chinese inspector standing up to close down a state-owned giant entity. If the USDA doesn’t deal with that substantive problem, then all this formulaic enforcement is just a farce. 6/16/2010

Bill Marler Goes On The Offensive, Calling Out Industry’s ‘Sorry Safety Track Record’ And ‘Not As Smart’ Pundit describes how ever since the spinach crisis of 2006, we’ve had the occasion to have frequent exchanges with members of the legal profession — particularly those interested in food safety. Among those we have interfaced with are the noted plaintiff’s attorney, Bill Marler. Bill is not only a good lawyer but in many ways a brilliant strategist. He has done such a good job of this that he has been considered for federal appointments in the food safety arena. Yet ever since The New Atlantis, a Washington, DC-based journal, published as an “Online Exclusive’ our piece, How to Improve Food Safety: Aggrandizing the FDA Only Distracts from Real Solutions — which explored the possibility of utilizing a change in liability standards to enhance food safety — it seems as if his firm has gone into attack mode. 6/16/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — No Matter What Growers, Shippers Or Retailers Do About Food Safety, ‘You Will Be Sued’ our piece, Freshway’s Traceability System Worked Like A Charm: FDA And Buyers Don’t Care, brought a note from Tom O’Brien, President of C&D Fruit and Vegetable who shares an anecdote whose premise is that in the event of an outbreak your company has any relation to, you can expect to be sued. We would point out that the problem is not, in fact, the lawyers; the problem is the legal system. When it comes to issues of liability the problem is that the legal system has come to be the method our society uses to compensate people who become the “collateral damage” of societal trade-offs. 6/11/2010

You Can Be There As History Is Unveiled: The Center For Produce Safety Reveals Its Research Results describes how The Center for Produce Safety has evolved in ways the founders barely had the right to hope for. In addition to raising money and funding its own research, it has become the “go-to organization” when any facet of the industry wants to conduct rigorous research on any aspect of food safety. And, now, like a tree coming into bloom or a fruit suddenly bursting into ripeness, the Center for Produce Safety is ready to showcase the results of some of its research. 6/11/2010

Food Safety Article Now In French discusses the Pundit’s food safety piece for The New Atlantis, a Washington, D.C.-based journal focused on technology and society, which is titled How to Improve Food Safety: Aggrandizing the FDA Only Distracts from Real Solutions. The piece is worth reading as it approaches food safety from a different direction than is typical. It has been getting a lot of pick-up, and we were especially proud that we were asked for permission to translate the rather lengthy piece in its entirety into French. You can find it on Le Blog d’Albert Amgar, which is published under the auspices of the French magazine, Process Alimentaire. They wrote a kind introduction that translates as follows. 6/11/2010

Limited Scope Of Recent Recalls Is Testament To Industry Leadership mentions how in the midst of the outbreaks of the past six weeks, the industry has hard evidence of how truly brilliant has been its leadership. The truth is there is little about the Freshway Foods Romaine recall that was different from what happened at Natural Selection Foods that led to the great spinach crisis of 2006. The big difference is that the FDA has responded differently. That is not an accident. A big chunk of the credit goes to the produce industry leadership recognizing that the key issue was that FDA had no faith in the trade. 6/11/2010

Richard Goldfarb Asks: Five Legal Questions About Traceability discovered that Richard Goldfarb, an attorney with Stoel Rives, who we’ve mentioned before, took the time to review several pieces we’ve done on traceability. After reviewing the articles, he wrote a piece titled, “A Traceability Story: Request for Comments”, which asked five important questions. Since he asked for comments, we thought we would give him some. We list his question first and our comment beneath each question. 6/7/2010

Marion Nestle, The Perishable Pundit And A Lawyer Named Stearns; We Need Civil Discourse To Advance Effective Public Policy found that recently, professor, author and blogger Marion Nestle elected to reference our piece that we wrote recently about food safety for a Washington, DC-based scholarly journal, The New Atlantis, on her blog. Several comments were left, including an accusation against the Pundit of being a “tool” for the produce industry by an esteemed attorney. We spend so much space on this matter here because, as much as anything, this is what is preventing progress on public policy in our country. How can we have civil discussions if we can’t view disagreements on public policy as matters on which men of good will can differ? 6/7/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — California Citrus Mutual’s Joel Nelson Weighs In On PTI explains how a fair amount of the public attention paid to the issue of traceability is a result of Joel Nelsen, President of California Citrus Mutual, deciding to speak out. Earlier this year he sent a letter to PMA and United expressing his concerns, and we reprint it here. Today Joel follows up with another note to the Pundit telling us that though the Produce Traceability Initiative does have problems, it is not yet finished. 5/25/2010

Food Safety Solutions: Look At Legal System, Industry Incentives And Effective Government as we have thought about food safety issues, we have come to conclude that much of the thinking in this area is limited because it doesn’t really focus on incentives. Most of the “food safety community” is composed of either technical people — those looking for the actual solutions — or legal people — those dealing with working within the law. The community lacks business executives who focus on the power of incentives. We think there is a way to improve food safety and it has precious little to do with giving the FDA more power. 5/25/2010

What Is The ROI On PTI? notes that Gary Fleming has been a most valuable contributor to our coverage of the issue of traceability. Today we come to the final piece in Gary’s most recent three-part series for the Pundit. Short of a government mandate, significant portions of the industry will not move to adopt the Produce Traceability Initiative unless they are persuaded that there are benefits beyond those that relate to enhanced traceability in the event of a food safety outbreak. We wanted to see if there was enough here to give industry executives ammunition to go before their boards of directors and build an ROI-case for PTI. Gary rose to the challenge and sent us this piece. 5/25/2010

Pressing The Reset Button On PTI saw that the executive committees of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association have come out with a joint statement supporting the PTI concept, eating a little crow as to how it was presented and making some minor changes to the deadlines. All in all it is a positive response, but the reality is that this is not a matter in the hands of the associations. Their deadlines and attitudes (although they can move things a bit one way or the other) are secondary considerations. 5/25/2010

Pundit’s Mailbag — Salad Bars Are Tricky Business our piece, Every School Needs A Salad Bar AND A Commitment To Operating It Safely, brought a note from Fred Stein, President of ‘Safe Food Connection!’, who writes to say that in regards to mayonnaise–based salads, the issue is not the mayo, but when it is sometimes mixed with a “Potentially Hazardous Food,” which must be held cold, below 41 degree F. Once you get to store — or cafeteria — level, all kinds of things happen. That why we called for both offering a food safety program and getting a commitment from the schools to adequately staff the salad bars and raised the issue of whether we ought to make sure that the salad bars are used for fresh produce, not products more likely to be dangerous to the children. 5/13/2010

A Salute To Joe Pezzini As He Steps Down From California Leafy Greens Group reveals that Joe Pezzini, Vice President of Operations at Ocean Mist Farms, has stepped down as founding Chairman of the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement. His retirement brings to an end the most consequential service to the trade rendered by a volunteer leader in the last decade. To Joe Pezzini: A hat tip… a deep bow… and a round of applause for a job well done. The man and the moment met. Lucky for us all. 5/13/2010

FDA’s Secrecy Causes Retailers To Overreact our piece, Freshway’s Traceability System Worked Like A Charm: FDA And Buyers Don’t Care, dealt with Freshway Foods’ recent recall and the fact that its traceability system did not stop government from imposing a broader recall and customers from throwing everything out. It prompted Dan Lasic, Quality Assurance Manager for the Compass Group NAD, to send this note in which he denounces the FDA’s lack of transparency during outbreaks and how it leads customers to uncertainty and overreaction. Dan is correct; the FDA is ridiculously opaque in an age of transparency. It doesn’t give the kind of “all clear” that the industry needs. 5/13/2010

How Valuable Is Case-Specific Traceability To The FDA? our piece, Freshway’s Traceability System Worked Like A Charm: FDA And Buyers Don’t Care, focused on lessons the Freshway Foods recall might offer for the usefulness of highly specific traceability data. One very well informed attorney sent along this note stating that we don’t definitively know where we are in the course of this outbreak and that FDA could be justified in widening the recall. For traceability to be meaningful, different lots have to be meaningfully distinct from other lots. For now, our question was to what degree case-level traceability — as called for in PTI — is actually going to be useful to the FDA? If the answer is “not often, maybe close to never,” then maybe that is an investment not worth making? 5/13/2010

The Great PTI Leadership Let-Down our piece, Problems Persist With PTI, brought a response from a man who has been in the forefront of the trade’s traceability efforts, Bruce Peterson, now President of his own consultancy under the name Peterson Insights. Bruce ends his thoughtful letter by saying it is a matter of leadership that has left PTI to drift, and we would agree. To us, it has echoes of the discussions over proposals last year for a generic promotion order, an industry-wide proposal, which would have needed mass support to succeed, but was negotiated in secret and then “explained” to everyone. If great produce retailers and foodservice companies would have required PTI compliance, it would have become ubiquitous. Without that requirement, PTI is no standard at all. 5/11/2010

Freshway’s Traceability System Worked Like A Charm: FDA And Buyers Don’t Care finds that in the wake of the recall prompted by Freshway romaine lettuce, it is worth looking at the way food safety agencies and buyers react when there is both good traceability data and a foodborne illness outbreak. The short answer is they ignore traceability. Recalls don’t cost buyers anything; they bill all costs back to the vendors, so why take any risk that their own employees will leave an errant bag… better just to dump it all. 5/11/2010

Every School Needs A Salad Bar AND A Commitment To Operating It Safely it is said that no good deed goes unpunished, and the initiative of the United Fresh Foundation to place “ A Salad Bar in Every School” is most emphatically a good deed. It seems highly likely that this is a win for the industry, a win for public health and a win for the children. Which is why, as an industry, we need to be proactive to prevent a foodborne illness from bringing the whole program to a catastrophic halt. 4/27/2010

FDA’s Michael Taylor Preaches ‘Scale Appropriate’ Food Safety Standards, Code Words For Exempting Small Farmers And Organics saw Michael Taylor, the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods, address a general session audience at the United Fresh Produce Association Convention in Las Vegas. His speech at United was generally unexceptional. And unless you are a policy wonk following the nuance of inside-the-beltway politics, you probably didn’t realize that he was also using a DC code word for “let’s exempt certain competitors from food safety standards we demand of others.” That code phrase is “scale appropriate” and it may have been used to curry favor with a politically important part of the Obama coalition, the organic community. 4/27/2010

Problems Persist With PTI finds the Produce Traceability Initiative seems to be somewhat stuck. Despite its many advantages, PTI does not actually solve the trade’s traceability problem, and the whole process with its elaborate stages was troubling to begin with because it put the grower-shippers ahead of the buyers. This was problematic. More than one buyer told this Pundit that they felt compelled to endorse PTI for political reasons. That didn’t mean they were actually going to spend the money to implement it. It is easy to see this situation as one simply requiring leadership to insist on the trade seeing through its plan. But it is also true that this whole episode has revealed a tremendous flaw in the way our associations are interacting with the membership. 4/27/2010

Tracing Of Foodborne Illnesses Falls Under A Patchwork Of Poorly-run, Under-resourced State Labs mentions that we’ve been writing about it for years, but finally The New York Times has picked up on the food safety problem caused by incompetent and under-resourced state labs. Gardiner Harris wrote a piece titled, “Ill From Food? Investigations Vary By State.” We examine the points brought up in the article here. 4/22/2010

Symbolon’s Fleming Sheds More Light On Traceability received another contribution to our discussion on traceability from Gary Fleming, formerly the Vice President, Industry Technology and Standards for the Produce Marketing Association, and now head of his own consultancy, the Symbolon Group. Here we present Part II of a series of three pieces by Gary that aim to help the industry think through the Produce Traceability Initiative. In this second series, Gary discusses what is happening in other sectors in the food industry that could have impact on what your company is doing. For Gary Fleming, there is something more than technique in his proposals; there is passion, a belief that not only is PTI right, it is also technically beautiful. 4/12/2010

Universities Adopt An Advocacy Role And The Media Fails To Disclose That Advocacy: How Are Legislators And The Public To Decide On Food Safety? feels the issue of what do about food safety is complicated. There are many options and many priorities to consider. What is clear, though, is that the media is not doing the job we need to have done if we are to have a fully informed and educated populace. Reporters get a study in the in-box and instead of vetting the study, they trumpet the study findings. All too many reporters don’t realize what the job actually is. They think the story is whatever the study’s sponsors say it is — but, as the song goes, “it ain’t necessarily so!” The real story might be that a university has allowed its good name and credibility to be hijacked by an advocacy group and that the science is weak. 3/29/2010

Analysis of CDC Database On Foodborne Illness: Most Outbreaks Not Associated With Produce; Foodservice/At-Home Mishandling Is Chief Cause Of Produce-Related Outbreaks found that the Alliance for Food & Farming has published a study: Analysis of Produce Related Foodborne Illness Outbreaks. It is different from the one done by CSPI: First, it is not limited to FDA-regulated foods, as was the CSPI effort. Second, this looks at produce versus other foods as a source for foodborne illness, and third and most importantly, this study tries to tease out to what extent illnesses attributed to produce are due to problems at the farm or at the processing plant as opposed to at a restaurant or home kitchen. It seemed like an intriguing approach, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Marilyn Dolan, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food & Farming. 3/29/2010

Efforts To Minimize Food Safety And Sustainability Conflicts Laudable But Don’t Resolve Conflict points out one of the biggest battles that produce growers have had to deal with is how to wrestle with the competing values of food safety and environmental concerns. Now comes word that there has been an effort to resolve this dilemma. The Nature Conservancy recently produced “Safe and Sustainable: Co-Managing For Food Safety And Ecological Health in California’s Central Coast Region” a report for Georgetown’s University’s Produce Safety Project. We have nothing but praise for people who do the hard work of trying to solve industry problems. Alas, having read the results of all these efforts, we confess that we think they fall short. 3/5/2010

More On Consumer Reports Analysis: Is The Issue Safety or Quality? our piece, Trevor Suslow Of UC Davis Speaks Out: The Truth About Consumer Reports, Bacteria And Packaged Leafy Greens, was widely circulated. We received dozens of responses on this piece, including this short note from an attorney with Lombardo & Gilles, LLP, Bradley W. Sullivan, expressing his appreciation for running the piece. Of course, some of the letters sought additional information, and Dr. Suslow was kind enough to provide some amplification on a main topic of interest — the intersection between consumer behavior and packaged salad quality and safety. 2/19/2010

Trevor Suslow Of UC Davis Speaks Out: The Truth About Consumer Reports, Bacteria And Packaged Leafy Greens recently we received a press release from Consumers Union, titled: “Packaged Salad Can Contain High Levels of Bacteria.” The March 2010 edition of Consumer Reports contains an article drawing on the same research, titled: “Bagged Salad: How Clean?” It is important that the industry response to such publicity be science-based. So we thought presenting a more technical response written by Trevor Suslow, Ph.D., Extension Research Specialist, Postharvest Quality and Safety at UC Davis, was appropriate. 2/9/2010

PR In The Produce Industry explains that in many recent controversies affecting the trade, Gary Caloroso was one of the quiet giants working tirelessly behind the scenes to help present the industry in the best possible light. Upon hearing that Sahlman Williams Public Relations and Marketing announced that Gary was named the company’s new president, we thought it was high time to pull Gary from the shadows and ask him to speak out on the intersection of food marketing, technology, food safety and the future. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to chat with Gary. 1/28/2010

Wal-Mart Produce Procurement ‘Set Up For Devastating End’ explains that recently our coverage surrounding Wal-Mart has been on the effectiveness — or lack thereof — of a procurement model Wal-Mart has been testing in Washington State on apples. Now we received this letter from a knowledgeable observer who writes that its executives have effectively set Wal-Mart up for a devastating end in regards to the apple commodity and how all of this impacts on food safety to the consumer. Some vendors hold out hope that as the losses become obvious, Wal-Mart may make a U-turn and reexamine a once very profitable system. 1/28/2010

Gary Fleming Speaks Out: Produce Traceability Series Part 1: ‘Absent Of PTI’ details how an important part of our coverage of traceability came from Gary Fleming who has recently resigned as Vice President of Industry Technology and Standards at PMA. Wasting no time, Gary has launched a new consultancy, the Symbolon Group. We reached out to Gary hoping he might contribute to the industry by speaking bluntly on the issue of traceability in general and the Produce Traceability Initiative in particular. He has been generous enough to contribute three separate pieces and we run the first here. We also thought it would good to get a little more insight into his purpose in leaving PMA and in his general thoughts on PTI. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to raise some questions. 1/18/2010

Thanksgiving Chemicals calls both the American Council on Science and Health, and its irrepressible President Elizabeth M. Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H, important counter weights to scare-mongering pseudo-scientific organizations. A really clever device that ACSH developed years ago was to publish a “Holiday Dinner Menu” that highlighted many of the naturally occurring chemicals in foods. What could more clearly show the hysteria over some trace amounts of chemical residue when all food, quite naturally, is composed of all kinds of chemicals — some of them naturally occurring carcinogens — at least at high does in rodents! 11/25/2009

California Leafy Greens Annual Report Reflects A Well Run System For Upholding Food Safety Practices reflects on how we lauded the willingness of the California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Agreement last year to decertify companies who weren’t conforming to standards in a piece we titled, Leafy Green Marketing Agreement Reviews Its Audits And Actions: New Report Released. Now the CLGMA has released its 2009/2010 report. When it comes to food safety, boring is very good, so we are pleased to report that this year’s CLGMA annual report is mostly a snoozer. The overall impression is of a well-run organization steadily making incremental improvements. 11/9/2009

Will PTI Put Liability Onus In Retailers’ Court? explains that we’ve entertained many strong views on the Produce Traceability Initiative. We received a letter from Michael McCartney, Principal of QLM Consulting, in response to our piece built around a letter by Dan Sutton, Director of Produce for Albertsons, decrying the PTI’s expense. Michael asks if buyers may want to reconsider resisting PTI, giving an example of a hypothetical farmer who, in the event of an outbreak, can prove, through flawless traceability and testing regimes, that his product is free of contamination. His example gives us opportunity to discuss the legal issues that will hamper a producer’s claims. Michael ends his letter by raising two additional points — the cost of lives saved and brands preserved. A balance must be struck, and it is no easy task. 10/23/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Letters Pour In On CSPI’s Highly Deceptive Riskiest Foods List recalls our special edition of the Pundit when we read the scurrilous report put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. We were fortunate to see the piece picked up and linked to by many organizations. It was also a pleasure to hear from academics who decided to use the piece to frame a discussion of the CSPI study. We also received many letters from industry participants weighing in on such an important matter, and here we share a sampling. 10/16/2009

Despite Progress Made, Feedback On PTI Reveals Real Problems declares that our sense is that the Produce Traceability Initiative is in a lot of trouble. Even if the technical problems could be solved, the signatories to the agreement actually spend the money to implement it, and if the sectors not participating in the agreement could be persuaded to join in, there is still a major question necessary to accomplish the realization of PTI: Will buyers constrain their supply chains to PTI-compliant product? Some feel case-level specificity won’t be relied upon in the event of an outbreak and so to “err on the side of caution,” major retailers will dump 10,000 boxes instead of the few hundred found to being implicated. Is the positive consensus that is thought to exist actually a facade? 10/16/2009

An Opportunity Missed: ‘Ten Riskiest Foods’ List Highly Deceptive, Worse Than Useless to Consumers — CSPI’s Quest For The Headlines Means America Misses Out On a Rational Discussion About Risk finds that the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a self-proclaimed consumer advocacy group, came out with a list of “The Ten Riskiest Foods Regulated By the U.S. Food And Drug Administration,” and frankly, Caroline Smith DeWaal, who is the Director of Food Safety for the group and who serves on the Board of Advisors of the Center for Produce Safety and thus knows better, should be ashamed of herself. We know her to be highly intelligent and well informed, which makes her willingness to publish this list, in this form, extremely disappointing. 10/8/2009

Shopping Experience Reveals Weakness In Branded Deli And Food Safety Protocols shares a recent experience while ordering a sandwich at a Publix Deli in Florida that put a little spin on the issue of branding at retail and retail exclusivity. In this instance, the use of substitute sandwich items instead of Boar’s Head shows the frustration of trying to get full value from these kinds of retail promotions. If the product being served is inferior, it could do actual harm to a brand as consumers will assume they are getting what they paid for. The knife being used in a way that violates food safety protocol points to a whole different set of risks manufacturers take on when they allow their brand to be used so prominently. If there was ever a death or illness at that deli, and a reporter said it happened at “The Boar’s Head Deli inside Publix” — she would just be reading the signs. 10/2/2009

Troublesome Traceability Letters From PMA Veiled As Being Sent From Buyers our recent piece, Is PTI Too Expensive And ‘Untenable’? A Retailer Speaks Out brought a substantial response. Although part of that piece dealt with substantive issues regarding traceability and, specifically, the Produce Traceability Initiative, the piece also raised questions about the proper role of trade associations in communicating with their members — specifically whether it is appropriate for associations to facilitate communication between select firms, in this case nine specific buying organizations that do not constitute any official board or committee, and their vendors and prospective vendors. One observant reader questioned the whole idea of associations using the names of their board members to scare people half to death. 9/29/2009

Is PTI Too Expensive And ‘Untenable’? A Retailer Speaks Out in one of our pieces, Is Produce Traceability Initiative Worth The investment, Gregory J. Fitz, President of Produce Packaging, Inc., pointed out severe doubts that the Produce Traceability Initiative was worth the cost for individual companies. Now Dan Sutton, Director of Produce for Albertsons LLC, has written us a letter questioning whether it makes sense for the industry as a whole. It takes people of integrity to be willing to buck the flow and stand up and say what they think to be correct. If PTI is a good idea it will withstand the scrutiny of many skeptics. If it is not, the voices of those willing to subject the initiative to public scrutiny may save firms in the industry more than a small fortune. So we thank Dan for speaking out. Now the question is what does the industry do with this input? 9/22/2007

International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS) — Potential Voice Of Global Produce Industry mentions that we have been pleased to exchange a few e-mails with Dr. Hans Maurer over the years and have been honored by the many links to the Pundit he has provided to the trade in New Zealand. We were pleased to see he had taken on the Chairmanship of The International Federation for Produce Standards. What, however, exactly is the IFPS? And what standards does it wish to see established? Why do we need such an organization rather than just ad hoc committees? We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Hans and find that in many ways, organizations such as The International Federation for Produce Standards represent the future. 9/15/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Wholesaler’s Struggle With PTI And Real Life Situations a piece we ran in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS on the issue of traceability and, specifically, the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) brought this letter from Jeff Pieracci Vice President of Galli Produce, a wholesaler in California. This letter strikes us as a particularly poignant and incisive window on an aspect of the industry often ignored in the councils that discuss industry affairs. Jeff’s letter points to small wholesalers and independent restaurants as just two of the big holes PTI leaves open in the traceability web of the produce industry. 8/11/2009

Dangers And Broader Implications Of Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index as we detailed in Wal-Mart Must Include Adequate Return On Capital In Its Sustainability “Index” Or It Will Do More Harm Than Good, Wal-Mart’s sustainability initiative is extensive. So we focused in on one glaring problem: Wal-Mart’s decision to exclude the economic sphere. The danger of Wal-Mart’s approach to this sustainability index is that by excluding the economic sphere, it is encouraging companies to make investments allowing them to score better on the index but that actively waste financial resources. Wal-Mart’s initiative is far broader than retail produce. We wanted to examine how it might interact with other industry initiatives in sustainability. To do so, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to explore the topic more by speaking to Tim York, President of Markon Group. 8/11/2009

RPA’s RFID/RPC Study: Pathway To More Comprehensive Traceability? heard that the Reusable Packaging Association had done a study that implied there could be a dramatic reduction in the cost of RFID by utilizing tags multiple times on RPCs. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Jerry Welcome, President of the Reusable Packaging Association. We find RPA’s test results very encouraging as they do indicate economies may be available that will bring down the cost of RFID if we combine it with RPCs. It seems like some kind of traceability dream, but one could imagine some kind of industry database with readers everywhere feeding into it. So if product goes from a shipper to a wholesaler to a smaller wholesaler to a purveyor and even into a store or restaurant, one could imagine readers everywhere effortlessly tracking the RPC. 8/5/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Clarification Of Sprout Outbreaks finds one lesson to be learned in the recent food safety issues surrounding sprouts is the importance of industry unity. The sprouting industry seems forever divided in twain… sometimes it is the large producers vs. the small guys, sometimes it is those active in the International Sprout Growers Association and those that are affiliated with Brassica Protection Products. In either case, it is difficult for an industry to wrestle with its problems when the industry is in such discord. Recently we ran a piece which featured a letter from Earl Hauserman, VP Business Development, Brassica Protection Products. That piece has caused some controversy in the industry and brought two letters, including one from Earl Hauserman himself offering a clarification. 7/23/2009

How To Prepare For An FDA Inspection And Recall received a letter written by three partners and an associate at one of the world’s largest and most geographically diverse law firms to help members of the industry better understand the FDA and the rights of individuals and companies when dealing with the FDA. This letter provides some guidance on how to manage one’s interaction with the FDA, and we would add just three additional points. 7/14/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Setting Policy vs. Setting Incentives revisits one of our recent pieces which drew on an anecdotal experience whereby a Wal-Mart manager demanded that employees work off the clock. The piece brought this note from George Worthy of Worthy Enterprises. His letter points to the undeniable point that attitudes are set from the top and that leaders that behave in an ethical way set the example. In the Wal-Mart situation, it still doesn’t answer why the store managers behaved in violation of company policy and the law. Certainly we have no reason to believe that the top executives at Wal-Mart in some way modeled that behavior. As we discussed in the piece, the more logical assessment is that although the policy is clear, the incentives are divergent from the policy. 7/1/2009

FDA’s Pistachio ‘Warning’: The Other Side Of The Story explains how the fallout from the discovery of salmonella in pistachios has resulted in 664 recalls to date. Though for the first time in memory, we received a “warning” notice from the FDA advising that consumers not eat the product of a specific company. Basically, this appeared to be one of the rare cases in which a company was refusing to issue a recall despite FDA pressure. It is such a rare occurrence that we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Jan Caselli, Owner of Orca Distribution West. It is actually a very fascinating story with several key points. 7/1/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Marketer Of BroccoSprouts Calls For Strict Adherence To FDA Guidelines our extensive analysis of events in the sprouting industry has brought a letter with an important contribution to the industry debate from Earl Hauserman, VP of Business Development at Brassica Protection Products, LLC. Earl Hauserman’s letter is important because it brings into the industry dialog a very important industry segment. Here we take the opportunity to look at a few of Earl’s key points and thank him for helping to broaden the industry debate. 6/23/2009

YottaMark Advisory Board Adds Bruce Peterson To Roster recognizes that some individuals seem to always attract the interest of many in the trade. So it goes with Bruce Peterson. We have covered his actions and recorded his insights many different times. Now comes word that Bruce is involved with a new industry activity, recently joining the advisory board of YottaMark. YottaMark is the leader in this field and with Bruce’s long time interest in traceability; this is a good place for him. 6/23/2009

Wash Water Sanitation Not Just An Issue For Sprouts our continuing coverage of the sprout-related outbreaks brings no end of ideas for improving the situation. Here is one from Steve Eberhard of Pureline Treatment Systems. The issue of wash water goes well beyond sprouts. We often hear government officials complaining that the produce industry uses chlorine as if it has been approved to remove pathogens from produce when it has actually only been approved to help keep the water clean. The traditional concern with chlorine dioxide in the sprouting community was the expense, but Steve is pointing to new options that may alleviate that concern. If so, this may become a new option for many. 6/16/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Another Alternative To Sprout Seed Decontamination describes how, unfortunately, representatives of many buying organizations are removing the sprout category instead of wrestling with its food safety problems. When our piece, Lessons Learned From Another Sprout Recall brought some technical papers on alternative seed decontamination treatments and an inquiry from Canada, we were pleased to add the following note from Keith Warriner, Assistant Professor in the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph to the compendium of information and analysis we have been building. Doubtless Professor Warriner’s work will find someone in opposition. Still its focus, the use of a food-grade sanitizer to decontaminate seeds, seems well worth exploring. 6/12/2009

Lessons Learned From Another Sprout Recall reports that even in the midst of our extensive coverage of the industry problems with alfalfa sprouts, we received word of another sprout-related recall. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Sidney Chang, Owner of Chang Farm whose company instigated the recall. Upon Sydney’s recommendation, we also asked Mira to speak with Kendra Nightingale, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University who clarifies and elaborates on what is known regarding contamination of Listeria monocytogenes in food products. 6/10/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Poor Management Attitude Leads To Food Safety Failures our piece, Economic Reality Trumps Official Policy Every Time, led Richard Yudin, Food Safety and Regulatory Manager with Fyffes, to write us with his insights gained from setting up farm audit systems. A friend working at a Wal-Mart told us once of a manager, frustrated with a slow crew, who ordered everyone to clock out and then finish the work. When Lee Scott was CEO of Wal-Mart, he would say that the problem at Wal-Mart is that they were known for their exceptions, so one rogue manager became trouble. If Wal-Mart can’t stop the rogue store manager we mentioned, who is doing something clearly against the law and policy, how much harder is it in food safety, where the buyer is not doing anything illegal, he is buying legal product, but he’s just not willing to pay extra to buy from the guy with the top food safety program? 6/4/2009

Discussion Of FDA’s Unclear Sprout Guidelines By Jonathan’s Sanderson And Rutgers’ Schaffner discusses how we’ve written previously of the tendency of the FDA to provide vague, almost meaningless, guidance. By recommending an “appropriate” seed screening program for sprouts, the FDA gives itself an “out” and would declare any future food safety outbreak as ipso facto proof that the seed screening program was not appropriate. Equally, we’ve been contacted by sprouters pointing out that some other sprouter is not following FDA guidelines. Yet, when we get down to details, it turns out that the guidelines are not quite clear. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to see if we could get some clarification on FDA guidance for sprouters from Bob Sanderson, President of Jonathan’s Sprouts. And at Bob’s advice, we wanted to learn more about the work that Professor Donald Shaffner is doing in this area at Rutgers and asked Mira to speak with him as well. 6/4/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Do Inspectors Help ‘Prevent’ Foodborne Illness? our piece, Tracing Of Foodborne Illnesses Falls Under A Patchwork of Poorly-run, Under-resourced State Labs, brought an objection from food safety consultant John Manoush, President of Manoush Associates, LLC, who took issue with our comment “-hiring inspectors to stand around plants in the hope they will see invisible pathogens is an enormous waste of money.” We confess to have spoken a bit tongue-in-cheek. This being said, the various proposals to increase physical inspections really have little statistical basis to them. One of the things pointed out during the pistachio recall is that the Setton facility was inspected by loads of people. While John makes the point that “the purpose of inspectors is to ensure that preventive programs are in place and are followed” he is speaking of motivation, not that there is any real evidence that more inspectors produce safer food. 6/2/2009

Seeking One Good Sprout Grower And One Good Retailer — Primus Steps Up states that long before there was a recognized problem with leafy greens, tomatoes or melons, there was a known problem with sprouts. The gist is that the seeds can be contaminated with a pathogen and the growing environment for sprouts is often conducive to allowing that pathogen to multiply. We thought this was an area where we could do some good. One call to Bob Stovicek, President of Primus Group, brought his enthusiastic participation, and on a pro bono publica basis — that means free if your Latin is rusty — Primus has agreed to lend its consulting, inspection and auditing services to one grower who will agree to participate with us in an experiment to grow alfalfa sprouts intended for human consumption. Here is what we are seeking: one grower and one retailer. 6/2/2009

More ‘Summing Up’ Of Sprout Situation our continuing analysis of the alfalfa sprout recall brought this letter from a small grower who offers several contributing points to our sprout discourse. As a former sprouter, he explains how he once avoided Caudill, the company at the center of the current controversy, as a seed supplier. He goes on to discuss seed testing procedures, the CA Department of Agriculture’s assertion that seed for sprouting and seed for planting are synonymous and grazing in sprout seed fields. He finishes by asking for our own “state of the nation” on produce and food safety. A bit ambitious for a Friday, but we will work on it. 5/29/2009

‘All Clear’ Signal Still Not Given On Sprouts our study of the salmonella outbreak on Alfalfa Sprouts brought a letter from, Maurie Thomas, General Manager at Caldwell and Sons, Inc., a sprout producer, both proud of his industry and frustrated with the lack of an “all clear” clarion announcement from the FDA. The bottom line is that all these products that are consumed raw make the FDA nervous. In the case of sprouts, the fact that it is such a small and fragmented industry means that many sprouters fly under the radar and are not commonly inspected. Retailers don’t bother, the FDA doesn’t have the staff and so, even today, the FDA is not 100% sure all those little guys have returned their seed and are now following FDA recommended procedures. 5/27/2009

Testing Sprout Seeds We’ve been focusing recently on the food safety outbreak on alfalfa sprouts. Although some of these pieces have been rather technical, we consider it vital that the industry do something to reduce the frequency of these outbreaks. So we have wanted to listen, and we will do a little more of that in this piece. Several readers noted the same issue regarding the math, and frequent Pundit correspondent Bob Sanderson was among the most articulate. We thought the mathematical question a trenchant one and so turned to Bob Rust of International Specialty Supply, LLC to get its take on the matter. 5/22/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Retailers Should Pay For What They Say They Want our piece Mike Stuart Of FFVA Speaks Out On Ballantine And Buyer/Seller Relations brought several letters including this one from one of FFVA’s members, Tom O’Brien, President of C&D Fruit & Vegetable who comments that over past several years while retail prices have inched up, producer prices have inched down. The issue is not that retailers should always pay more, per se; the issue is that retailers should pay for what they say they want. If Wal-Mart wants to require Global Food Safety Initiative certification, or conformance to the PTI or to companies deeply dedicated to sustainability, bully for Wal-Mart, but it has to take out of the competitive pool companies that don’t meet these standards so that those who have invested to do so are not forced to compete with producers in the soft underbelly of the produce trade. 5/21/2009

Testing Sprout Seed Before It Ships describes how when we published our piece, Alfalfa Seed Company, FDA, USDA And Supporting Cast Comment On Seed Withdrawal, we expressed some skepticism regarding some of the claims being made in the interview. Later we ran another piece that demonstrated Caudill Seed Company’s claim to not have been “conclusively tied” to the outbreak was, at best, questionable. The Quality Assurance Manager for the North American Division of one of the largest food buyers on the planet also was skeptical and sent us this note mentioning the efforts International Specialty Supply (ISS) has implemented in screening and sometimes even pre-screening seed (before buying them from farmers) that they sell, including sampling every lot of seed. He also sends significant news of the appointment of Dr. Devon Zagory as Director of Quality and Safety at a major sprout grower. 5/20/2009

Economic Reality Trumps Official Policy Every Time upon publishing our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Mike Stuart Of FFVA Speaks Out On Ballantine And Buyer/Seller Relations, we received a number of phone calls and notes from retailers in complete agreement. They basically said that the corporate priorities, particularly of publicly held companies, simply made it very difficult to act in the way they felt would both serve the industry and their own companies in the long run. This issue of organizations pronouncing one policy but acting in a way that serves a different policy is not new, and it is not confined to produce. 5/20/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sprout Doubt… What Constitutes A Direct Link? our piece, Alfalfa Seed Company, FDA, USDA And Supporting Cast Comment On Seed Withdrawal, featured several interviews, including one with Lyle Orwig who was acting as a spokesperson for Caudill Seed Company, the firm whose seed has been implicated in the outbreak related to alfalfa sprouts. We found the interview troubling both substantively and because we could find no verification for many of the claims made in the interview. One claim Caudill Seed made in the interview referred to an alleged failure on the part of the FDA to “conclusively tie” Caudill’s seeds to the outbreak. One well-read Pundit reader pointed out that this doesn’t seem to be an accurate characterization of the situation. 5/15/2009

Alfalfa Seed Company, FDA, USDA And Supporting Cast Comment On Seed Withdrawal reminds that the alfalfa sprout industry is operating under an FDA recommendation not to consume since April 26, 2009, which we discussed in Insights On The Alfalfa Sprout Advisory. Then the FDA issued an “ Alert,” identifying an epidemiological link between a specific seed supplier and the outbreak. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Lyle Orwig, spokesperson for the Caudill Seed Company. There are several points made in the interview we question. Mira also reached the person at USDA charged with seed regulations and testing, Dr. Richard Payne, Chief of Seed Regulatory and Testing Branch at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Finally, Mira sought clarification from Chet Boruff, CEO of the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies. Our interview with Michael McCartney regarding traceability emphasized the importance of starting traceability with the seed. One doesn’t have to be a traceability expert to know that if you blend seed you make traceback more complicated. No one knows that the contaminated seeds came from one of two or three fields or farms as opposed to one. So blending seed is a really bad idea. 5/12/2009

Recommendation For An ‘Appropriate’ Seed-screening Program Shows FDA Unwilling To Take Responsibility For Its Recommendations our piece, Insights On The Alfalfa Sprout Advisory included an interview with Bob Sanderson of Jonathan’s Sprouts and revealed an insight into a fundamental food safety problem regarding alfalfa sprouts: Alfalfa seeds are not typically grown for human consumption. We shared our suggestions for a potential resolution and seem to have hit a nerve, as three days later the FDA sent out a letter to the sprout industry offering vague recommendations. This kind of communication illustrates clearly the enormous frustration of dealing with the FDA and the enormous obstacles the incentives of the FDA pose for food safety. 5/12/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Improving Buyer Oversight And Responsibility mentions that we have focused much attention on the issue of audits. Today we share a letter, received from an important participant in this field, Robert F. Stovicek, PhD., President of Primus Group, who make several crucial points about the nature of audits and inspections. Perhaps most pointedly, Bob also touches on the importance of keeping the buyer involved in food safety. One wonders if instead of deemphasizing the role of buyers in food safety we shouldn’t increase their legal responsibility. 5/1/2009

Building A Better Understanding Of Salmonella In Pistachios because the recent pistachio recall has left so many open questions, we turned to Linda Harris at the University of California at Davis. We spoke to many experts and all identified her as the person to speak to when it came to tree nuts. She is understandably busy just now, but was kind enough to work with Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to fill in some of the gaps in industry understanding of the intersection between Salmonella and pistachios. We really are in debt to Linda Harris. She has clarified issues that hundreds of articles and countless interactions with government authorities have been unable to clarify. We’ve gathered seven big points from our discussion to know in this debacle. 5/1/2009

Insights On The Alfalfa Sprout Advisory reveals the FDA has issued a consumer advisory not to eat alfalfa sprouts. We turned to frequent Pundit correspondent Bob Sanderson to see if we can find a solution to this long running food safety issue with sprouts and asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to see what we could learn. Bob is a real insider with deep knowledge of the business, and he has given us two very simple changes that could make a world of difference. One issue highlighted in our discussion is the blending of seed lots, which makes traceability almost impossible, so the practice should be halted. 4/28/2009

More Confusion Pours From Press Reports Of Pistachio Recall points out that one of the things that makes following the FDA pronouncements on foodborne pathogens so infuriating is that FDA’s officials tend to say things without clarifying their meaning or significance. Reporters then report what they are told, and it leaves a kind of innuendo without actually saying anything. Jane Zhang over at The Wall Street Journal wrote a short piece titled “Officials Find Salmonella at California Pistachio Plant.” It is such a short piece yet it is also a kind of puzzle. FDA simply doesn’t care about the details. 4/17/2009

FDA Should Look At Auto Industry When Setting Risk Policy describes how a recent New York Times piece on the safety of “minicars” should prompt many at the FDA to rethink their approach to food safety. Although a report mentioned in this piece titled “Car Size and Weight are Crucial”, is interesting, for our purposes the point is that consumers have to make trade-offs between different values. This is hardly a new insight… The question is why the FDA wants to deny consenting adults the right to make judgments of these sorts in choosing to eat foods with an infinitesimal risk for getting sick, yet we allow people to make such judgments every day in selecting vehicles. 4/17/2009

Is FDA Guarding Against Ulterior Motives In Accepting Test Results From Unrelated Private Companies? highlights one issue raised by the actions of FDA in the Setton Farm pistachio recall, and that is the appropriateness of FDA’s reliance on tests done by third parties. Yet the use of private company testing for this purpose is very problematic. What steps did the FDA take to ensure this is not one company trying to harm another? We have no reason to believe there is such a problem in this case, but it is easy to see one arising. Competitors, a desire to buy another company’s facilities, love triangles, affairs, personal vendettas, industrial sabotage… any number of things could lead a company to drop a pipette with a pathogen on some product. 4/9/2009

Does FDA Put Its Reputation Above Enhanced Food Safety? debates a question that should be fairly asked: Has the FDA’s aggressive action increased food safety? The answer is that this is unlikely. FDA leaders are either well intentioned but incorrect in their analysis, or they are more concerned with burnishing FDA’s reputation for enhancing food safety than with actually enhancing food safety. We have no issue with FDA’s efforts. But if we did hundreds of tests and super-thorough inspections of all other pistachio facilities, how do we know all of them would be flawless in design and execution and without a pathogen to be found? If the implicated plant is imperfect but less imperfect than its competitors, then restricting its sales, but not those of its competitors, simply makes the food supply more dangerous — not safer. 4/9/2009

News Flash: Every Plant Handling Raw Pistachios Has Salmonella! (But Roasting Kills The Pathogen) admits that sometimes short-and-sweet can be very revealing. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out what role the State of California is playing in regard to the investigation of Setton Pistachio from Ralph Montano, Spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health. This brief interview brings up three very important points to consider about pistachios, salmonella and the expectations we should have as opposed to what has been spun by the FDA. 4/9/2009

Retail Exec Defends Setton And Lambasts FDA’s Actions at the Pundit, we experience the horror of the way the FDA behaves in a very specific manner. We learn that FDA agents have intimidated everyone who could credibly speak up against the way the FDA behaves. The importance of this subject goes well beyond food safety. If the government is free to act in an arbitrary and capricious manner, people start to fear to speak up because they do not want to be the next victims. In a real way freedom of speech is lost. The right to petition the government is lost. Democracy itself is at risk. Here is a conversation we had with one of the most powerful and well-respected retail executives in America. Yet for all the esteem he is held in, he dare not speak out, lest he put his own organization at risk. 4/9/2009

FDA ‘Spokesperson’ Justifies Reasoning Behind Pistachio Recall wished to get an update and clarification from the FDA itself on the state of the Setton Pistachio recall, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from the FDA. The key issue is the FDA desperately wishes to avoid any consideration of is whether its efforts actually help public health in these types of recalls. In a situation such as this it is highly likely that by excluding this one shipper’s product from the market, the FDA is leaving the market to product no safer than the Setton Farms product. Indeed, because there are sub-standard operators in the world, the remaining product may, on average, be less safe. What clearly has to change is that the FDA cannot be prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. 4/9/2009

Pistachio Industry Sets Up Website To Clear Companies reports that the pistachio industry has set up a website at PistachioRecall.Org to keep the world informed of which brands are NOT implicated in the salmonella issue. The website lists 67 brands as “not implicated” in the salmonella issue, we include them here. It is a good effort, but a lot of the consumer confusion revolves around manufactured products. What brands of pistachio ice cream did not buy pistachios from Setton? Perhaps the industry could expand the website to focus on these more problematic manufacturers. 4/7/2009

More Oddities Revealed On Setton’s Website found that the Setton Farms Website contains a complete tab on organic. Yet something is very odd. The certification on the website is from 2005, and it is issued not to the California company, but to the Long Island company. Yet the website clearly states that “Organic N & I certifies Setton’s facilities…” plural. The 2005 certificate doesn’t mean much; many industry websites are out of date, but the website clearly implies that the California facility is organic-certified. As best as we can see, that is not likely to be true. 4/7/2009

What Not To Do When Handling Crisis Communications writes that we follow food safety issues closely because there are many that apply to everyone regardless of which products they sell. In food safety, one of those issues is communications. It is part of every crisis management plan yet very often exercised very poorly. In the current crisis over pistachios, both Setton Pistachio and its affiliate Setton International are making the same mistake. Each has hired a PR firm as its representative. They become, in effect, high-priced messengers. Some may think it terribly clever to control information flow in this way, but we doubt it. By restricting information and not having knowledgeable people speak to reporters, the company commits three errors discussed here. 4/7/2009

Much Ado About Two Cockroaches: Setton’s New York Affiliate Caught Up In The Inane when it was determined that the Setton International in New York, a Setton Pistachio in California affiliate, had recently failed an inspection, some saw that as confirmation the California company was doing something wrong. We wanted to better understand this New York State inspection and asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Jessica Chittenden, spokesperson for the Division of Food Safety and Inspection at the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The finding of two live cockroaches is undesirable, but not something we can get ourselves worked up about. We just don’t see anything meaningful in a copy we were given of the inspection report. 4/7/2009

Setton’s Kosher Certifier Sheds Light On Company’s Operations although it would not be correct to say that unethical people can’t get kosher certification, reputable certifiers will run if they get the feeling that management is looking to cut corners the instant the certifier leaves. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Rabbi Hanoka of Organized Kashrus Laboratories, OK Kosher Certification, who have certified certain Setton Pistachio products as kosher. We thank the good rabbi for his willingness to share his experience, perspective and also a short parable that illustrates an argument we have often made pointing out the oddity which is the way the government views food safety as opposed to automotive safety. 4/7/2009

The Failure Of The FDA And The Nature Of Information realizes that at the core of the behavior of the FDA on food safety is a misunderstanding of the kind of information that has value. Despite our present problems, we are a phenomenally rich country, and if we want to force companies that have a positive test result to recall all the product between their last negative or thorough sanitation and today, it won’t do too much harm. Adopting a clear policy would, in fact, encourage companies to maintain clear breaks on their production lines so as to minimize the extent of any recalls. But the banning of production by a company or issuing recommendations not to consume requires a different standard of proof. The problem is that the FDA treats its knowledge of something as in and of itself significant and it is not. 4/7/2009

FDA Leaks New Info About Test Results saw that the Associated Press is reporting that federal officials confirmed they have test results confirming the existence of salmonella in “critical places” in Setton Pistachio’s California plant. If true, this report seems to represent a new approach FDA is pursuing with this food safety investigation. In the past, FDA has generally released information in frequent conference calls and then followed up with announcements on its Website. This time around they seem to be leaking information anonymously to favored reporters. This has been a food safety investigation with information dripping out hour by hour. One gets the impression that neither the FDA nor the company are telling all they know. 4/7/2009

Georgia Nut Company (Not The One Implicated In The Peanut Recall) Points Finger At Setton Pistachio explains that it can be overwhelming for a small family-owned business to suddenly find itself in the public eye. That is why crisis management is so important. But there is no reason a company should be reticent to discuss its food safety program. It should be so proud of its program and want to discuss every detail. We appreciate the time that Joshua Robbins and the Georgia Nut Company took to speak with us, but we are not certain that the logic of the argument being made holds. Mr. Robbins says that the company knows that the pistachios couldn’t get contaminated at its facility. How does he know this? 4/3/2009

Kraft At Crux Of Pistachio Recall; Hasn’t Fully Audited Supplier In Almost Four Years argues that Kraft occupies an odd position in this pistachio matter. It didn’t grow or process the pistachios; it didn’t even receive them or, initially, test them. Yet its policies on food safety and contacting government agencies have really been the catalyst for the whole matter. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Adrienne Dimopoulos, Senior Manager of Corporate Affairs Operations with Kraft Foods. There is always a temptation to clam up at a time like this. So we appreciate Kraft Foods providing some needed transparency in this very murky subject. 4/3/2009

Producer Contamination Of Pistachios Is Rather Odd finds the decision to close an industry a serious one. We wanted to learn as much as we could about the pistachio situation and so asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. People were pretty closed-mouthed, but Mira was able to clarify some important points: Richard Matoian, Executive Director of the Western Pistachio Association. We have a product not known to harbor salmonella and that has some sort of kill step. To leap to the conclusion from an isolated finding on pistachios that have been sitting in a customer’s facility for months that this establishes even a prima facie case for producer-contamination is rather odd. 4/3/2009

Pistachio Industry Effectively Shuts Down Because Of FDA Recommendation Not To Consume announces the FDA has recommended that consumers not consume pistachios or pistachio-containing products. It also encouraged a recall by Setton Pistachio of over a million pounds of product, and the company elected to close its plant. It is possible that the problem was at the plant but in an episodic way that we may never find and could happen in any plant on any product in which case the FDA’s actions have helped nobody because virtually all the pistachios do not have salmonella and these freak events happen across all foods, so we have no reason to think that a consumer who switches to, say, roasted peanuts, is any safer. This is more an example of the FDA’s need to make itself relevant than anything to do with public health. 4/3/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Audit Disconnect describes how lately we’ve written about the relationships between different kinds of audit-like bodies, particularly noting a relationship between food safety auditors, mortgage appraisers and those who rate Wall Street paper. As a result of some of this work, we received an important letter from Robert F. Stovicek, PhD., President of Primus Group. We think it reveals a schism between what auditors provide and what the world looks to auditors to provide. The disconnect between what Bob proposes an audit do and the way in which audits are actually used simply screams out. 3/27/2009

Continuous Tracking Study Of Consumer Attitudes Shows Eroding Confidence In Food Safety saw that in the course of an editorial on food safety drawing on a new study of consumer attitudes toward the safety of the food supply, the editors of the Star Tribune elected to quote us discussing the relationship between this decline of public confidence and the inability of the industry to quickly trace-forward all the affected products. We were intrigued by this new study, particularly the fact that it is a continuous study of consumer attitudes, whereas most studies are only episodic. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Jean Kinsey, Co-Director of the Food Industry Center and Professor in Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota and Principle Investigator on the Continuous Consumer Food Safety/Defense Tracking Study. 3/12/2009

Tesco’s Fresh & Easy Has a Recall; Sanctimonious Claims to Merit Consumer Trust Called Into Question explains how we’ve covered Tesco’s many missteps with Fresh & Easy in America. We don’t particularly fault Fresh & Easy for getting caught up in this Peanut Corporation of America recall. We fault them for being sanctimonious. As we pointed out in: Lessons From The Peanut Salmonella Outbreak: Audit System Broken, the auditor that Peanut Corporation of America used offered a Gold Standard Certification Program that the company did not have. Which means that for all its talk, Tesco did not even require its ingredient suppliers to have the top third-party audit for whatever auditor it used. This makes us ask if it is not possible that Tesco’s Fresh & Easy has actually been putting its own commercial interests ahead of the health and safety of its consumers. 3/12/2009

Produce Takes Greater Role In Sustainability Standards one of the important criticisms we made of the initial attempt to establish an ANSI sustainability standard for the industry was that a draft standard was submitted and changes required advocacy. Instead of starting from scratch, a rebuttable presumption had been established. This was profoundly unfair. Much hard work has finally led to the rejection of that draft standard and thus given the industry an opportunity to rethink the whole process. Still, progress has been made and the possibility of a more inclusive kind of sustainability has been created by the formation of a group developing methods of measurement for the produce trade similar to what we reported Keystone is doing for other parts of agriculture in our piece here. For an update on both sustainability tracks, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with a man whose activities intersect both projects: Tim York President of Markon Group and for additional perspective on the ANSI project, Mira touched base with the Leonardo Academy to get an update from Amanda Raster, Sustainability Standards Development Manager. 2/27/2009

Lessons From The Peanut Salmonella Outbreak: Audit System Broken says that we all know, as a matter of fact, no audit can provide perfect assurance of food safety. Even if perfectly accurate and comprehensive in scope, there is always the possibility of a dramatic change the day after the audit is conducted. This is true of all sorts of certifications and is a risk. But such sudden declines are rare and none is alleged in this situation. It is also true that AIB — and other such organizations — hardly represent their work in this way. An audit, however, is not just an inspection. It is an evaluation that procedures are established and being followed that “achieve planned expectations.” 2/19/2009

Pundit Mailbag— Joint Response To Produce Traceability Cost Concerns finds it a happy coincidence that we run this letter from the three national associations that have shepherded the Produce Traceability Initiative on the same day we run an interview with Bruce Peterson. For it was out of Bruce’s insight expressed in an earlier interview toward limiting the scope and damage of outbreaks that the industry focus on traceability arose. We have praised the outcome of the Produce Traceability Initiative, even while acknowledging it was not a panacea. We are skeptical that companies on the buy-side will, in the end, constrain their supply chain to those in conformance with the PTI requirements and, even if they do, large parts of the industry operate in a netherworld far from these association initiatives and the mandates of big corporate buyers. 2/11/2009

‘Professor’ Bruce Peterson Talks About Traceability, Immigration, Transportation And Water Utilization discusses how since its founding, the Pundit been honored to play a role on the faculty of the United Fresh/Cornell University Produce Executive Development Program. Each year’s iteration is a unique variation on the theme. This year, one of the special aspects of the program is that we are bringing in both Bruce Peterson and Bruce Knobeloch. We did think it would be nice if we could offer a sneak peek into the insight that will be gained by participating in the program. So we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Bruce Peterson who discusses the successes and continuing challenges associated with the industry’s traceability initiative. 2/11/2009

Pundit’s Mailbag — Tackling Tree Fruit Turmoil from Different Perspectives our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Reshuffling The Tree Fruit Industry, profiled a letter from Steve Kenfield, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for HMC Group Marketing, Inc., with an analysis of the tree fruit industry. It brought a torrent of objections. One former tree fruit farmer, still active in the industry, wrote to us expressing his objections. We also received another letter on this topic from Rick Eastes, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Fruit Patch Inc., a frequent Pundit correspondent, also disagreeing with Steve Kenfield, but for a different reason. 1/29/2009

Is Produce Traceability Initiative Worth The Investment? reprints a copy of a letter that a Midwestern firm sent to David Gombas, Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology, United Fresh Produce Association, critiquing the Produce Traceability Initiative. We find this letter interesting because it raises three often overlooked points: First that it focuses on the consumer. Second, it questions the sincerity of this effort pointing out that despite the trade’s supposed commitment to food safety standards, these standards are regularly waived for local growers. Lastly, he asks what evidence there is that investment in this traceability initiative is the best use of scarce resources. So why not abandon this effort as Mr. Fritz suggests? 1/29/2009

Ready Pac Voluntarily Recalls Products Containing Peanut Butter reports that Ready Pac Foods announced a recall related to products in packages with peanut butter. The whole peanut butter/salmonella recall has been fascinating, mostly because it shows that the vaunted traceability of packaged foods doesn’t really exist. Having identified the source, the industry has shown a complete lack of trace-forward capability with manufacturers announcing recalls day after day. As a result, public health authorities announced a recommendation not to consume. 1/22/2009

Is Tesco Defrauding Consumers? Promising Only Nature’s Choice Certified Product But Delivering Cheaper Alternatives? explains that retailers and large buyers dictate a set of standards to their vendors. The supply base makes investments to conform to these standards with the promise of business from the buyer. Now, however, with value the watchword for retailers worldwide, this deal is disintegrating. We received a letter from a major producer responding to our piece regarding retail pressure on producers in the UK who says: “In the end, a cheap deal will triumph over food safety.” We are not an expert in British law but to us, publicly declaring that “all of our fresh produce growers from around the world must achieve” the Tesco Nature’s Choice certification, which is “independently audited,” and then selling produce that has not been independently audited to meet that standard is perpetrating a fraud against the consumer. 1/22/2009

Christmas In Honduras… A Bright New Year Ahead received news of a really great Christmas present. It is a horribly sad and unfair story in which Agropecuaria Montelibano was unfairly penalized and held mercy to the whims of the FDA. After nine months of struggle, the loss of millions of dollars, penniless workers being deprived of a livelihood and perfectly good food needlessly wasted, we are, at last, thrilled to be able to report that the FDA has lifted its Import Alert. Included are slides of a PowerPoint presentation of the steps that the family took to win FDA approval. We are running the whole presentation not because there is anything so shocking but because the nature of the changes made point to the fundamentally arbitrary nature of FDA decision-making. 12/25/2008

2009 Resolutions calls the year end holidays a time for a break but also a time for reflection. We have a very challenging situation in produce right now, one which will require structural change for the industry to thrive. Because right now, our very best producers, packers and shippers are being put under exceptional stress. The industry is bi-furcated. We have a top tier of producers who have taken to heart the admonitions of buyers and trade associations and taken on the burden of supply chain improvement. These are the leaders in food safety, sustainability, traceability and other standards. Yet these leaders are not getting thanks; they are getting beat up and we need to stop it. 12/25/2008

So Much For Regulation: SEC Misses A Big One...Why Think FDA Will Do Better? explores how the case of Bernard L. Madoff offers instruction for those who see increased government regulation as a solution for food safety problems. Marion Nestle, a Professor at New York University, and esteemed commentator on food policy, writes today to tell us the lapses at FDA are political in nature. Fair enough, but this example of negligence on the part of the SEC goes all the way back to the Clinton administration, so the problem seems to be far broader than just the inclinations of one administration. It may speak to an inherent limitation of federal regulation: It encourages passivity by others in the chain. 12/18/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Irradiation Risks reexamines irradiation, which is a topic of great interest to the industry, especially since the FDA has approved its use for pathogen reduction on iceberg lettuce and spinach. Our recent piece Irradiation Kickstart, brought a note from one of the Pundit’s most thoughtful correspondents, Bob Sanderson of Jonathans Sprouts, who often raises intriguing questions that have featured in many Mailbags before. In this case we thought Bob’s questions concerning irradiation of food and its effect on bacteria and on humans who consume it were sufficiently intriguing to lead us to ask Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to, once again, speak with Dr. Jeffrey Barach and try to get some clarification. 12/3/2008

UC Davis Produce Curriculum Is Open To The Industry heard from Dr. Jim Gorny, Executive Director of the Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center at the University of California Davis, who has taken a moment to update us on the newest activities and programs that will be taking place at UC Davis. We hope that many in the industry will take advantage of these resources and of resources offered by other universities. 11/24/2008

Center For Produce Safety Funds Industry Studies continues our reporting the many milestones during the launch of the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis. We are pleased to note that progress is being made: “The Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis announced today the recipients of the first research awards aimed at providing the produce industry with the best science available to enhance food safety systems from field to fork. Over $500,000 in research funds were awarded to the following recipients who will engage in critical research projects over the next year.” These first four projects are intriguing ones. The Center for Produce Safety is expecting to have results no later than December 31, 2009, so this effort, as with the Fresh Express effort before it, is looking for some quick, actionable research. 11/24/2008

Understanding GAPs our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Wegmans Responds to ‘Double Standard’ Allegation, raised the issue of the meaning and reliability of GAPs or Good Agricultural Practices. In search of a better understanding of GAPs, we turned to Trevor Suslow, who is an Extension Research Specialist at UC Davis. We asked Dr. Suslow three questions we had about GAP standards. He was kind enough to let us share his insights with the industry at large. 11/24/2008

Russia Stalls EU Exports With Tough Pesticide Residue Stance reports that Freshfel Europe came out with a strong statement opposing a new Russian requirement, Russia plans to introduce safety certificates for produce originating in the EU. What could the Russians be looking to achieve by this measure? We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Frederic Rosseneu, Secretariat at Freshfel Europe. 11/18/2008

Pundit Mailbag — Food Safety And Presidential Politics our piece, Friday The 13th, March 1989…Important Date In Produce History, dealt with the cyanide scare on Chilean grapes. It brought a quick response advising us of another important date in produce history from Jack Crooks, CEO of the American Mushroom Cooperative. The date was November 9, 1959, and the scare on that day was over cranberries. The “Cranberry Crisis” was the first modern food safety issue involving a chemical additive. It also showcased an early use of a de facto government ban. 11/4/2008

Public Health Or Power To Destroy? ran a piece recently, Perishable Thoughts — Produce Industry On Trial, which portrayed the Kafkaesque nature of the dilemma the produce industry finds itself in when a food safety issue arises. An authority appears and declares the industry or a company guilty and is not obligated to produce ANY EVIDENCE at all to support these claims. To us this seems so obviously unacceptable, so positively un-American, that we find it hard to believe this state of affairs is allowed to continue. To see if we could learn why more information isn’t being released, at least in the Aunt Mid’s case, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to probe deeper and speak with James McCurtis, Spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Community Health. 10/21/2008

Perishable Thoughts — Produce Industry On Trial one of the ongoing sagas that we have chronicled here at the Pundit is the story of produce companies punished without any clear wrongdoing on their part. PRODUCE BUSINESS Publishing Director, Ken Whitacre, read the surrealistic story of how Aunt Mid’s was “implicated, indicted, convicted and punished” without being shown any evidence or being given an opportunity to defend itself, and it led him to think of Kafka and specifically to send us this line. Throughout our work on these various food safety issues, we have consistently warned that more is at stake than food safety. The very idea that we are a society based on law and not on individuals with arbitrary power is threatened by the virtually unlimited discretion of public health authorities. 10/17/2008

Irradiation And Consumer Acceptance admits that although there are many technical issues with regard to irradiation — what dose, what packaging, logistics, cost, etc. — one of the key industry concerns is consumer acceptance of irradiated produce, but consumer acceptance of irradiated produce is something of a red herring. To explore this subject more thoroughly we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Christine Bruhn Ph.D., Director of the Center for Consumer Research in the Department for Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis. 10/16/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety Regulations In Mexico states that many who advocate regulation make the mistake of thinking that because a law is passed or a rule made, the problem is solved. In Mexico, we have to suspect that regulation will be doubly problematic because it is difficult to apply the same standards to producers of all sizes and corruption is prevalent. During the Salmonella Saintpaul situation, we spoke with many growers in Mexico and recently received this letter from Janning Kennedy, a Consultant with Sueo Tropical, whose point that the FDA’s practice of punishing every farmer when there is a problem with an unidentified source is well taken. 10/15/2008

Irradiation Kickstart our recent piece, Disputed Link To Aunt Mid’s Cut Lettuce Reveals Need For Industry Firms To Have Easy Access To Top Epidemiologists, made us think more about irradiation. Because this outbreak is allegedly linked to foodservice and institutional packages of fresh-cut lettuce, some of it was consumed in hospitals and nursing homes by high-risk populations. After the FDA approval of irradiation on spinach and iceberg lettuce, one suspects that those consumers with impaired immune systems would be a ready market. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with the association that pushed this petition before the FDA, as well as representatives of the two main technology choices. 10/15/2008

Disputed Link To Aunt Mid’s Cut Lettuce Reveals Need For Industry Firms To Have Easy Access To Top Epidemiologists writes that the papers have been filled with news reports indicating that Aunt Mid’s Produce Co. has been the source of an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak—this one linked to distribution of foodservice or institutional size packages. We mentioned Aunt Mid’s during the spinach outbreak of 2006, as the company worked to reassure consumers of its food safety efforts. Now, the company is objecting to the claim that its product is associated with an outbreak. We wanted to get to the bottom of this situation and so asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more from Dominic Riggio, President of Aunt Mid’s. 10/7/2008

Pundit Mailbag — Obtaining Leafy Greens For Research our piece, Fast-Tracked Food Safety Research Findings Presented at Fresh Express, brought several letters including this one from Manan Sharma, Ph.D., a Research Microbiologist in the Food Safety Laboratory with the United States Department of Agriculture, describing the difficulty in receiving raw lettuce product from Fresh Express for their research. Upon investigation, Fresh Express wouldn’t give the researchers product because they were so intent on the research being perceived as unbiased, it did not want to open the door for any accusation being made that in some way Fresh Express had stacked the deck on the research. 9/18/2008

Filth Flies And Cultural Research wrote a bit about the Fresh Express Fresh Produce Safety Research Conference here, but one of the research presentations, about filth flies, has occupied many hours of thought as holding the key to food safety. It is not the actual research, what has consumed us about this particular research is that it was so obvious that there was a problem in the fields. Simple visual observation allowed the researchers to find unusual numbers of flies all over the field. How do we change things so that the retail buyer has an incentive to exceed his employers’ minimally acceptable food safety standards and pay up for the best product? How do we buy fresh produce so that the farmer, the one on the scene and closest to the crop, has an incentive to say, “I’m suspicious about all these flies, so I’m not selling this crop.” 9/18/2008

Pundit Mailbag — New Points Of Vulnerability mentions that during the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, we received a letter and followed it up with an exchange that led us to realize a new vulnerability. In the old days, we could expect most produce outbreaks to peter out quickly because most produce harvesting areas lasted a short time. Yet new technology… plasticulture, fertigation, greenhouses, improved varieties, increased assortments of seeds and plant varieties… all these things mean longer and longer growing seasons, making it increasingly difficult to say, definitively, “There are no more California tomatoes” or “no more Florida jalapenos.” 9/16/2008

Fast-Tracked Food Safety Research Findings Presented At Fresh Express shares observations from the Fresh Express “Fresh Produce Safety Research” Conference. It was mostly an academic conference in which nine academic groups that had received money presented their findings. The funds had been allocated by a unique advisory board, consisting of government and academic officials. Although this type of quick turn around can provide important clues for further research and provide the trade and regulators with some notion of how research is progressing, we think demanding instantaneous revolutions in horticultural or processing practices is too much. Yet we thought the research yielded results both intriguing and important. 9/16/2008

A Should Listen To GSA When It Comes To Evaluating Risk hopes that someone at the FDA reads The New York Times, as a recent story entitled: “Agency Fights Building Code Born of 9/11” — though about building codes for skyscrapers in a post 9/11 world —might as well have been about food safety policies promulgated by the FDA. 9/16/2008

Perishable Thoughts in the midst of the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, we received a contribution from distinguished academic Donald W. Schaffner of the Center for Advanced Food Technology at Rutgers quoting an important governmental official, Dr. Paul Mead, who currently is chief of epidemiology, microbiology, and diagnostic activity in the bacterial zoonosis branch in the division of vector-borne infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Infectious Diseases. We appreciate the thought because it strikes at one of the central questions of the recent Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak: Is the produce industry on shaky ground in objections to the FDA actions because there was, in fact, a compelling need to act to protect public health? 9/9/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Be Careful Where You Grow shares a letter from Cindy A. Jewell, Marketing Director for California Giant Berry Farms, who asks “what the future implications are with regard to red tape in importing produce from Mexico?” As we chronicled in a series of articles, a discriminatory attitude toward Mexican production often characterized the FDA’s actions during the outbreak, so it is reasonable to ask if future regulations on imports from Mexico are on the way. However, the answer is almost certainly no. 9/9/2008

Though Traceability Initiative Is A Big Win, Weak Links Still Exist examines how recently traceability was identified as a weak link in the food safety system during the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak. We are not sure that the industry’s joint initiative on traceability, even if fully successful, is ever likely to achieve Bruce Peterson’s vision. Our take is that the basic design of the industry traceability system is a very good. The “paradigm shift” recognizing that traceability is best obtained with industrywide standards rather than proprietary systems is a breakthrough. The accomplishment of this task force should not be underestimated. 9/9/2008

Setting The Record Straight On AP’s Mexican Pepper Story examines how a widely distributed AP story claimed that the FDA knew peppers from Mexico were a big problem long before the recent Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak. The Pundit has been interviewed by several AP reporters over the years and usually finds them to have tough standards — in fact being unwilling to run with stories without solid evidence — this piece seemed incomplete and sloppy so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from FDA spokesperson Sebastian Cianci. 8/28/2008

FDA’s Irradiation Ruling Puts FDA On The Spot explained how we think being able to purchase irradiated hamburger meat is great, but the challenge is that consumers don’t perceive there to be any real risk. The recent news that the FDA has decided to allow irradiation to be used on iceberg lettuce and spinach for the purpose of food safety raises the prospect of the long-sought “kill step” that will ensure food safety. There are some technical issues, but none that can’t be quickly overcome. In the end, irradiation will not take off as long as public health authorities declare the food supply to be safe. We are pleased with the new FDA ruling, now we will learn whether the FDA is serious or this is just PR. 8/28/2008

Digging Into Wal-Mart’s ‘Locally Grown’ Numbers Wal-Mart’s announcement to buy local is nothing new, although, they seem to typically refer to produce grown “in state” as local. Wal-Mart doesn’t ever officially define what it means by “locally grown,” so it is difficult to ascertain the significance of the effort. Wal-Mart’s state by state chart of locally grown produce leaves us uncertain these products really make a lot of sense to view as part of a locally grown initiative. Once again, we come down to the meaning of local. 8/28/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Wegmans Responds To ‘Double Standard’ Allegation our recent pieces on food safety and locally grown produce caught the interest of many, and brought this missive from Steve Scaroni, Owner of Veg Packer USA, who says the double standard that exists has him on the “edge of bitterness.” We also heard from several retailers objecting to the characterization of the situation, including David Corsi, VP of Produce and Floral with Wegmans Food Markets. In all fairness, we never saw this as an issue particular to Wegmans. The issue of differential treatment of local growers applies to all retailers who run real local programs. Dave’s announcement that Wegmans is moving to mandatory GAP audits for food safety purposes on locally grown product is very good news. It sets Wegmans up as a leader, and we hope others will follow this example. 8/19/2008

Baja Grower ‘Held Hostage’ To FDA’s ‘Ban’ On Mexican Peppers reports that although Mexican jalapeno and Serrano peppers are still effectively banned from the U.S. market, some might think that the crisis is over. Of course, the crisis is not over if you happen to be a U.S. grower who has built an operation in Mexico dedicated to supplying fresh chili peppers to the U.S. market. Then it is worse than ever. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more on exactly this situation from Doug Hermance, owner of Pea King Produce. 8/19/2008

Whole Foods Meat Recall Leads To Inspection Change And Lesson For All... Including the Produce Industry describes the Whole Foods ground beef recall as devastating for them. Whole Foods grinds its own hamburger meat, but it purchased meat from its longtime supplier, Coleman Natural Foods, which, it seems, may have supplied contaminated meat that had been processed at Nebraska Beef, a company that has had many a food safety battle with the USDA. Now why would Whole Foods choose to deal with a controversial company such as Nebraska Beef? It didn’t… and in the story of how it happened is a food safety issue as applicable to produce and other perishable items as it is for meat. 8/19/2008

Perishable Thoughts — Ego And Public Health with an industry focus on how to get public health authorities to acknowledge that their original position — that tomatoes were the vector for the outbreak of salmonella Saintpaul — was unjustified, we thought this quote from Colin Powell was apropos. A hat tip to Steve Travis of Hartmann Foods for sending in this timely quote. 8/7/2008

New York Times Article Reveals Double Standard On Food Safety excerpts a piece from The New York Times about the locally grown movement, portraying chains such as Hannaford, Wegmans and King Kullen as being big locally grown advocates. It is all pretty upbeat, yet the piece pulls back at the hard questions. The shocking thing about the story is that it didn’t confront the double standard on food safety. Usually small growers sell such a small quantity they slip through the detection systems, but we have no basis for thinking locally grown produce is safer. So most likely we will continue, regulated or not, with a two-tier system under which large growers are expected to do all kinds of things for food safety and the same requirements are ignored for small producers. 8/7/2008

Error, The Industry And The Implication Of Tomatoes gives a three part examination of mistakes and miscues during the Salmonella Stpaul outbreak. We discuss how the FDA is just a group of people that rely on other people and institutions and have no special immunity against error. We call on trade associations to provide produce firms with the tools to arrange for competent legal representation with the FDA and have the epidemiology looked at by an expert in an outbreak. We also point out that to date; CDC has not released sufficient epidemiological information for an outsider to judge definitively the reasonableness of its initial implication of tomatoes. 8/7/2008

Fresh Express Conference To Unveil Research Findings in January of 2007 that we published a piece entitled, Fresh Express Gives $2 Million: But Its Food Safety System May Be a Bigger Gift. which featured an announcement that Fresh Express would fund research to help the fresh-cut produce industry prevent contamination by the deadly Escherichia coli 0157:H7 pathogen. The funding was important, and pledging to make the results publicly available was generous. Now we hear that the results are in, and Fresh Express is going to host a conference to reveal the findings. The agenda involves both research presentations and an opportunity to discuss and analyze its meaning and implications. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Jim Lugg, Executive Vice-President of Science & Quality at Fresh Express and Dr. Michael Osterholm, Executive Director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy. 8/7/2008

Perishable Thoughts as attention turns to Capitol Hill and the Salmonella Saintpaul hearings while simultaneously, in this election season, we rely on our congressional representatives to solve the many problems illustrated in the outbreak, we ought to remember some comic lines from Aristophanes. At PMA’s town hall meeting on the Salmonella Saintpaul crisis, one would have to say that the tone of the questions indicates that much of the audience felt little had changed since the spinach crisis of 2006. On the broad issue of CDC and FDA, there is broad consensus that they are not doing the job. The dispute is over why. 7/30/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Free Baja Take 2 received a letter from Doug Hermance of Pea King Produce, Inc., a jalapeno grower in Baja, regarding how the FDA is repeating the same mistakes it made with Baja tomatoes. Our reasons for objecting to the continued restriction of Baja and many other parts of Mexico go beyond sadness at seeing innocent people and businesses crushed. This sad treatment reaches to the essence of public health. 7/30/2008

Resource Guide On Food Safety responds to calls we’ve received looking for resources and wanted to remind readers that we maintain a variety of “Hot Topics” buttons to allow you to review and update yourself on many subjects, including: the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, the recent FDA Import Alert on a producer of Honduran Cantaloupe, the 2006 Spinach crisis and the Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative, interviews with foodservice operators, Botulism and Carrot Juice, the National Restaurant Association’s Efforts and an initiative by the Food Safety Leadership Council. Also highlights four articles that have been seminal in analyzing this Saintpaul Salmonella crisis. 7/30/2008

Will Colorado Salmonella Sickness Case Lead To Texas Pepper? reports food safety attorney Bill Marler has said one of his Colorado clients was the first person to fall ill of Salmonella Saintpaul after having eaten jalapenos. This person actually had jalapenos left over from his purchase and the jalapenos and the client’s illness were a genetic match for Salmonella Saintpaul. We asked Pundit Investigator & Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Epidemiologist Alicia Cronquist with the Colorado Dept. of Public Health & Environment on their efforts surrounding this discovery. 7/30/2008

PMA’s Town Hall Meeting On Salmonella Saintpaul Raised More Questions Than Answers fundamentally, these large panels are simply not the way to extract much in the way of information. Something more along the lines of “Meet The Press,” where one person is interviewed for an hour by someone knowledgeable enough to not let them get off with platitudes would generate more valuable information for the industry. Includes summaries of the panelist’s comments. 7/30/2008

All In Favor Of Regulation Say ‘Aye’ it is a weakness of democratic politics that people are prone to believe that passing a law against something will accomplish something. Regulation may well raise minimum standards, but it provides no incentives for going beyond the minimum. There is actually a very strong argument to be made that the most effective food safety system is no system at all. 7/30/2008

State Health Departments Need Increased Level Of Competence recognizes one of the key lessons in this outbreak has been how incompetence and lack of resources on the state level quickly became a national problem. Dr. Jim Gorny at UC Davis wrote to us in a piece we published under the title, Tomato/Salmonella Situation Cries For Improved Epidemiology, “The real issue regarding industrywide shutdowns is not about produce traceability (although good traceability does help), but it is about epidemiological investigations that are slow, laborious, time-consuming and resource-intensive affairs.” 7/30/2008

Reasonable Suggestions For FDA And Industry Methodology conveyed an important subtext of this week’s Congressional hearings is to attempt an analysis of what is wrong with the way FDA handles food safety issues and, as a consequence, how we can do it better. One of the more sensible approaches to this issue was developed by Dr. Robert A. LaBudde of Least Cost Formulations Ltd., whose plan speaks to many of these problems and provides reasonable solutions. 7/30/2008

Recommendations, Information And Public Health explains that an effective national food safety policy has to include both a plan to prevent food safety problems and a method for dealing with them when they do arise. Congress must direct FDA to function in an educational fashion on foodborne illness outbreaks unless there is a particular reason to fear high numbers of fatalities or permanent damage. In America, we believe in freedom and consumers having the right to make choices for themselves. 7/30/2008

Congressional Hearings Should Pave Path For Public Health presents a 10 point proposal the industry should make in speaking to Congress which states the facts plainly and provides a path for public health to be enhanced while ending the damage caused to the industry by widespread bans on different produce types. 7/30/2008

Three Congressional Hearings Focus On Salmonella Saintpaul announced three hearings in the House of Representatives this week, all related to the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak. Includes descriptions and witness lists for each. We sincerely hope that the important issues raised during this outbreak will be dealt with effectively and that progress will be made. 7/30/2008

With FDA/CDC Protected By Sovereign Immunity, Compensation For Losses Looks Bleak Says Professor Richard Epstein asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with University of Chicago Professor of Law Richard A. Epstein about the “takings” clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which states “… nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”, and what it might mean for those seeking compensation for losses from this outbreak. 7/25/2008

Whether It’s One Pepper Or More, FDA’s Lack Of Transparency Is Unacceptable answers questions in regard to the FDA’s discovery of Salmonella Stpaul on a single pepper in Texas. The mere fact that one pepper was found to be contaminated does not prove or even indicate that this jalapeno pepper—previously unknown as a vector for Salmonella—is actually at the root of this outbreak. The lack of transparency is simply unacceptable. It is the secrecy and manipulation of data that is causing outrage toward FDA. 7/25/2008

FDA Finds One Jalapeno With Salmonella Saintpaul And Asserts Authority To Bankrupt Innocent Parties As Part Of FDA’s Pursuit Of Vague “Public Health” Goals once again, needlessly and with reckless disregard for the rights of innocent people, the FDA has destroyed an industry. Beyond this, the singular thing that has to come out of this outbreak is that the FDA must fulfill its obligation to public health by declaring what it knows but must be prohibited by law from making recommendations. Dr. Acheson honestly believes that if thousands of people go bankrupt because he made a proclamation, then that is OK — mere collateral damage on the road to protect public health. 7/22/2008

Perishable Thoughts — We Shall Be Heard with letters from the Florida Tomato Exchange and especially the one from Senator Tom Harkin, the message is going forth to the FDA and CDC that this industry shall be heard. It reminds us of the first speech Benjamin Disraeli made in the House of Commons. He was a novelist and filled with radical ideas and so his speech was not well received; indeed he was heckled quite strongly. But though Disraeli was new to Parliament, he was smart and dedicated to the right. He was confident in his position and felt he would one day prevail, so he ended his first speech in parliament with today’s quote. Perhaps the powers that be at FDA and CDC need to understand that this time the produce industry will be heard from. 7/17/2008

Pundit Mailbag — Irradiation Safety Clearly Demonstrated shared a letter from Paisan Loaharanu, Adjunct Prof. of Food Safety at Michigan State University on irradiation technology as a food safety measure. We’ve asked about FDA’s failing to approve the produce irradiation petition for nine years and have been told bluntly that the hold-up is political. There is some irony, though, in the FDA, with the left hand demanding zero tolerance on pathogens and with the right hand prohibiting the use of irradiation to get to that point. 7/17/2008

Pundit Mailbag — Processed Salsa Not Suspected Of Salmonella… Yet reprints a letter from Doug Pearson, President of California Creative Foods who asks the Pundit not to paint with too broad a brush when we mention freshly prepared salsa, and explains the great efforts his plant has made to ensure safe production. However, if the cause has something to do with tomatoes and if the outbreak goes longer, the implication of any particular farm with the outbreak is increasingly implausible. This will inevitably turn speculation to products produced in a food processing facility. 7/17/2008

FDA’s Sacrificial Lambs learned that one of the lessons of this Salmonella outbreak is that, as an industry, we cannot allow individual members to be hung out to dry by the FDA. Agropecuaria Montelibano, a producer of Honduran cantaloupes, profiled in our FDA Import Alert, has been alone. There have been no statements of support from PMA or United or from their brethren cantaloupe growers in the US. No industry institution has demanded the FDA lift this absurd Import Alert that endangers next season. Florida tomato growers are starting to realize that the FDA is a ship unmoored. FDA may soon see that men are not meat, the more you pound them, the tougher they get. 7/17/2008

Sickness Multiplier Needs Closer Look CDC has mentioned research that indicates that, typically, more than 30 people get sick for every person found to be sickened by a foodborne illness. Yet the CDC’s Dr. Patricia Griffin also acknowledged that this research is based on illnesses not related to known outbreaks and that the multiplier is probably much less in an existing outbreak due to its publicity. It is too late for this outbreak, but it seems as if some useful research could be done in this area. 7/17/2008

Ethics And The FDA explains that today every major medical center has a committee devoted to ethics. Every medical school has courses on ethics and there are many journals specializing in the field. So even if we posit that by blocking borders, bankrupting farmers, hurting distributors, putting laborers out of work and having consumers dispose of their food, FDA was doing enormous good in alleviating human suffering and reducing the spread of illness, it is not clear that FDA is acting ethically. 7/17/2008

FDA Town Hall Meeting To Be Held During United Public Policy Conference announced United will hold an FDA Town Hall Meeting at FDA headquarters in September. That is a great thing. One of the lessons of this outbreak is that the trade’s traditional government relations efforts need a reformation to deal with a day when FDA supervision of the trade’s food safety efforts is a reality. Building relationships with every Senator and House Member who has oversight responsibility for Health and Human Services should be top priority. 7/17/2008

Madness Must Stop shared a moment of poignancy when during United’s conference call regarding the Salmonella outbreak, Drew McDonald, Vice President of Quality Systems at Taylor Farms, asked this question: How is it possible that FDA and CDC officials are holding press conferences in front of important media speculating randomly about the causes of the outbreak? Why didn’t they gather together a group of industry experts and get these questions answered up front to avoid this harmful and distracting speculation when real knowledge is available? 7/17/2008

Important Questions Never Asked, According To Navajo Nation Investigators found that Investigators from the Navajo Nation’s Bio-Terrorism Preparedness Program in New Mexico are going back to re-interview both “cases” (people who fell ill) and “controls” (people of similar demographics who remained healthy) to now determine if individuals also consumed peppers or cilantro. The team is also expected to focus on the people who prepared the food eaten by those who became ill with Salmonella Saintpaul. This is rather shocking, considering how this investigation was undertaken in the first place. 7/17/2008

Senator Harkin Calls For Reform Of FDA’s Food Safety System received a note from Adela Ramos, Senator Tom Harkin’s point person on agricultural issues, informing us that a letter had been sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt. In it Harkin says that the Salmonella outbreak demonstrates the need for better coordination and communication among federal agencies, industry, and the states, as well as a strong trace-back system to determine the source of food-borne illness outbreaks. 7/17/2008

Perishable Thoughts — Evils Of Public Health perhaps as industry anger over the progress of the investigation of Salmonella Saintpaul boils over, all of us need to remember words that Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a book entitled, “The Strenuous Life.” The title came from a speech he gave as the Governor of New York when he spoke on April 10, 1899, in Chicago where he had been invited to address the Hamilton Club. Basically the argument of public health authorities is that they are allowed to destroy industries and bankrupt the innocent in order to protect public health. But Theodore Roosevelt had another perspective. 7/10/2008

FDA Communications Lack Vital Risk Assessments reiterates that the FDA works for the people, and we know of nobody, literally nobody, who thinks the FDA should not tell people what it knows. If Dr. David Acheson thinks the issue is that the industry wants FDA secrecy, he is mistaken. By telling us fully what the FDA knows, it can help people decide what risks they wish to run. 7/10/2008

Consumer Watchdogs Ignore Current Outbreak In Pursuit of Predetermined Agenda reports the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America held a press conference issuing a statement headlined as “Emergency Regs Needed for Tracking Produce, Food Groups Say.” It is very hard to make progress on food safety if the players don’t really look at each outbreak to see what we can learn from it. This one teaches us that changes are needed at CDC and FDA, and that should have been the focus of the CSPI and CFA statement. 7/10/2008

If The Industry Doesn’t Hang Together... Surely We Will All Hang Separately observes that first the tomato industry was crushed and now the FDA is marching through the “salsa bowl” crushing additional industries. What is happening with tomatoes or on the Mexican border is wrong because it violates seven import principles, all of these indicate a massive need for reform of the essentially lawless discretion that FDA exercises. 7/10/2008

Reality On The Border: Businesses Suffer At Hands Of FDA asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to find out what precisely the FDA may be doing on the US/Mexico border. She spoke with John McClung, President & CEO of the Texas Produce Association, Will Steele, President & CEO of Frontera Produce, Raul Cano, Co-Owner of Grande Produce Ltd. and Gilbert Ramirez, President of A&G Produce who all share their experiences during this crisis with the industry at large. 7/10/2008

Energy And Commerce Committee Should Think About Commerce In Hearings On ‘Broken’ FDA reports that this Committee and, specifically, its Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations soon will hold hearings “examining the inability of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to identify the cause of the recent national outbreak of salmonella.” We hope a Representative will ask the FDA how it calculated the cost and benefits of restricting the sale of all these products until the test results came back, needlessly crippling commerce in America. 7/10/2008

CNN Wrongly Blamed For FDA’s Calculated Ambiguity as if we needed another example, this is a further illustration of the incompetence of FDA’s and CDC’s management of this outbreak and utter contempt for the business community that news that the US will “halt the shipment of ingredients common to Mexican cuisine from Mexico to the United States” was delivered via CNN’s investigative reporting rather than a timely and official FDA communication. 7/10/2008

Lukewarm Indictment of Jalapenos: Solving Outbreak Requires Thinking Outside the Box addressed this suspicion of jalapeños and Serrano peppers as still just another epidemiological theory — much as CDC had a theory about tomatoes a month ago. We think we need an approach that might not show up on the surveys. We want to suggest looking at two other possible vectors for this outbreak. 7/10/2008

CDC Blames Fresh: Ignores Horticultural Probabilities reports that the US will “halt the shipment of ingredients common to Mexican cuisine from Mexico to the United States” starting Monday. No official announcements have been made, but the intent is said to include holding cilantro, jalapeno and Serrano peppers, scallions and bulb onions at the border. We hope to warn readers who export from Mexico or import to the US from Mexico to make cautious judgments about sending product to the border until the situation is clarified. 7/5/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — FDA’s Tomato Safety Initiative Revisited shared a letter from June 13, 2008, where in the midst of the Salmonella Saintpaul tomato outbreak, one reader, Rob Mumma, Senior Vice President of Business Development for Belair Produce, Inc., either prescient or with a remarkable memory, thought to scan the Pundit archives to discover, FDA Begins Tomato Safety Initiative which we published on June 13, 2007. 7/3/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Plenty of FDA Incompetence to Go Around But The Problem Is A Matter Of Politics, Says Marion Nestle, Esteemed Food Policy Professor we’re honored to receive a note from Marion Nestle, a woman who can only be described as an irreplaceable national resource on public policy as it relates to food and nutrition. What we think is interesting about Professor Nestle’s letter is that it speaks to a divide in the public policy community about how to respond to the obvious ineptness of the way this Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak has been handled. 7/3/2008

CDC Makes One Step Forward And Two Steps Back In Mapping Illnesses recalled how our recent piece, CDC’s Map Of Ill Persons Could Use Some Improvement, suggested some flaws with the way CDC has mapped illness outbreaks — namely that it counted one sick person in a state the same as thousands in another state. Fortunately, they were listening at CDC and came up with a more effective and accurate visual. Unfortunately, they have already changed it again to be less informative. We are not sure why. 7/3/2008

Plea For CDC To Release Sickness Details And Origin Of Purchase describes two important pieces of information that the CDC must release so we can help it make sense of this outbreak: demographic information and the percentage of people who believe they became sick after eating at a restaurant as opposed to those who believe it was from food they purchased from a retail store. All this information is not confidential — there is no reason not to release it, it is just a “habit of secrecy” that we have to encourage FDA and CDC to overcome. 7/3/2008

Consumer Press Catching On says that there could be an advantage to the length of time this Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak is continuing; it is that the consumer press is starting to become significantly better. The questions they pose to the FDA and CDC officials are becoming more probing and more skeptical. That more educated press corps may well prove an important asset in the months and years to come. 7/3/2008

FDA’s Erroneous Statements Clarified By California And Florida Tomato Leaders wished to investigate the relevance of some of the points Dr. Acheson has been discussing and asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. She turned to Ed Beckman, President of the California Tomato Farmers and Reggie Brown, Manager of the Florida Tomato Committee and Executive Vice President of Florida Tomato Exchange & Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. 7/3/2008

Four Talking Points For Dr. Acheson To Consider examines statements from Dr. David Acheson, FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Foods, who devoted a part of the Tuesday evening press conference to looking to the future and ways to do things better. It was truly thin gruel, and in many ways highly insulting to the produce trade. 7/3/2008

FDA/CDC Violate Their Own Speculation Policy FDA and CDC have made a point that they don’t release their speculations. So, for example, neither organization will name any other item, beyond tomatoes, that they are considering as the source for the Salmonella in this outbreak. Last Friday, however, when CDC’s Dr. Griffin announced that this was a “fresh produce” outbreak, we think she violated the same policy. 7/3/2008

Getting Our Money Back: Waive Sovereign Immunity explains the problem is that CDC and FDA personnel can be horribly wrong, yet neither will experience any consequences. Hundreds of millions of dollars of losses have been incurred with a very dubious benefit to public health. If tomatoes are not the cause, then the losses had no public health benefit at all. Now the question is where do the tomato growers go to get their compensation? 7/3/2008

‘Produce’ Or ‘Food Items’ although CDC’s Dr. Griffin last Friday said, “This is a produce outbreak,” to distinguish it from a tomato outbreak, CDC’s Dr. Robert Tauxe used a different word in an interview with USA Today, saying “we’re broadening the investigation to be sure it encompasses food items that are commonly consumed with tomatoes.” CDC should A) use words more carefully to avoid confusion, and B) clarify this issue very quickly. 7/3/2008

Trace Back The Control Group learned that CDC was doing new survey work with people who became ill after June 1, 2008. What was shocking — and very disappointing for the produce industry — was word that even in this new investigation, CDC is not doing any traceback of the control group. Produce trade associations should be requesting that CDC add this to their methodology right now so that this new survey will be more likely to produce an answer as to the source of the salmonella. 7/3/2008

Why Have FDA And CDC Changed Their Tune? Perhaps They Read The Pundit’s Interview With Dr. Michael T. Osterholm we don’t think it is a coincidence that the FDA and CDC started backtracking right after Dr. Osterholm, a well-respected epidemiologist, spoke out about the incompetence of the traceback. He was particularly pointed about CDC’s failure to do a traceback on the control group — which is the non-sick people who had been questioned. The interview is powerful. To make sure everyone had a chance to read it, we will re-run it in its entirety here. 6/28/2008

Can We Avoid This Mess In The Future? expands on two separate but related issues here: The first is how to structure an investigation to be more effective. Our interview with Dr. Michael T. Osterholm gave five reasons why. The second issue is the need to make sure CDC and FDA have some checks and balances before they destroy an industry and make consumers spend hundreds of millions of dollars replacing food. With five examples on how to accomplish that. 6/28/2008

Thinking Outside The (Fresh Tomato) Box… So What Can The Problem Be? explains why the problem cannot be local managers buying outside the procurement system, it cannot be a farm-based problem and it cannot be a repacking plant, which makes us think that CDC and FDA may be barking up the wrong tree. 6/28/2008

FDA “Learns” About Tomatoes listening to Dr. David Acheson, MD, Associate Commissioner for Foods, talk about the things they learned about the tomato industry during the course of the investigation reminded one of the old saying, “it is not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it is the things you know that aren’t so.” 6/28/2008

CDC Rejects Internet Age… Wants To Keep All Information Secret During The Outbreak So Nobody Can Question Its Decisions CDC and FDA are so backwards. If these organizations were sincere about solving food safety outbreaks, they would make all non-confidential information public as soon as possible — then let the intelligence of the world pitch in to solve the riddle — at no cost to the government. 6/28/2008

FDA Does Damage Control While Doctor Acheson Tries to Justify The Unjustifiable if this outbreak turns out not to be linked to tomatoes, then the whole process was not, in fact, “constructive” but actually enormously “destructive”. If it wasn’t tomatoes, then no public health benefit came from all the FDA recommendations. We disagree with FDA’s Dr. David Acheson, it would certainly have been better to say nothing than give out incorrect information. 6/28/2008

CDC Back Pedals Fast As Dr. Griffin Tries To Re-write History To Avoid Responsibility For Her Actions — Or Lack Thereof the following exchange between Tiffany Hsu, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and Dr. Patricia Griffin, CDC’s Chief of the Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch, is positively shocking. It really seemed that Dr. Griffin has been genuinely hesitant to pin this outbreak on tomatoes. But now, she decides to speak out only after an industry has been crushed. 6/28/2008

FDA And CDC Shed Doubts About Their Own Competence ... As Well As The Tomato Link! announced that on Friday, June 27, 2008 one of the most shocking press conferences of the whole Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak occurred. We felt the need to come out with this special Saturday edition of the Perishable Pundit to deal with the implications of this press conference. 6/28/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — FDA’s ‘Unconscionable’ Acts agreed with a letter from Keith Mathews, Executive Director Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association that there was simply no reason for FDA to be so slow in identifying areas that weren’t even in production at the time of the outbreak. We also think that the FDA has a responsibility to establish and maintain consumer confidence in the production that is available to consumers. 6/24/2008

Dr. Michael Osterholm, Esteemed Authority On Public Health, Speaks Frankly About The FDA, The CDC And The Incompetent Management of the Salmonella Saintpaul Tomato Outbreak Investigation presents an interview that is probably the single most important piece we’ve ever presented here at the Perishable Pundit — for, in the course of this interview, an esteemed expert on public health speaks out because he has observed in the way the FDA and CDC have handled the Salmonella Saintpaul Tomato Outbreak an affront to the enhancement of public health he has fought for his whole career. 6/24/2008

Three Questions For FDA after listening to last week’s press conferences by the FDA and CDC, three questions came to mind concerning FDA’s overreaching policies during an outbreak, their total disregard for eliciting the help of industry experts, and its failure to rationally allocate its own resources. 6/24/2008

Two Weeks Late, Three Mexican States Left On FDA’s Suspect List showed that only three states in Mexico remain suspect: Coahuila, Sinaloa and Jalisco. Includes a map of Mexico highlighting the remaining suspect states. The interesting question is why did it take two weeks to make this list? 6/24/2008

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT FDA Expands List Of Mexican States Not Associated With Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak announced that The FDA has expanded its list of places in Mexico that “HAVE NOT BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH THE OUTBREAK” to include this list of Mexican states which represents a substantial increase over the previous list which, in Mexico, only included Baja California Norte. 6/21/2008

You May Never Look At Spin The Bottle The Same Way Again excerpts an article by Elizabeth Weise in USA Today sent to us by Dan Cohen of Maccabee Seed Co. that we think is a fascinating piece regarding the early days of the current Salmonella Saintpaul Tomato outbreak. What we find intriguing about this piece is that it demonstrates how, even in our high-tech times, much depends on individual motivation. 6/20/2008

More Than One Outbreak? reports that on a recent press call a reference was made by the government to two “bumps” during the course of this outbreak. The distribution of cases suggests it is possible to imagine separate events in the Southwest, Midwest and, maybe, in the DC metro area. It might even be product of two regions. What if the Southwest and Midwest got Mexican product but Florida sent product to DC metro? 6/20/2008

Habeas Lycopersicum — Tomatoes Falsely ‘Imprisoned’ followed up on a recent letter from Marco Jimenez, President of Divine Ripe, LLC and a piece we entitled, Mexican Tomato Grower Says Illinois Embargoed Its Product. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott spoke with an associate of Marco’s, Albert Cantu, who laments “Those that are most aggressive get on the approved list. It appears to be political. If we don’t fight, we don’t get anything.” 6/20/2008

FDA Provides No Incentive To Invest In Food Safety despite FDA saying the only option is a system to ensure that during the entire lifecycle of a product, it is always treated in accordance with best practices — that is, building prevention and safety up front, and seeming to recognize the importance of this, the FDA has made NO ALLOWANCE for firms that have done this. In fact, the FDA treats the most negligent farmer in a region EXACTLY THE SAME as the most progressive and safety-conscious. 6/20/2008

CDC’s Map Of Ill Persons Could Use Some Improvement experimented with, and while we are not there yet, we thought we could try a few pictorial alternatives to the original “green and white” CDC state map of identified illness cases for a more informed visual representation of this and future outbreaks. 6/20/2008

FDA Shakedown tells how Dr. David Acheson, M.D., FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Foods recently explained that the “not implicated” list consists solely of states or regions that have “come to us” and made a case for exclusion. Why should some farmer or hot house grower’s livelihood depend on his ability to persuade his state department of agriculture to take up his cause in DC? Basically it’s a recipe for a shakedown. 6/20/2008

The Glorification Of Traceback comments that if you listen to the pronouncements of the FDA, you see them as heroes searching with great difficulty to trace back the Salmonella outbreak to its source. They are searching for 122 servings of tomato, within a time frame in which Americans consumed over four billion servings of tomatoes. We wish the FDA luck; we think traceback will be difficult but even more unlikely is actually learning anything useful if we ever do find the farm. 6/20/2008

What Does the Word ‘Ongoing’ Mean? explains that to a consumer, the word “ongoing” means “I am still at risk.” FDA has not announced that it is aware of anyone selling tomatoes not on the recommended list. So if the recommended list is good, the tomatoes out there are good. So consumers run no risk as far as this outbreak goes. Which to any consumer would mean the outbreak is over — not ongoing. 6/20/2008

What Would FDA Do With ‘Preventive Authority’ described listening to FDA’s Dr. David Acheson, M.D., Associate Commissioner for Foods, speak on a recent call as rather shocking. What “dream plan” of “preventative action” for tomatoes would FDA impose if it could impose any plan it desired? You won’t get an answer to this question, and it is important to understand why. 6/20/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Are Tomatoes Really The Culprit? shared a letter from David N. Cook of Deardorff Family Farms which helps to illustrate that the government still does not definitively KNOW that tomatoes are the cause of the Salmonella Stpaul outbreak. Until the FDA shares its epidemiology, we only know that the FDA has announced it is tomatoes and that, of course, is not the same thing. 6/17/2008

Some Advice For CDC And FDA explained that the government is doing two things that needlessly are raising concern among consumers. When this crisis is all over, the produce associations should really talk to CDC and FDA about the way information is presented. 6/17/2008

Let’s Be Frank About Risks Associated With Fresh Produce notes that we get lots of phone calls from people who want to know what produce to feed their spouse, child, parent or friend who has cancer. We think this is all important because it speaks to how we should be marketing fresh produce. We emphasize the healthful nature of fresh produce but, perhaps, we have an obligation to be more frank. Fresh produce is enormously safe — for almost everyone. But people with impaired immune systems run special risks. 6/17/2008

Irradiation Holds Promise For Tomato Pathogen Reduction explains that the possibility of endless future business interruptions, even with industry improvement on food safety, has many considering irradiation as a “kill step” to meet the FDA’s “zero tolerance” policy. Several food safety experts contacted us suggesting tomatoes as an ideal product for irradiating. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Dr. Anuradha Prakash, Professor and Program Director of Food Science at Chapman University. 6/17/2008

Subway Still Measuring Impact Of Tomato Losses in continuance of our exhaustive coverage of the Salmonella Saintpaul tomato outbreak, we’ve asked that Retail And Foodservice Buyers Share Their Experiences to learn how the outbreak played out. Now we went to the largest foodservice chain by number of units and asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to speak to Kevin Kane, Public Relations Manager for Subway. 6/17/2008

Florida Tomatoes Coming Back To Life comments that one can’t fully appreciate the extent of this Salmonella/Tomato crisis without realizing its impact in Florida. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Reggie Brown, Manager of the Florida Tomato Committee and Executive Vice President of the Florida Tomato Exchange & Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. 6/17/2008

Repackers and Traceability spoke about one of the difficulties in doing traceback in the tomato segment being the role of repackers. There has been much talk about the role of these firms as a kind of “black box” in which product enters as a thoroughbred with clear traceable pedigree and leaves a kind of mongrel with parentage difficult or impossible to trace. Includes lessons on how to limit the scope of recalls and improve traceability. 6/17/2008

Mexican Tomato Grower Says Illinois Embargoed Its Product heard from Marco Jimenez, President of Divine Ripe, LLC a Mexican grower who also was not in production at the time of the outbreak and, as another innocent party, is pleading for mercy after having loads of tomatoes embargoed by the state of Illinois based on an FDA RECOMMENDATION. This is still America. Laws have meaning, words have meaning and a recommendation is exactly that. Illinois had no business getting involved. 6/17/2008

FDA Leaves Mexico In The Dark reported that areas of Mexico continue to be blocked from selling in the US, while all currently producing US districts are cleared. We wanted to know how the government of Mexico was dealing with this continuing “slight” against its farmers. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Ricardo Alday, spokesperson for the Mexican Embassy, Washington D.C. 6/17/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Can Tomatoes On The Vine From Mexico Be Sold? shared a concerned letter from Dan Edmeier, VP Sales at Kingdom Fresh Produce Inc. in McAllen, TX asking what logic the FDA uses to determine which varieties of tomatoes in a situation like this are banned and which are exonerated. 6/12/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Are Attacks On FDA Flawed? dismantles a short critique of our recent coverage of the Salmonella / Tomato Crisis more as name-calling than anything that will help us grow as an industry. If our logic is flawed, we want to correct it, to make a better Pundit — and a better industry. 6/12/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — FDA Needs To Use Modern Tools reprints a letter from Leslie Tripp, Director of Marketing at River Ranch Fresh Foods, LLC which shows that data exists that could have been very useful to the Salmonella Stpaul investigation, the problem is that FDA doesn’t have access to it and probably doesn’t have anyone who knows how to read the reports anyway. 6/12/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Was New Zealand Tomato Industry Tarnished By Bad Press? brought a letter from across the globe by Aaron Leslie of North Island Tomatoes Turners & Growers Ltd in New Zealand claiming a case of mistaken identity in the Hong Kong press. 6/12/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Not Just Growers Affected shared a letter from David Watson,
President & COO of Strube Celery and Vegetable Co. who reminds us that wholesalers and distributors are also in deep trouble. Why hasn’t the FDA involved the industry more to lessen the damage to innocent businesspeople? 6/12/2008

Who Will Pay For The Losses? Since it is all voluntary — not a mandatory recall; in fact, not a recall at all — many legal agreements don’t apply, so things will wind up being the subject of business negotiations. A few big processors were in a better position to eat the loss than a lot of tomato growers, shippers and repackers. 6/12/2008

FPAA Trying To Clear Baja wished to learn more about the current status of efforts to get the FDA to extend newly producing areas in Mexico the same status it extended to such areas in Florida. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Allison Moore, Communications Director for the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Arizona. 6/12/2008

Does FDA Lack Faith In Produce? proposes that this little question is actually a big one because it strikes at the question of what we, as an industry, can draw from such a disaster. The problem is that building regulatory confidence may be impossible, because FDA is living in a zero-tolerance world. 6/12/2008

Following FDA’s Demand For Certificates, Florida Sends Strong Force Of Inspectors interested as to why wholesalers, repackers and distributors around the country said that they were not able to get the certificates required under the FDA’s new rule, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to see how the Florida certification process was going from Charles Beasley, Bureau Chief of the Division of Fruits and Vegetables for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Regional Administrator Barry Gaffney. 6/12/2008

Baja Growers Denied Fair Access… Building Case For WTO explained that WTO rules require a parallelism in the treatment of imports and domestic producers. It is almost certainly a treaty violation to allow US production to gain market access based on date of production onset but not allow Mexico the same consideration. 6/12/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Industry Thrown Under The Bus shares the frustration of the industry shutdown through a letter from Alan L. Siger, President & CEO of Consumers Produce Company. There is no reason to punish innocent farmers and deprive consumers of healthy food so that FDA can look like it is doing something important. We need to be able to say that its actions are wrong. 6/11/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — FDA’s Disconnect With Media showed the FDA press office is going to simply give reporters FDA’s press releases. Their spokespeople are not substantively knowledgeable about the issues, and typically can’t respond quickly enough for the news cycle in the Internet and Cable Age. The only hope is for the trade itself to understand the situation. 6/11/2008

FDA’s Timeline Hard To Swallow tomatoes are a large item in this country, so people are waiting with baited breath, with trailers of tomatoes they can’t sell, hanging on any piece of news, any hope, and the FDA can’t be bothered to update its website with the updated list of Florida counties on the “not implicated” list. How revolting. 6/11/2008

FDA Adds 19 Florida Counties To ‘Safe’ List announced that new information from FDA is in, and the story is that product from 19 Florida counties has been added to the “safe” list. We’re thrilled that FDA is limiting the scope of its warning still further — but if we now require consumers to carry lists of allowed countries, states and, now, counties, farmers will sell a lot less produce. 6/11/2008

Press Misses The Mark commented that the journalism surrounding this Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak and tomatoes has been horrid, exacerbated by the confusion from the FDA. Yesterday the buzz was that the FDA was adding Florida to its “not implicated” list. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott spoke to Liz Compton, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to clarify. 6/11/2008

Andrew & Williamson Hit Hard By FDA’s Mexican Tomato Ban asked Mira Slot, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to find out more on how the aligned supply chain had fared under the conditions of this outbreak and spoke to Mark Munger, Vice President of Marketing Andrew & Williamson whose conversation with us shows that we need a 21st century food safety attitude at FDA. 6/11/2008

Free Baja commends FDA for declaring the obvious - those districts of Florida that were not producing at the time of the last outbreak are not implicated in the outbreak, though it is bizarre that it has not extended the same courtesy to Mexico. Baja started production in mid-May, yet it lumps Baja in with areas that were producing tomatoes in Mexico six weeks ago. 6/11/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Assume Product Delivered ‘Dirty’??? received a letter from Karl Kolb Ph.D., President and CEO of The High Sierra Group and the American Food Safety Institute, International who explains the expectation should be that farmers deliver “dirty” product and processors should accept more responsibility for food safety. This argument falls apart when you consider that an awful lot of crops are packed in the field. 6/10/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — PMA And Others Part Of Alliance For Stronger FDA shared a brief note from Kathy Means, Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs at PMA, who along with the Alliance for a Stronger FDA are working to increase resources for the agency. On balance we support all this but do have some thoughts. 6/10/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Look At Lot Size received a letter from James D. Still, Consulting Director of Cold Chain at Moraitis Group of Companies, who is 100% correct that the key to traceability is lot size. Many people think of traceability as something you do after you produce the product to keep track of it, but that kind of traceability is almost useless. 6/10/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Too Quick To Blame Mexico? thanks Jay Colasanti of Red Zoo Marketing for his kind letter in oversight to the Pundit for inadvertently shutting Florida down too early. Nothing is impossible, but the CDC map of the outbreak suggests it would be an odd geographic dispersion pattern for a Florida-based outbreak, but would make perfect sense for a Mexico-based outbreak. 6/10/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Producers Do Not Operate In A Vacuum shares a poignant letter from James H. Hannigan, President/CEO of J&J Distributing, who helps to remind us that Food Safety Is A Retail Issue. The key point: Suppliers cannot deliver more food safety than buyers are willing to pay for. 6/10/2008

Retail And Foodservice Buyers Share Their Experiences asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with an industry leader in each segment to find out more about their experiences during this tomato/salmonella outbreak. 6/10/2008

Chains Could Give A Little Support And Frankness showed that many on the buying end of the produce industry are making the situation regarding salmonella and tomatoes worse than it need be. Is it asking too much to hope that operators might give a little support in their hour of need; say something in praise and defense of its vendors? 6/10/2008

FDA Undercuts Buyer-Aligned Risk-Based Systems asks if the FDA is going to interfere with procurement choices, how can buyers build and be responsible for a supply chain aligned along the values of food safety? We need a risk-based food safety system, not one run off hysteria. 6/10/2008

FDA’s Lack Of Logic And Awkward Use Of Language Lead To Consumer Confusion explains that the FDA knows nothing about the tomatoes from “cleared” states and countries except for that such regions either were not producing at the time in question or, they were not being imported to the region or the US at that time. FDA could have simply said that everything in the whole world is cleared except we are still investigating both Mexico and Florida as the source of this particular outbreak. 6/10/2008

CDC’s Lack of Transparency outlined that CDC should not allow itself to be used to facilitate FDA’s cover-up of its irrelevancy to the protection of public health in this latest matter. CDC should adopt as a policy the release of all non-privacy-related information at the earliest possible date. If not, then Congress has to legislate a more comprehensive transparency on the part of CDC. 6/10/2008

FDA Pattern of Shame: In Order To Seem Relevant, It Acts After The Outbreaks Are Over observed once again that the FDA was a day late and a dollar short — as such, its warnings have reduced consumer confidence in the food supply, destroyed businesses, led to the needless destruction of food — without helping to avoid illness in any way. 6/10/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Saintpaul Strain Of Salmonella Ranked Ninth In Humans feels we are fortunate to have one of the world’s preeminent experts weigh in on the discussion of the incidence of Salmonella Saintpaul, includes a link to CDC data on isolates between 1995 and 2005. 6/6/2008

CDC Stays Mum On Release Of Tomato/Salmonella Data emphasized that there is something wrong with CDC trying to maintain a monopoly on information in a situation such as this. We asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to find out more from Lola Russell, spokesperson for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. 6/6/2008

New Mexico Health Department Takes Lead In Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak Information excerpts a conversation between Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott and New Mexico Department of Health spokesperson Deborah Busemeyer on New Mexico’s efforts to help identify the source of the salmonella outbreak and inform the public. 6/6/2008

Tomato Producers Line Up To Promote Their Own found that producers of tomatoes not implicated in the salmonella outbreak are hoping consumers will still be open to consuming tomatoes and that retailers will make plenty of shelf space available to these “permitted” varieties. Will consumers in Texas, New Mexico and/or elsewhere shy away from tomatoes because of all the bad publicity? 6/6/2008

Tomato/Salmonella Situation Cries For Improved Epidemiology shared insights on a teachable moment with Dr. James R. Gorny, of the Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center, at the University of California, Davis who explains that swift epidemiology is needed to save lives and prevent illness and to keep the FDA from imposing excessively broad restrictions on sales. 6/6/2008

Is FDA Acting To Preserve Public Health OR Acting to be Seen as Activist? laments that one of these days, someone high up is going to notice that the actions the FDA takes in the name of preserving public health often make no sense at all. The reality is that in many cases, it just doesn’t have enough information to do anything useful. 6/6/2008

Outbreak Alert: FDA Clears Some States And Countries But Not Others announced that the FDA has identified a dozen areas where tainted tomatoes did not originate from. This move is a sign that FDA is anxious to avoid the kind of collateral damage experienced in the spinach crisis, but there are plenty of places in the world that can produce these products that we know, for a fact, had no product in the U.S. since this outbreak began. 6/6/2008

Salmonella And Tomatoes Linked In New Mexico reported that an Alert has been issued by the New Mexico Department of Health that an outbreak of Salmonella is likely caused by eating uncooked tomatoes. FDA and New Mexico officials had little additional information, so we spoke with Ed Beckman President of California Tomato Farmers and Dr. Trevor Suslow of the Dept. of Plant Sciences University of California, Davis to get their input on the alert. 6/3/2008

Calling All Buyers… Leafy Greens Group Reaches Out points out how the trade’s proximate response to the spinach crisis of 2006 was the establishment of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. The Agreement has made much progress, but it cannot be a static entity; it has to reach out and identify ways to improve the program. In order to move along this road, the CLGMA surveyed a scientifically selected sample of retail and foodservice buyers. Some received a survey via e-mail and others were selected for a telephone survey. Here is how the CLGMA describes the project. 5/30/2008

Honduran Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ Still In Effect Long After Season Is Over… FDA Must Act NOW To Save Next Season argues that more than two months have passed but the Import Alert is still in effect. Orders have to be placed now, yet how can they buy seed with no assurance their cantaloupes are even allowed in the US? A silent FDA, refusing to lift an irrelevant Import Alert or give reason why it must be sustained, is abusive of its powers. 5/23/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Cantaloupe Leaders Provide Roadmap To Safer Future reprints letters from Stephen Patricio, Chairman, California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, Stephen Smith Chairman, California Melon Research Board, Trevor V. Suslow, Extension Research Specialist in Postharvest Quality and Safety at the University of California, Davis which point out that it is simply imperative that we get to the bottom of the cause of these food safety issues or a whole commodity will be at risk. 5/2/2008

Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ Reaches Guam; What’s An Island To Do? received a note that in distant Guam, the Department of Public Health learned cantaloupes from Agropecuria Montelibano had found their way there and issued a public health warning. We asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to learn more about the impact of the alert from health officials and retailers. 4/30/2008

Pathogens In Food Not Same As Foodborne Illness our piece, Little Food Safety Progress Leads Media To Look Closer At Our Industry, featured an NBC Nightly News video looking at produce industry efforts to enhance food safety that hinged on data that foodborne illness in the US has not declined since 2004. It brought this letter from Bob Krieger, Ph.D., an Extension Toxicologist at the University of California, Riverside, who suggests we look at the data in a different way. Illness, as a human condition, depends on the vulnerability of one’s immune system. Food capable of causing a foodborne illness depends on many things other than pathogens on the raw material. 4/22/2008

Little Food Safety Progress Leads Media To Look Closer At Our Industry points out how with all the efforts the food industry is taking to enhance food safety, the overall national effort doesn’t seem to be having much effect. National reporters have been reassessing the industry to see how it is dealing with food safety. NBC Nightly News, for example, ran a piece entitled: “Field of ‘Clean’ Greens.” It includes interviews with Jim Lugg, food safety director at, Fresh Express, who we have mentioned several times including here, and Dirk Giannini of Christensen & Giannini, who is a prominent grower in Monterey County. You can catch the video here. 4/18/2008

Fix Suggested For FDA’s Vigilante System Of Banning Product Through Import Alerts owes a hat tip to Steven L. Varnis of the Houston Center for Food System Research and Development who suggested we read a Law Review article entitled, The Food and Drug Administration’s Import Alerts Appear to Be “Misbranded”, which was published in 2003 in the Food and Drug Law Journal, and written by Christine M. Humphrey. We found it very instructive and asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to get an update from Christine and discuss the applicability of the thesis to the “import alert” associated with the cantaloupes from Honduras. 4/16/2008

FDA Proposes Model Food Code Be Amended: Leafy Greens To Be Held At 41 Degrees Or Less — Retail And Foodservice Operators Affected owes a hat tip to Food Safety Consultant Fred Reimers, of Creative FoodSafe Solutions, who alerted us to an issue affecting leafy greens that has been submitted for acceptance at the upcoming Conference for Food Protection. The issue is proper refrigeration of leafy greens. The conference is unusual because the organization makes decisions that may wind up being incorporated into the FDA model food code, which is no small deal. Most states and localities use the FDA Model Food Code as the basis for their own laws and regulations. 4/11/2008

Despite Flawed FDA, Cantaloupes Are Challenged acknowledged that much of our analysis has been focused on the FDA. Its procedures are disorganized. Its field staff often not knowledgeable and it’s been acting as a bully, intimidating people to announce recalls. It would be a horrible mistake for the industry to think this matter was just about FDA abuse. It is also about cantaloupes, which are particularly vulnerable in a way smooth-skinned melons are not. 4/11/2008

AgriWorld Takes On More Customers noticed there recently has been an avalanche of press releases announcing various company relationships with an organization called AgriWorld Exchange, which calls itself, the “Premier Online Agricultural Marketplace.” What is this all about? Does it herald the return of the dot-coms? We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Dr. Arlin Torbett, Ph.D., Founder, Chairman and CEO of AgriWorld Exchange. 4/4/2008

FDA Status Quo Cannot Stand reprints a letter by a man with empathy, gained through first person experience, for those caught up in a food safety issue. There has to be more of a standard than that the FDA can then destroy a company, unemploy thousands of people, crush a country and an industry. Also discusses parallels to the 1989 Chilean grape cyanide scare. 4/4/2008

Produce Food Safety Discussion Set For April 4 considers it fortunate that PMA was sharp enough to add a special food safety seminar to its agenda for its upcoming conference, announcing that: “Produce Food Safety Leaders Fernandez, Whitaker And Horsfall To Speak April 4 At PMA’s Consumer Trends ’08.” With frequent Pundit contributor Tim York moderating and Bonnie Fernandez and Bob Whitaker making their debuts wearing new hats for the industry, plus Scott Horsfall, who has been at a key place in industry food safety efforts, presenting the LGMA platform, the workshop will be intriguing. 4/1/2008

Positive Test On Cantaloupes Causes More Confusion reports that the FDA has a positive test result for salmonella on some cantaloupes produced by Agropecuaria Montelibano. The results are from samples the FDA had taken for testing at a border crossing on March 12. The finding of salmonella is interesting because the serotype found was Salmonella Freetown, which is different from the Salmonella Litchfield strain that supposedly sickened 50 people. Includes excerpts from our interview with FDA spokesperson Sebastian Cianci. 4/1/2008

President Of Honduras Stands Up For Grower applauded President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya, one of the true heroes of the cantaloupe import alert situation, who is the only politician willing to state the obvious: Whatever was once true, the fruit today is as safe as any other fruit. 3/28/2008

Science Behind Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ examined the science that surrounds this “import alert” from a conversation between Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott and Dr. Michael Doyle, Regents Professor of Food Microbiology at the Director Center for Food Safety, at the University of Georgia. The Professor’s explanation of the science is intriguing, but on the points specific to this alert, they still leave many questions unanswered. 3/28/2008

Consumer Guide To Cantaloupe Food Safety provides a comprehensive set of instructions for the safe preparation of cantaloupe from Trevor Suslow, Extension Postharvest Specialist for the Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis. We were prompted by some of our retail readers who were looking to provide information they can pass on to their customers regarding how to reduce the risk of contamination on cantaloupes from any source. 3/28/2008

How Save Mart Was Affected By Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ shared Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott’s conversation with Alicia Rockwell, Director of Communications at Save Mart in Modesto, California to get a sense of how retailers reacted to the events surrounding the FDA “import alert”. 3/28/2008

Media Misinformation And Confusion Over Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ recounts Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott’s conversation with William (Bil) Goldfield, Communications Manager for Dole Food Company Fresh Fruit and Vegetables as to why plenty of consumer media outlets wound up reporting a Dole recall that was actually done in 2007! 3/28/2008

Why The Delay? wondered why one of the questions the FDA never answers is why it is so slow at getting information out. These delays might endanger people’s lives. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from George Manos, President of T.M. Kovacevich International, who released their own voluntary recall on March 25, and submitted its press release to the FDA, who didn’t distribute it until March 27. 3/28/2008

FDA’s Strong Arm Tactics addressed how the FDA is functioning as if it has the authority to order recalls. That is a power Congress has not elected to give them. But in company after company, we hear the situation being presented as “an offer you can’t refuse.” There is something quite wrong with this. 3/28/2008

Central American’s Warren Speaks Out About Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ inquired as to how Michael Warren, President of Central American Produce, one of the long established and largest importing families that has a relationship with Agropecuaria Montelibano, was holding up under this difficult situation. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with him and found that there is a certain arrogance in the way FDA operates that has to be dealt with. 3/28/2008

Honduras Cantaloupe Grower: Model Of Transparency made available a list of 38 documents provided by Agropecuaria Montelibano related to the FDA import alert in order to both assist those interested in further research in the area and to serve as an example for other companies to emulate. 3/28/2008

FDA Responds To Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ Questions sought a better understanding of what the FDA was doing with this “import alert” that implicated cantaloupe produced by Agropecuaria Montelibano. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to show FDA spokesperson Sebastian Cianci the statement issued by the grower and try and get a reaction. 3/28/2008

Letters From Warren And Molina Ask For Support And Patience we’ve included public statements from various parties in our coverage of the import alert but there are private letters as well, sometimes heartbreaking letters as proud men make a plea. The relationships touched by this particular situation are particularly longstanding and deep. We are fortunate to be able to share several with our readers. 3/28/2008

Emergency Task Force Requested reported the Honduran Embassy in Washington recently hand-delivered a letter from the Honduran Secretary of Agriculture & Livestock to the US Secretary of Health & Human Services, the State Department and the National Security Council calling for an emergency task force composed jointly of officials from both countries. Honduras is hoping it can elevate the importance of lifting the import alert, but they must tread lightly. 3/28/2008

An Abuse Of Power: A Portrait Of The FDA As Bully It is increasingly evident that the saga of Honduran cantaloupes has little to do with food safety and a lot to do with an FDA anxious to be seen as “doing something” in regard to food safety and “being tough” on imported food. We hope that when this is over, an investigation will be launched into how the FDA could behave in a manner so offensive to American ideals of fairness, justice and due process of law. 3/28/2008

We Are All Affected By Cantaloupe Issue determined that the one thing we are certain of is that this saga is not much about cantaloupes or salmonella; it is about business and politics and loyalty and struggle. 3/28/2008

Wal-Mart Announces Product Removal Fee answered a letter from a loyal reader in regards to product removal fees charged to suppliers in the event of a food safety recall. But here is a theory: We will have better food safety in the industry if buyers suffer when there is a recall. 3/25/2008

FDA Fumbles Again On Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ showed that the proper announcement would be to urge people not to consume melons imported in January and February, in case a few people have some in the freezer or have preserved the cantaloupe in some way — not to crush a company and a country and disrupt an industry for no purpose. 3/25/2008

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry — Perfection Fresh’s Michael Simonetta recalls that when we ran our piece, PMA Convenes First Country Council, we pointed out that Michael Simonetta of Perfection Fresh in Australia had been named Chairman of the PMA Australia-New Zealand Country Council. Our coverage prompted David Marguleas, Senior Vice President at Sun World to write us a note to say the PMA Country Councils depend a great deal on motivated local leaders who believe in the industry, believe in a tie with North America and believe in a tie with PMA. What kind of leaders are these? What makes them tick? What motivates them in their local industry and what do they relish about the tie with PMA? We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Michael and find out. 3/14/2008

Friday The 13th, March 1989… Important Date In Produce History shares a note from Richard A. Eastes, Director of Special Projects Ballantine Produce Co., Inc. who reminds us of an important date in produce history. We also yearn for a day when decisions are based on reality. Yet it seems unlikely to come very soon. We are in the midst of the biggest meat recall of all time and most companies simply hopped on the recall-and-destroy band wagon, afraid to be seen in the least bit soft on food safety. Craig Wilson, the Assistant Vice President of Food Safety and Quality Assurance for Costco was almost the only one to tell the truth: “The food’s safe,” says Craig Wilson, assistant vice president of food safety and quality assurance at Costco. “We’re going to recall all this food and destroy it. This is morally and ethically wrong.” 3/14/2008

Grandstanding Senator To Grill Leafy Greens Board remembers it was almost exactly a year ago when State Senator Dean Florez grilled United’s Tom Stenzel at a hearing in California. Now we have word that Senator Florez is once again holding a hearing. This time it seems he has found two other industry leaders to be the targets of his abuse. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott spoke with both today: Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and Joe Pezzini, Chairman of the LGMA and Vice President of Operations at Ocean Mist Farms. We wish Scott and Joe good luck and extend our condolences on having to waste their valuable time with people seeking headlines rather than to improve food safety. 3/12/2008

Sustainability Standard Being Steamrolled — Does A Sustainable Vision Encompass Only Organics? The Imperative For Action (Part 1) reaffirmed that sustainability and social responsibility as issues for the fresh produce industry to wrestle with have now reached a point where attention is not only important, but urgent. 3/6/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety Is Part Of Being Socially Responsible reprints a comprehensive letter from Nissa Pierson, Managing Member of Ger-nis International, LLC, an importer of Israeli and Dutch produce, who addresses the responsibility of importers in food safety recalls and the importance of allowing growers to make a return and connecting these issues to questions of sustainability and social responsibility. 3/4/2008

China Scare ‘Off The Charts’ In Japan summarizes our recent coverage of food safety and China and shares a note from Jack Bayles, Owner of Alishan Organic Center in Japan who points out that in Japan, the China scare is off the charts. A sign Jack shares with us from the lobby of a Japanese restaurant listing the day’s ingredients and their location of origin makes us think that foodservice operators should be prepared. After all, once retail has mandatory country-of-origin labeling, advocates will be looking for another target. Restaurants are next. 3/4/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Traceability Precision shares a letter from Dennis Flynn of Apio Inc., who wrote to us in response to our piece, Traceability Committee Cuts To The Chase For Workable Standards, requesting some clarification on what precision standard would be used for case identification. It looks like the Produce Traceability Initiative is working, as it seems close to developing some specifics on exactly what will be required by the industry and when it will be required — all in the cause of full traceability. 2/29/2008

Leafy Green Marketing Agreement Reviews Its Audits And Actions: New Report Released shares how we’ve had the opportunity to review the LGMA Status Report covering July — December 2007. It is hard to overstate what a superb job the staff and board members have done in compiling and releasing this report. They have set a new standard of competency and transparency for the food industry. It is the kind of report only issued by an organization composed of individuals who are earnestly engaged in trying to do the right thing. Here is the way the board announced the release of this first status report. 2/27/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Duke’s A Hazard shares a letter we received with accompanying magazine cover from a major force in production-side agriculture in Salinas, who says “This publication should be more aware of what’s really going on in terms of food safety and farming.” The infuriation stems from the cover which portrays Rainbow Farms owners pictured with their pet dog in a growing field. Rainbow Farms seems to sell mostly U-Pick, from a Farmstand or from various Farmer’s Markets. As we discussed in our piece, Food Safety And ‘Locally Grown’ our bigger concern is with commercial buyers who have a completely different standard or no standards at all for locally grown produce than they do for their normal suppliers. 2/22/2008

Markon Looks To Produce Specialist ProPacific Fresh To Increase Service shares the announcement that Markon Cooperative has added ProPacific Fresh as Markon’s first California member and the first produce specialist to join the cooperative. Because Tim York and Markon have been so integral to the trade’s food safety efforts since the spinach crisis, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Tim York, President of Markon Cooperative and Terry Richardson, President of ProPacific Fresh. 2/22/2008

Just Say No: The New Dynamic Of Producer/Buyer Relations examined how buyers, beyond big retailers, have so pressed their advantage that producers, beyond the banana giants, are increasingly just saying: “What is the point?” There are industrywide concerns such as food safety. The industry still has an ingrained cultural problem regarding food safety. It is a problem I call “no points for extra credit.” The problem is that while the reality of food safety is a continuum, you can always be more cautious, have bigger barriers, more traps, more testing, etc. Few buyers purchase in this way. If they do anything at all, they set up a minimum standard. Perhaps they will require a particular certification. Yet this can be problematic. 2/22/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Whitaker Is Good Choice For PMA And The Industry our piece, Robert Whitaker Becomes PMA’s First Scientific Officer, led many people to extend congratulations, including Bob Martin, General Manager of Rio Farms, who sent this congratulatory letter.
It seems like PMA scored a win with this hire. Yet producers should be wary. 2/20/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — ‘Outsider’ Fernandez Will Fit In To Produce Safety Position our piece announcing Bonnie Fernandez Takes Helm Of Center For Produce Safety, brought a lot of hopeful feedback, but also some hard questions. How could it be otherwise? Coming from outside the industry, Bonnie is an unknown to most industry leaders. But not to all, and among those who do know her, such as in this letter from Barry J. Bedwell, President of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, we have heard little but praise. 2/20/2008

The Pundit Parade of Presentations reports that the Pundit’s participation in the professoriate will continue on a different level when we head up to Seattle University School of Law to participate in “Who’s Minding the Store — The Current State of Food Safety and How It Can Be Improved.” The conference is sponsored by Seattle University School of Law Office of Continuing Legal Education, and the program is a real “insider’s guide” to the issue of food safety as it was organized and sponsored by William D. Marler of Marler Clark LLP PS, and Kenneth M. Odza of Stoel Rives LLP. It has an all star line-up of speakers. 2/15/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Better To Look Beyond Packinghouse To Find Bacteria On Lemons our piece, Lemon Wedges And Bacteria, featured a video that reported on a study by a community college professor who found bacteria on lemon wedges placed on drinks such as iced tea or Coca-Cola. Now we’ve received a letter from Bill Spencer, President of Associated Citrus Packers, Inc. who writes to thoroughly explain his doubt. Bill does also point out that he has no control over how that piece of fruit is handled once it leaves the carton it was packed in. Yet we would say that, true as that might be, as an industry, we just can’t afford to leave the matter that way. 2/8/2008

Robert Whitaker Becomes PMA’s First Scientific Officer describes how ever since the spinach crisis, PMA has been trying to find a science guy... or gal. Well, the man and the moment have finally met: “PMA Names Dr. Robert Whitaker As Chief Scientific Officer.” We know he will have plenty to do and, normally, we want to get maximum labor out of industry hires, but to Dr. Robert Whitaker, who we do not doubt will work day and night to help this industry if there should be another major food safety outbreak, here is our wish as you join PMA: May you never have cause to work so hard. 2/8/2008

Wal-Mart Uses New Food Safety Initiative As A Marketing Tool assessed a statement Wal-Mart recently issued requiring all perishables suppliers to be certified by Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards. Since few people in the industry know very much about CIES and less still about the Global Food Safety Initiative, we thought we should help out by getting more information. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott to see what we could learn from Catherine Francois, Senior Manager of Food Safety at CIES-The Food Business Forum. Duplicative audits are expensive and if we can really move to one world, one standard, it will reduce costs for producers, retailers and consumers. Still, there are a lot of unanswered questions. 2/8/2008

Lemon Wedges And Bacteria saw there is a video floating around the Internet that finds when restaurants put a lemon wedge in your iced tea or soda, they are often putting in bacteria that could cause an illness. The risk seems pretty slight but, still, this kind of information won’t help consumption any. The bacteria seem to have two basic sources. Either it was on the rind to begin with or it was added at the restaurant while slicing or just by picking up the slice and putting it in the drink. 2/5/2008

Bonnie Fernandez Takes Helm Of Center For Produce Safety feels that in the long term, the Center for Produce Safety will come to be seen as the single most important response of the industry to the Spinach Crisis in the fall of 2006. While the establishment of the California Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement was an important tactical response to an immediate problem, the long-term solution to our food safety concerns must depend on increasing our understanding of the causes of food safety problems related to produce. The Center is headquartered within the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at UC Davis and is poised to begin a rapid expansion starting with the appointment of its first non-interim executive director, Bonnie Fernandez. 2/1/2008

Tim York Will Chair Center For Produce Safety mentions we noted the launch of the Center for Produce Safety here and the appointment of an interim Executive Director here; now we are pleased to mention the appointment of Tim York, President of Markon Cooperative, as Chairman of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Produce Safety. Tim has become an indispensable asset for the produce trade. After serving as chairman of a national association, many would feel they did their bit for the industry. Yet Tim took a leadership role in the resolution of the trade’s food safety crisis — an activist activity for which we named him one of the winners of our Single Step award. Tim York is thus chairing the board of an organization that is exceptionally consequential to the future of the industry. We wish him every success. 1/23/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Avian Flu Webinar Planned extends many thanks to Heather Holland, Senior Technical Manager of Food Safety and Government Relations at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association. She read our piece, Avian Flu Reminder, and realized that we had overlooked an upcoming industry resource. 1/16/2008

Traceability Committee Cuts To The Chase For Workable Standards reveals that the three associations driving the effort — CPMA, PMA and United Fresh — have issued a joint statement: “Produce Traceability Initiative Steering Committee’s first meeting begins laying groundwork for industrywide standards program”. So grab the tablets; the industry leadership went up the mountain and came back with four “key elements” for the trade. Let us look at the elements and what they really mean. 1/16/2008

Importer Of Recalled Basil Sheds More Light On FDA Handling our piece, Fresh Basil Recall Brings Additional Concerns About FDA’s Safety Procedures, brought attention from around the world. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to follow up with Alberto Martinez of Top Line Specialty Produce to find out how things have proceeded with the FDA since the recall. When you talk to Alberto Martinez, you feel he is a victim, in fact, twice a victim. On the one hand, he is a victim of the FDA. Stories such as Alberto tells us make us question the readiness of the FDA to handle regulation of these perishable products. We also see Alberto as a victim of his customers. How is it possible that over a year after the spinach outbreak of the fall of 2006, none of Alberto’s domestic customers were demanding any certifications? And on herbs — an item identified by the FDA as high risk. 1/16/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Canada Is On The Ball When It Comes To Food Safety in our piece, Could Canadian Hort Council’s Food Safety Training Kit Be Applied To US Growers?, we gave a hat tip to Albert F. Chambers, President of Monachus Consulting, as he passed along word that the Canadian Horticultural Council is now distributing a resource kit. Albert writes us back now, suggesting that there are additional resources in Canada that deserve a wider hearing. 1/11/2008

Calling Bill Marler! wonders if Marler Clark, home to ace food safety attorney Bill Marler, has a European office? Maybe it should set one up? It seems as if for most of the second half of 2007 Europe was experiencing a salmonella outbreak that the Europeans suspect was sourced from imported baby spinach. This case is an attempt by Pulsenet-Europe to resolve an international outbreak. 1/11/2008

Traceability Group Meets Tuesday reports that today marks the first meeting of the trade’s Traceability Initiative. It is a milestone for the industry and one The Pundit has been dedicated to preparing the ground work for, for a very long time. Includes links to our series of articles on traceability. 1/8/2008

A Call For An Industrywide Sustainability And Social Responsibility Initiative comments on an important letter to us from Tim York, President of Markon Cooperative. In it, Tim raises the exceedingly important issue that sustainability and social responsibility are likely to pose an important management challenge for every executive in the industry and proposes that we should quickly come to consensus on a meaningful sustainability program. 1/8/2008

Fresh Basil Recall Brings Additional Concerns About FDA’s Safety Procedures reports that as we head into Christmas, here is little gift the industry could have done without, “Top Line Specialty Produce Recalls ‘Green Paradise’ Basil Because of Possible Health Risk.” Feeling that our mozzarella, tomato and basil salad with balsamic vinaigrette might be at risk, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Alberto Martinez, Owner of Top Line Specialty Produce. 12/21/2007

Too Many Concerns Still Exist Over Organic Certification In China highlights an important issue that we’ve have dealt with this year: food safety and China. A frequent question we receive from the buying end of the industry has been for information on the quality of Chinese organic certification. Many retailers tell us quietly that they have stopped importing fresh produce from China. They are not overly concerned about Chinese food safety, but the items — especially in produce — that are imported are so minimal, they don’t view it as worth any risk. We wanted to learn about organic certification in China, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to talk with one of the U.S. firms handling organic certification in China: OCIA International. Yet, the interview is unlikely to reassure those with doubts about the true nature of Chinese organics. 12/21/2007

A Closer Look At Retail Safety Audits reports that when Western Growers Association issued an announcement challenging the Food Safety Leadership Council and its demands for different food safety standards, it also pointed out: “the consortium has not provided the fresh produce industry with its own set of good handling practices that demonstrate that consortium members are properly handling fresh produce after receipt of produce from fresh produce suppliers.” We were alerted to a third-party company named Steritech that has been performing these temperature audits and were obviously interested to learn more about their program, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to speak with this company and learn more about what it offers the trade from Chris Boyles, Technical Director of Retail in the Food Safety Division of Steritech Group. 12/19/2007

Could Canadian Hort Council’s Food Safety Training Kit Be Applied To US Growers? extends a hat tip to Albert F. Chambers, President of Monachus Consulting, for passing on word that the Canadian Horticultural Council is now distributing a resource kit, “Canadian Horticultural Council to Release On-farm Food Safety Training Kit for Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Farmers.” We wonder, though, whether there are any food safety procedures that are both appropriate for the vast, continental expanse of Canada but would not make sense for the U.S.? 12/18/2007

FDA Gets Blueprint For Future, Incentive Change Might Lead To Safer Food our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Consumer Has Shared Responsibility In Food Safety, told the story of Michael Taylor and his pivotal role in defining what food safety means. He is now a Research Professor at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, and he was called to testify before a Senate committee on the new FDA Food Safety Action Plan. The testimony is both important and enlightening. Our suggestion is to read this testimony well. It represents about as close as you can get to a consensus opinion by leading experts in this field as to what needs to be done to reform FDA and, as such, the US food safety system. 12/11/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Traceability Initiative Requires Broader Base Of Participants shares a letter from Nelson Longenecker, Vice President - Business Innovation at Four Seasons Produce, Inc. who confirms that wholesale/distributors have something to contribute to the discussion of the industry’s new Traceability Initiative. The initial list of steering committee members reveals some gaps. Fortunately, there is adequate time to fill them. We can and we should. 12/4/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Small Farmers Have More At Stake With Food Safety our piece, Chefs Collaborative Opposes Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, brought a firestorm of protest from smaller growers, including this letter from Kenneth Kimes, Owner of New Natives. We are sure that small farmers would like to sell safe food. That is not the issue. The issue is whether food safety standards should be compromised because they are difficult to meet. We are sorry, but we now know that that piece of land is simply not an appropriate place to grow fresh food. 12/4/2007

Consumer Has Shared Responsibility In Food Safety our piece, Consumers And Foodservice Operators Should Not Rewash Fresh-cut Produce, detailed that a panel of experts had studied the available research and came to this conclusion. At least one grower thinks the panel made a mistake by failing to emphasize consumer responsibility for safe produce. Bardin’s recommendation for a source of information on how to handle produce is a good one and we share a link to just such a resource here. Yet, as sympathetic as we are to the notion that the industry is wise to urge all sectors to do their part, we have a sense that the industry is standing athwart history on this one. 12/4/2007

Traceability Initiative Lacks Full Industry Representation suggests that the Traceability Initiative steering committee seems fated to produce at best a half-solution if it is not expanded to include the brokerage and wholesale sectors of the trade. The exclusion of whole industry sectors is a major oversight. If we don’t change the make-up of the panel we are going to wind up with an “industry solution” that won’t apply to a big chunk of the trade. Traceability only works if we start with the seed and end with the consumer. 11/30/2007

Chefs Collaborative Opposes Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement reports the Chefs Collaborative has opposed efforts to take the standards of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement national, sending a letter to its membership encouraging them to oppose the Agreement, having already decided, without evidence, that locally grown foods are always better. The truth is that the Chefs Collaborative is not facing reality. It has fallen for propaganda put out by the Community Alliance with Family Farms. We can understand CAFF’s position because it represents small farmers who don’t want to have things like large buffer zones or inspectors on their property because it is very expensive. The Chefs Collaborative, though, should advocate for the restaurant patrons and demand the safest possible product from growers small or large. 11/30/2007

Some Food Safety Leadership Council Members Back Down On Demands surely we can all agree that it is neither necessary nor productive for buyers to issue dictates to long-term, loyal suppliers. Now we’re getting word that some of the companies that had sent out letters demanding suppliers to conform to the new Food Safety Leadership Council standards are giving a reprieve. 11/30/2007

Cutting Through The Agendas: What’s A Buyer To Do? our pieces on the Food Safety Leadership Council brought to the fore the issue of the role of buyers in establishing food safety standards. Our latest pieces have also brought this thoughtful letter from a long-time force in produce retailing. Our correspondent’s letter is pointed and his experience is substantial, so these are arguments that must be paid substantial attention. Although we are concerned about marketing food safety to the consumer, by working through some sort of retail consortium, which the Food Safety Leadership Council may be the genesis of, there is much less likelihood of this happening in an irresponsible manner. 11/21/2007

Consumers And Foodservice Operators Should Not Rewash Fresh-Cut Produce announces that the results are in… Do not rewash fresh-cuts. A superstar panel of food safety experts has published a peer-reviewed piece entitled, “Recommendations for Handling Fresh-cut Leafy Green Salads by Consumers and Retail Foodservice Operators” Here we share a summary of results. 11/21/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Responsibility To Provide Clarity finds that the written word is limiting, and we sometimes need to restate our case to be clearer. We think we need to clarify a point after receiving this blunt assessment from an important grower, Bardin Bengard, President of Bengard Ranch. Bardin correctly points out that the meetings of the California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Agreement are public. He also points out that WGA has spent much time vetting the metrics with many people — something that is doubtless true. We also agree fully that the development of these metrics was an enormous task and that the people who did the work should receive praise for their efforts. Despite agreeing fully with Bardin on all these points, we think we were trying to make a different point. 11/21/2007

WGA’s Primal Scream… And Dirty Glasses finds the recent exchange of letters between WGA and Publix is an outpouring of the bitterness and resentment that growers feel toward big buyers. After we ran, Food Safety ‘Arms War’ Claimed As WGA Responds To Publix’ Demand For ‘Enhanced’ Produce Standards and Coalition Of Associations Seeks Dialog With Food Safety Leadership Council, we received a letter in this vein from someone who feels growers have been treated poorly for too long at the hands of buyers. Beyond just being a decent business associate, there is also the real sense that buying organizations have plucked out of the food safety realm one aspect — field and packing conditions — and ignored the fact that they play a role in ensuring food safety as well. 11/16/2007

Back Channel Discussions On The Food Safety Leadership Council discovered several points about Council member’s enforcement of FSLC standards. Legal is behind a lot of this, supermarket CEOs are bitterly angry at the FSLC member companies, and the idea of one standard won’t survive. Quiet discussions will likely result in some changes. However, those companies that have requested vendor commitments to FSLC standards are not withdrawing those requests. 11/16/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Welcome To The World Of Retail-Imposed Standards heard from several of our friends in the United Kingdom, where it has been retailers that have led the drive to impose food safety standards on the production end of the business. Their take on the FSLC was that of empathy for the growers, as they have already been through this. 11/16/2007

Consensus From Unknown Experts Leaves Cause To Err On Side Of Caution believes that in the absence of certainty, it is reasonable enough to say that we should rely on expert consensus. This is a reasonable proposition — in the abstract. The problem is that this specific letter sent to Walt Disney World Co. was being written to some of the top Quality Assurance people in the world. What kind of “consensus” can be said to exist if the QA departments at Wal-Mart, Disney, Darden, McDonald’s, Avendra and Publix do not share in the consensus? If you want people to refrain from proposing their own standards on the grounds that a consensus exists, you better let them in on who, precisely, agrees on this consensus. 11/16/2007

Buyer Commitment To Higher Standards Means Willingness To Pay More says that the key interest of growers when it comes to food safety is making sure buyers constrain their supply chain. The real problem for growers is not the expense of meeting the new Food Safety Leadership Council standards. The problem is making sure the buyers really are committed to the product. 11/16/2007

Back Channel Discussions On The Food Safety Leadership Council discovered several points about Council member’s enforcement of FSLC standards. Legal is behind a lot of this, supermarket CEOs are bitterly angry at the FSLC member companies, and the idea of one standard won’t survive. Quiet discussions will likely result in some changes. However, those companies that have requested vendor commitments to FSLC standards are not withdrawing those requests. 11/16/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Welcome To The World Of Retail-Imposed Standards heard from several of our friends in the U.K. following our two Pundits here and here on the controversy between WGA and the Food Safety Leadership Council. Their take was that of empathy for the growers, as they have already been through this. In the United Kingdom, of course, it has been retailers that have led the drive to impose food safety standards on the production end of the business. We don’t know if this initiative is the beginning of a buyer-driven food safety system, but we are certain that the Food Safety Leadership Council metrics and this whole initiative are signs that nature abhors a vacuum. 11/16/2007

Coalition Of Associations Seeks Dialog With Food Safety Leadership Council reported that United, in response to pleas by some of its members, has led a campaign for a collective response to the On-Farm Produce Standards and has issued a far more temperate letter to the Food Safety Leadership Council. The new joint letter points out concerns with the FSLC metrics, the importance of the whole supply chain working together, and requests a meeting. 11/15/2007

Letters Bring Broader Issues To Surface expanded on the new joint produce association letter to the Food Safety Leadership Council (FSLC), which is much better than the one sent by WGA and raises some broader issues that the produce industry needs to reflect upon: minimum standards, all commodity/all geography standards and mandatory federal regulation. 11/15/2007

Are Buyers Willing To Pay More And Partner With Vendors For Food Safety? established that what the Food Safety Leadership Council companies must understand is that they can add whatever standards they choose to the base one, but they can’t expect farmers to make these investments without a commitment on the buyer’s part to give the business to those who meet these standards. 11/15/2007

Food Safety ‘Arms War’ Claimed As WGA Responds To Publix’ Demand For ‘Enhanced’ Produce Standards discussed Publix announcing its desire for vendors to follow Food Safety Leadership Council standards and the Western Growers Association’s challenging of the new FLSC On-Farm Produce Standards as unreasonable, excessive and scientifically indefensible. Here is a pretty good rule: Associations should try to avoid issuing public attacks on private companies — especially if the private companies are customers. 11/13/2007

President’s Import Safety Action Plan Leaves Much To Be Desired found the “strategic framework” published by the President’s Interagency Working Group on Import Safety to be dubious. Now that the full Action Plan of Import Safety has been published, we remain—at least at first read — underwhelmed. There are, surely, a lot of good ideas in the plans, but they are mostly incremental and marginal things that simply will not have a major impact on import safety. 11/7/2007

Meat Incident Illustrates Danger Of Slacking Standards And Oversight writes that the industry would do very well to pay close attention to the food safety problems with hamburger because there already exists for meat the mandatory, uniform, federal food safety regulation that United and PMA have called for in the produce industry. 10/25/2007

Single Step Award Winner — Tim York of Markon shares this, the final piece in our series of interviews with the winners of the Perishable Pundit’s Single Step Award. We mentioned in our announcement of the winners that the award was inspired by the well-known quote from Lao-Tzu: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The award applauds the efforts the winners have made in beginning the trade’s effort to recover from the spinach crisis of 2006. We asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to speak with a man who took the weapon of “buyer power” and made it a tool used in service of the trade’s efforts on food safety: Tim York, President of Markon Group. 10/24/2007

Single Step Award Winner — Tanios Viviani Of Fresh Express details how we have been running a series of interviews with the winners of the Perishable Pundit’s Single Step Award. We mentioned in our announcement of the winners that the award was inspired by the well-known quote from Lao-Tzu: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The award applauds the efforts the winners have made in beginning the trade’s effort to recover from the spinach crisis of 2006. We asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to speak with a man who, though a relative newcomer to the produce trade, held the decisive card in the prospects for a successful roll-out of the California Marketing Agreement: Tanios Viviani, President of Fresh Express. 10/19/2007

Arizona Marketing Agreement One Step Closer To National Leafy Green Standard explains that before the California Leafy Greens Agreement was even authorized, it was obvious that only the inclusion of nearby Arizona would create the possibility of it being acceptable to many consumer advocates. Now, the plan that Western Growers Association has promoted, to start with a marketing agreement in California, then add Arizona and then — as we discussed here — expand to a national marketing agreement, is moving onto the Arizona implementation stage. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to speak with a range of people involved in development of what is officially entitled the Arizona Leafy Greens Products Shippers Marketing Agreement Marketing Committee. 10/18/2007

Single Step Award Winner — Bruce Taylor Of Taylor Farms our ongoing series of interviews with the winners of the Perishable Pundit’s Single Step Award continues. As we mentioned in our announcement of the award, the award was inspired by the well-known quote from Lao-Tzu — “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and it applauds the efforts the winners have made in beginning the trade’s effort to recover from the spinach crisis of 2006. Today, Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, spoke with a man who was born to the industry but has built things his grandfather could scarcely imagine: Bruce Taylor, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Taylor Farms. 10/18/2007

PMA, CPMA And United Form Traceability Initiative the issue of traceability has been a top priority for the industry ever since the spinach crisis, when the urgency of food safety concerns was added to the long term interest in traceability for supply chain management, efficiencies, best practices, etc. Now, in a rare joint announcement, Bryan Silbermann, President of PMA, will use the occasion of his annual presentation to issue a major call to action on traceability. In order to find out more about this important step we asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to talk with some of the key players in bringing this about. 10/12/2007

Single Step Award Winner — Eric Schwartz Of Dole Vegetables continues our ongoing series of interviews with winners of the Perishable Pundit’s Single Step Award. The award was inspired by the well-known quote from Lao-Tzu — “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — and recognizes the efforts the winners have made in beginning the trade’s effort to recover from the spinach crisis of 2006. Today, Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, spoke with a man for whom the spinach crisis was not just an “industry” problem, Eric Schwartz, President of Dole Fresh Vegetables. 10/12/2007

Devon Zagory Takes Lead Role At Center For Produce Safety pointed out that the Center For Produce Safety was Seeking An Executive Director For The Center For Produce Safety. Now it turns out that Pundit correspondent Devon Zagory, Ph.D., has been appointed. If you want to take the true measure of a man, ask his competitors. We did, and here is a note we received on the news of Devon’s appointment from Robert F. Stovicek, PhD, President of Primus Group. Bob’s gracious comments point to what an incredible catch Devon is for the industry in this position. 10/10/2007

Single Step Award Winner — Joe Pezzini of Ocean Mist Farms continues our series of interviews with winners of the Perishable Pundit’s Single Step Award. We were pleased to announce the winners here of the Perishable Pundit’s Single Step Award. It was inspired by the well-known quote from Lao-Tzu: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and acknowledges the efforts the winners made in beginning the trade’s effort to recover from the spinach crisis of 2006. Today, Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, spoke with a man who, by virtue of position, had an opportunity to become a leader on food safety — and he seized that opportunity: Joe Pezzini, Vice President of Operations at Ocean Mist Farms and Chairman of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board. 10/10/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Kudos To Wegmans And An Industry Willing To Work Together explains it’s been some time since we last heard from Pundit correspondent Tom O’Brien of C&D Fruit & Vegetable Company, and today he writes to comment on our piece, Single Step Award Winner — Dave Corsi Of Wegmans Food Markets. Leadership is one of the enduring themes of the Pundit; we’ve wrestled with such issues many times. Dave’s rise to industry prominence does raise the question of what kind of milieu, what corporate culture encourages both excellence to rise and industry commitment to play out. Yet Tom also reminds us that leadership takes many forms, and some soldiers fight under the radar screen. 10/10/2007

What Does Beef Recall Tell Us About Food Safety? feels the situation in the meat industry should scare the produce industry silly. Why? Because it demonstrates that food safety is not a problem that gets solved, it simply gets managed. Whatever the cause, companies are now folding under the weight of a problem the industry thought it had solved. In produce, without that certain “kill step,” the beef industry’s story tells us we can’t be lulled into thinking that a year or two or five without an outbreak means something. It may just be the lull before the storm. 10/9/2007

Is The USDA Exposing People To Sickness By Waiting For Test Results? discusses how the USDA has the policy of waiting to see a presumptive positive test result confirmed before seeking a recall. As a result, consumers may have gotten sick from tainted hamburger. The Associated Press has reported that: “The Agriculture Department defended an 18-day wait on recalling Topps beef patties and said it will re-evaluate its policy for future cases.” The 18-day wait is odd but, the issue — what are our moral obligations when we have a presumptive or preliminary positive on product that consumers could eat — wouldn’t change if the delay was one day or one-hundred days. 10/9/2007

Single Step Award Winner — Mike O’Brien Of Schnuck Markets writes that we were proud to announce the winners of the Single Step Award. The award honors those who have made a special contribution to the trade’s efforts to improve food safety. The award both commemorates the work done to date and provides inspiration for the journey still ahead on the road to better food safety. All the honorees spoke to the Pundit about their experience with food safety. We will be running daily interviews with the honorees. Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor conducted the discussions. We began this series with an interview with Dave Corsi of Wegmans and continue the series today. 10/9/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Is WGA Unjustly Criticized? our piece, USDA Explores Possible National Marketing Order For Leafy Greens…But Are We Ready?, brought a reply from one of the most important people in the produce industry, Stephen F. Patricio, President & CEO of Westside Produce and chairman of Western Growers Association, who describes the actions taken by WGA in advancing food safety. For our part, we would like to clarify that the Pundit has always praised WGA’s initiative on food safety. We have never criticized WGA for launching the effort to establish a Marketing Agreement. Did we and do we have some concerns? Sure. By raising these issues, we take nothing from WGA’s accomplishments, which are substantial. But by thinking about these issues and other questions that have been raised, we help the industry prepare for the next stage. 10/9/2007

USDA Explores Possible National Marketing Order For Leafy Greens… But Are We Ready? revisits how last July we ran a piece entitled, Pundit’s Mailbag — National Marketing Orders And Agreements, in which we discussed differences between marketing agreements and marketing orders and the difference between both of these approaches and mandatory regulation. We reached out to USDA officials for additional information. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott spoke with Bob Keeney, Deputy Administrator for Fruit and Vegetable Programs, Ag Marketing Service (AMS) to get some details. 10/5/2007

Single Step Award Honors Food Safety Heroes But Reminds Us There’s More To Do as the industry prepares to gather in Houston for PMA’s annual Fresh Summit, few issues resonate more loudly than food safety. There is, thankfully, no crisis at the moment and, indeed, the industry can point to many accomplishments over the past year in advancing the cause of food safety. So, just over a year after the outbreak of the great Spinach Crisis of 2006, we thought it important to honor key individuals whose efforts made possible the progress the industry has made on food safety in the past year. 10/5/2007

Single Step Award Winner — Dave Corsi Of Wegmans Food Markets kicks off our interviews with the winners of the Pundit’s “Single Step” Award, by asking Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to speak with our first honoree (alphabetically): Dave Corsi, Vice President of Produce for Wegmans Food Markets. Congratulations to Dave, and thank you for taking the “single step” to help the industry get started on the road to a bright future that includes the safest fresh produce possible. 10/5/2007

Peri & Sons Talks To Pundit About Ag Chemical Incident laments how one minute Peri & Sons Farms is celebrating its ability to grow 150 acres of different lettuces in Nevada’s Mason Valley. Next thing you know, the company suddenly finds itself the focus of headlines: “Field Gas Irritates 125 Farm Workers”. These were H2A guest workers and part of a very large guest worker program at Peri & Sons. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to learn more and find that the lessons for the broader industry are clear: the importance of emergency planning and reminds us that we cannot expect that others — rescue workers, the media, etc., — will have an understanding of agriculture unless we make it our job to educate them. There is little point in blaming the media. 10/4/2007

United Fresh Offers Crisis Training Course explains that if you read about the Peri & Sons Farms situation in horror, and break out in a cold sweat knowing your own organization isn’t properly prepared to deal with a recall or other crisis that requires dealing with the media, then, quick, call United Fresh. The association is offering “Training for a Recall, Communicating Under Fire.” This kind of training should be part of every company’s food safety program. 10/4/2007

Pundit Mailbag — Hurdles To GlobalGAP our piece, EurepGAP Becomes GlobalGAP… When Will We Have An AmeriGAP, brought this critique from Alan Thompson, Managing Director of Kerifresh in New Zealand, who says there are two major hurdles to the GlobalGAP system: Chemical residue requirements and the question of the ethical side of the GlobalGAP system; who is it regulated by? We appreciate this revelatory letter. It brings to mind several important points to discuss. 9/28/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — So Much For Constructive Criticism!!! our pieces, Why The Secrecy On Inspection Agency Lab Results? and Inspection Agencies Could Assist In Traceability, both of which dealt with the way the Canadian Food Inspection Agency dealt with the Dole recall, brought this pointed comment from Randy Dietrich, President of Broadview Produce. We are not certain if the Pundit is being attacked alone or if all Americans are being attacked, but although Randy Dietrich is entitled to an opinion, we think this kind of letter is bad for an industry that is only trying to do what is right in terms of supplying safer food for all consumers. 9/26/2007

Why The Secrecy On Inspection Agency Lab Results? in analyzing our second conversation with Dole Fresh Vegetables’ President, Eric Schwartz, we commented if CFIA tested 40 bags and found one positive — the odds are that Dole’s retention samples will be negative. Now we get official word from Eric Schwartz that our article was correct and that all of their retain bags from the exact same batch came back negative for any pathogen. Maybe this is just an Act of God and one leaf in a field got contaminated and didn’t wash off — but this seems straining as an interpretation. Logically, we would look to the quality of the testing: Did the CFIA use approved methods of testing? What method was used? Was there, in fact, a confirmed positive? Has CFIA looked within its own lab and sampling method to see if there might be a possible cross contamination? 9/25/2007

Inspection Agencies Could Assist In Traceability explains that public health authorities have been critical of the industry for failing to maintain suitable traceability systems. As a result, millions have been spent and countless efforts are underway to enhance traceability. But the public health authorities could assist the effort. Everyone should be thinking about what would help traceability of a pathogen if it was found. 9/25/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — False Positives Not Surprising our discussion of the recent Dole recall, which we covered both here and here, and especially our exasperation on the testing, brought this pointed letter from Robert F. Stovicek, PhD, President of Primus Group, who says he is not surprised by the findings because: “When pulling a second sample from a bag where a PCR presumptive positive has been found and running a second PCR test we will rarely find a second positive.” So we are brought back to basics. Positives seem to happen without explanation and without being part of a broader contamination. The only solution is old-fashioned vigilance, as Bob tells us: “…focusing on preventing the introduction of possible physical, chemical and microbiological contaminates.” 9/25/2007

Dole’s Schwartz Sheds More Light On Recent Recall learned that recently the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had identified E. coli 0157:H7 on “Dole Hearts Delight” salad mix. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to again speak with Eric Schwartz, President of Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc., in order to gain more perspective on the situation. We yearn for a “kill-step” yet Eric Schwartz says irradiation is not ready and, even if it was, it is problematic. We think we need to accelerate research in this area. 9/21/2007

Partnership For Food Safety Education Celebrates Ten Year Anniversary reports on the Partnership for Food Safety Education, commonly known as FightBac! and its flagship program, Be Food Safe, with its message to consumers being: Clean. Separate. Cook. Chill. This message has never been more important as food safety continues to gain in prominence as an issue. The Partnership establishes clearly the truth of the matter, which is that consumers have a role to play in keeping food safe. This year happens to be the 10th anniversary of the Partnership, and the produce industry is honored to have one of its own, PMA President Bryan Silbermann, at the helm of the organization this year. 9/21/2007

Dole E-coli 0157:H7 Incident: Canadian Health Hazard Alert Contrasts With FDA Passivity finds one of the overlooked points about the Dole recall is the difference in approach between Canada and the U.S. in the way these things are handled. First, the whole thing was discovered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which seems to go around to retail warehouses performing random tests on product. The FDA doesn’t take on a similar role in the U.S. Instead the FDA waits for a company to call the FDA and say it has a problem. Second is the difference in the way the Canadians respond to a “presumptive positive.” 9/20/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Assessing U.S. And Non-U.S. Food Safety Standards heard from Vic Safranek, Chief Operating Officer at Logistic Solutions Inc., and a former life-long part of the western produce industry, who describes imports as the real challenge facing the arena of food safety today. We appreciate Vic’s concern for American producers, and as he worked for five years for Primus, he certainly knows his food safety. Yet we think his assessment of the food safety status of many non-U.S. producers is off the mark. 9/20/2007

Dole Hit With Another Recall remarks that just after we reminded ourselves of the one-year mark since the Spinach Crisis began — noted in Spinach Crisis, One Year Later — we get a knot in the stomach and a sense of daja; vu when we learned about a problem with a Dole brand blend of romaine, green leaf and butter lettuces in Canada. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Eric Schwartz, President of Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. We spoke with Eric late in the evening Monday night. That conversation followed a long line of events, which we detail here. It is too early to say too much for certain, but we have some initial observations. 9/18/2007

Spinach Crisis, One Year Later marks the one-year anniversary of the Great Spinach Crisis of 2006. The consumer media is filled with the predictable follow-up stories. Just over a year ago, we ran a piece entitled, A Look At The Faces, which profiled the two people who were known at the time to have died as a result of eating our industry’s product. In the end there were three confirmed deaths. Perhaps the best way to honor their deaths is to keep their faces in our mind’s eye, that our resolution to produce safe food should never falter. So, on this one-year anniversary of a very sad chapter in the history of a very old industry, we remember… 9/14/2007

EurepGAP Becomes GlobalGAP… When Will We Have AmeriGAP? explains that these days everyone now claims to have a food safety program. They all seem to hire good names, but many times it is not clear what they are hired to do. Everyone claims they are third-party audited, but to what standard is unclear. If we are going to build regulatory and consumer confidence, we need more than amorphous claims of being third-party audited; we need a recognized standard. Even if there is not uniformity on this, we should move toward developing an AmeriGAP or GAPUSA so there will be one U.S. standard for those looking to export. 9/11/2007

Import Safety Working Group Publishes Dubious Framework Pundit Text: reports that the President appointed a high level Interagency Working Group on Import Safety via an Executive Order on July 18. Although it established the issue as high priority, one would also be tempted to think it is a bit phony as one suspects — maybe even hopes—that the Secretary of State, Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Secretary of the Treasury have other things to deal with than pesticide on ginger or lead paint on toys. In mid-November, the Working Group is expected to issue its final report, but in the meantime they have published a “strategic framework.” 9/11/2007

A Closer Look At Finished Product Testing thinks few issues are more contentious… or more important to the industry than finished product testing and we’ve received many responses lately in regards to our recent coverage of this issue. Clearly any recalls because of presumptive positives are a real problem for the industry. Yet many food safety experts and companies known for stringent food safety protocols are concerned about testing. To learn more about the subject, we asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor to speak to a microbiologist and founder of a food safety company who became well known to many in the produce trade when, in the aftermath of the Fall 2006 spinach crisis, Natural Selection Foods turned to him for assistance in revising its food safety program: Dr. Mansour Samadpour, Founder and Principal with IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group. 9/7/2007

Food Safety And Sustainability Go Hand-in-Hand At Ocean Mist Farms announces news from Ocean Mist Farms that “in its ongoing commitment to sustainable agriculture, is creating a new position dedicated to environmental stewardship.” We suspect this won’t be the last we hear about companies creating positions that combine food safety with sustainability. 9/6/2007

FDA Official Reveals Agency’s Role In Food Safety Recall once word of the Metz Fresh recall on spinach broke, press reaction was predictable. One article quoted Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy initiatives at the Consumers Union, as faulting the produce industry for resisting mandatory government regulations. We are not sure who Jean Halloran thinks is resisting mandatory regulation, since both United and PMA have endorsed mandatory regulation. However, since it is not here yet, we thought it sensible to analyze the exact role the FDA actually plays in this type of food safety issue. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to try and learn more. Our source at the FDA asked to be identified simply as “spokesperson” in accordance with FDA protocol. The bottom line is that now that United and PMA have endorsed mandatory regulation, we better do something about it because the FDA’s comments make it clear that the agency is not prepared to preemptively protect the health of Americans. 8/31/2007

Lessons From Carrot Recall: Los Angeles Salad Company Execs Share Their Experience our piece, Costco Recalls Mexican Grown, U.S. Packed Baby Carrots From Canadian Stores, was written as the Shigella outbreak was just being reported. In the confusion, we incorrectly stated that the carrots were grown in Mexico and packed in the U.S. In fact, they were both grown and packed in Mexico. To understand what happened and to see if there are broader industry lessons to be learned, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Bob Hana, CEO, and John Shaughnessy, Quality Assurance and Food Safety Manager at Los Angeles Salad Company. Los Angeles Salad is a serious company, with a serious food safety program. Although the promise to increase testing and other efforts are valued, we see a few other key points. 8/31/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — When It Comes To Traceability, We Have The Technology mentions how our piece, Traceability Falls Short At Distributor Level, pointed out that many products lose their unique identity — and thus their traceability—when they get slotted at foodservice distributors or at retail warehouses. This makes recalls far more difficult and expensive. Two wholesaler/distributors, Alan Siger of Consumers Produce Co. Inc. of Pittsburgh and Scott Danner or Liberty Fruit Co. Inc., wrote to remind us that this failure is not one of technical capability. 8/31/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Increasing Concern Over Food Safety Vulnerabilities our piece Costco Recalls Mexican Grown, U.S. Packed Baby Carrots From Canadian Stores brought a letter from John Schwalls, Director of Operations with Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetables which articulates the way many growers feel about these issues. The key is really for the industry to A) maintain regulatory confidence so that their inclination is to think that any problem is limited in scope, and B) maintain effective traceability systems so that we really can limit the scope of any problem. 8/31/2007

Recall Of Metz Fresh Spinach Shows Lessons Still Not Learned laments that just when it looked like the Salinas spinach season might pass without incident, we received notice of a problem: Metz Fresh announced a voluntary recall of spinach after tests showed the presence of Salmonella. We immediately asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to learn more. Greg Larsen, a spokesperson for Metz Fresh was working late into the night. When we first heard of the recall, we thought we could point to it as a sign of progress. After all, the industry is now catching these things itself, not waiting for sick customers to speak from hospital beds. Yet now we are not so sure. 8/30/2007

Traceability Falls Short At Distributor Level explains that in the wake of the Metz Fresh recall, one thing that has become obvious is that traceability is breaking down. The problem is not growers and packers and processors as we have all been focusing on; it is local distributors and retail distribution centers. We need to really look at better traceability systems on this end of the business. 8/30/2007

New Sunkist Jarred Fruit Line May Lift Sales Of All Produce Items reveals Sunkist has a new product line of new refrigerated jarred fruit. Sunkist and Old World were kind enough to send the Pundit a sample, and we can report that both tasted terrific and that both the 1lb-8oz glass jar and half cup plastic cup were attractive. We would like all manufacturers to be more specific on their refrigeration warnings. The product clearly says “MUST BE REFRIGERATED” but, as is typical, it gives no specific temperature range and doesn’t state the consequences of not refrigerating. 8/29/2007

CPMA’s Dempster Defends Produce Industry’s Food Safety Record In Canada saw the Ottawa Citizen ran a series devoted to food safety. “Canada’s Risky Business” made you think they need to quarantine the whole country. The next piece, “The Canadian Farmer’s Lament,” explains that Canada puts a lot of standards on its farmers but doesn’t require them of farmer’s from outside Canada and that food safety is best served by buying local. The final day of the series, they left produce alone and turned to meat in a piece entitled, “Ranchers Willing To Pay The Price To Keep Meat Safe, Customers Happy.” Fortunately, Dan Dempster, President of the Canadian Marketing Association lives in Ottawa as well, and he wrote a letter to the editor. 8/28/2007

Point/Counterpoint: Raw Foods Advocates Get Steamed About Pasteurized Almonds our piece, Pundit Pulse Of the Industry: California Almond Board, was run as part of our series on how food safety is playing out beyond leafy greens. It’s a case study in how an industry can use a marketing order to impose mandatory food safety requirements — in this case the imposition of mandatory pasteurization of almonds. Consumer awareness of the plan has grown as the implementation date has approached, leading “raw food” advocates to object it. An advocacy group, the Cornucopia Institute, has been particularly outspoken. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak to Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst and Will Fantle, Research Director with the Cornucopia Institute and Richard Waycott, President and CEO of the Almond Board of California to help us better understand the controversy. 8/23/2007

Costco Recalls Mexican Grown, U.S. Packed Baby Carrots From Canadian Stores reports that late Monday, we received news of some food safety issues with carrots labeled as being from Mexico, packed in Los Angeles and distributed by Costco in Canada. With all the talk about problems in food safety, one wonders if food safety is really the top priority in procurement. It is hard to believe that Costco, which is the company pushing everyone in Salinas to test everything day and night, selected this roundabout pattern of having Mexican carrots, packed in Los Angeles and then distributed in Canada because it made the determination this was the route most likely to enhance food safety. 8/21/2007

Expert On Chinese Garlic Weighs In On Food Safety Issue reports that as we got deeper into the controversy regarding produce from China and, specifically, garlic from China, we were appreciative when Jim Provost, of I Love Produce, suggested we could get some truly independent insight into the issue by speaking with Dr. Ron Voss, Extension Vegetable Specialist Emeritus and Manager of the Specialty Crops Research Program at the University of California, Davis. Jim describes Dr. Voss as the “leading garlic expert in the world,” having worked both extensively with the California industry and producers around the world, including China. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to see if Dr. Voss could help us get to the bottom of the controversy over Chinese produce and garlic. 8/16/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Chinese Produce Imports And Retail Responsibilities our piece, Garlic/Ginger Erratum, explained that in an earlier article on a food safety problem with Chinese ginger, the email announcement of the article mistakenly said garlic, not ginger. We published the erratum to make clear that the recall dealt with ginger — not garlic. A produce buyer at one of America’s top food retailers sent us a note saying we might as well not have bothered. In the short term, our correspondent is 100% correct. Very little fresh produce is imported from China, and when it is imported, it is solely to get a cheaper price and mostly on garlic, a relatively small item. Whatever the truth about food safety standards in China, most reputable retailers are just not going to see enough upside in dealing with Chinese product to bother. 8/15/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Where Accreditation Is For Sale, We Better Know Our Suppliers our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Eye-Opening Visit To China’s Garlic Growers, has caused much controversy and brought this letter from Devon Zagory, Ph.D., Senior Vice President Food Safety & Quality Programs at NSF Davis Fresh, who discusses his experience with disingenuous safety certification around the globe. Devon’s letter is helpful because if you want to understand the industry efforts on food safety since the spinach crisis, it is best seen as a battle between aligned supply chains and forces looking to preserve traditional ways of operating. 8/10/2007

United Fresh Teaches Government Officials About Imported Produce explains that although government relations is often thought of in terms of policy, an awful lot of effort can go into educating government officials about the realities of the situation. United Fresh sent along this release pointing out its efforts to educate the recently appointed Working Group on Import Safety titled: “Federal Officials Visit Produce Port As Part of Nationwide Food Safety Tour.” It really is important that companies open up their facilities and that the United Fresh folks are working to make it all happen. This is the best way to avoid nasty surprises by government people who don’t understand the realities of the situation. 8/8/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Eye-Opening Visit To China’s Garlic Growers our piece More Food Safety Lessons From Chinese Ginger Recall brought an important letter from Roger Niebolt, a person with much experience in the industry, having worked for Christopher Ranch and as “Garlic Division Manager” and for the Giumarra Companies in Los Angeles. He no longer works in the produce industry and so his comments regarding produce from China come from a position of no bias, and no vested interest. His letter tells us if a US buyer is purchasing Chinese product, obviously he needs to look to companies that do more than simply selling anything they can get their hands on. On the other hand, it is very questionable whether any importers have the kind of control and third-party certifications that make a fresh food buyer feel comfortable buying much from China at all. 8/8/2007

Gallup Poll Numbers Show Waning mentions that Gallup does an annual survey of consumption habits and, as part of that survey, asks various questions related to food safety. Its latest results, based on surveys done July 12 — 15, offer some interesting commentary on the state of the industry almost a year after the spinach crisis. 8/7/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Prevention Should Be Higher Priority Than Testing/Auditing our piece, No Quick Fix With 12-Hour Test, continues to bring in feedback regarding both specific concerns with this test and broader concerns over the way the industry may be over-relying on testing and auditing in its effort to obtain food safety. Today’s letter from a recognized food safety expert makes the point: All of the microbial testing in the world wouldn’t have addressed the ginger issue. The industry, including the buyers, needs to stay true to the basic concepts of hazard analysis and make prevention from physical, chemical and microbial contamination their highest priority. 8/7/2007

No Quick Fix With 12-Hour Test our little piece, Hold The Train...12-Hour Test May Not Be Best Answer, regarding the new 12-hour test being used as part of many testing programs for Salmonella and E-Coli, may have lifted the veil of an important food safety issue. There are concerns that the use of the test may be giving a veneer of food safety to an unsafe system. One expert expressed the situation that: “taking a validation tool and turning it into the center of a food safety program. That should, in and of itself, raise questions.” Testing is one of those things that sounds great but really isn’t that helpful. The key point is that our product is so safe that, literally, it would probably be easier to find a needle in a haystack than to randomly stumble on an affected bag of produce. What is happening, though, is very bad. 8/2/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — United And PMA Need Clear Job Descriptions our continuing series on a possible United/PMA merger brought today’s comments from a major shipper asking why PMA can’t focus on the supply-chain and United on food safety, security and government affairs. It seems a consummation devoutly to be wished — and a solution to many problems as far as efficiency, one voice, etc. Yet it also seems impossible. 8/2/2007

Hold The Train... 12-Hour Test May Not Be Best Answer stated in our piece, Church Brothers/True Leaf Recalls, Then ‘Unrecalls’ Spring Mix/Arugula After Testing Mishap, we urged an end to “test and release” in favor of “test and hold”. In theory it is a good idea, but there are some unanswered questions on the matter. One processor sent us today’s note raising the issue of the effectiveness of the 12-hour PCR tests that are being used due to pressure from buyers instead of scientific accuracy. Without good data on false positives and false negatives we just don’t know what our test results will mean. Maybe this piece can elicit some input from someone with access to more information on the PCR test. The industry needs to know where this train is going before we buy our ticket. 8/1/2007

More Food Safety Lessons From Chinese Ginger Recall shares news that tests have shown Chinese fresh ginger distributed by Christopher Ranch to Northern California supermarkets in recent weeks was tainted with an unapproved pesticide. This news led Jim Provost of I Love Produce to issue its own announcement reporting that his company is deeply involved in China and really knows and understands what it is getting, from where and why, etc. Why isn’t that a legitimate point to promote, at least within the trade? We could see that on a consumer level this kind of promotion might cause confusion and distrust of produce quality and safety. But on the trade level, how are we going to get companies to invest in expensive food safety and traceability efforts if they can’t tell their customers and prospects why they should prefer to buy from them? 7/31/2007

Service Wholesalers And Independent Stores mentions how last week the Pundit had the opportunity to give an after-dinner speech to a group of retailers hosted by Indianapolis Fruit. We also were given a tour of their headquarters facility with Vice President Dan Corsaro. Most of the tour, though, was about Dan pleading with the retailers to take advantage of some small fraction of what Indy Fruit had to offer. But far too many of these retailers are failing to respond — which means that not just their direct supplier but the whole industry is not selling what it could. At issue is food safety: The service wholesaler is the link between the independent retailer and the produce supply chain. When an independent goes outside that system, it puts the whole industry at risk. 7/31/2007

Church Brothers/True Leaf Recalls, Then ‘Unrecalls’ Spring Mix/Arugula After Testing Mishap reports there was a recall at Church Brothers/True Leaf Farms and there didn’t have to be one. This is a story as distressing as it is sad. Millions of dollars were wasted for no reason at all. Good people struggling to do the right thing while the industry struggles to know the meaning and importance of various test results. It is a story of petty jealousies playing out, while substantive work was waiting to be done. It is a story of heroes who knew the questions to ask and others who gave honest answers when they didn’t have to. It is also a story filled with lessons we are still learning in produce. 7/27/2007

Ready Pac President Does Push-ups To Motivate Perfect Food Safety Score shares how Dennis Gertmenian, the Founder, CEO and President of Ready Pac, sought to motivate his team to achieve the highest levels of food safety. To provide some strong motivation, Dennis made a bet with a plant manager that if his plant would score a perfect 100% on a food safety audit, Dennis would come down to the plant and do 100 push-ups. The associates at the plant worked hard, everything was in good order, the plant received a perfect score… and Dennis proved himself a man of his word. One of the challenges facing top executives in the produce industry is how do we get our associates to take food safety seriously? It is not a trivial question. 7/27/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — California Leafy Greens Audit Should Weed Out The Weak our piece, California Leafy Greens Audit Means Some Will Pass And Some Must Fail, suggested that the industry was in a Catch-22. In order to prove we have tough standards and thus gain consumer and regulatory confidence, we better have a bunch of handlers fail the new inspection regime; yet if they fail the inspections, their sub-standard product will still go to market, thus reducing consumer and regulatory confidence. In response, we have a letter from Bob Martin, General Manager of Rio Farms. Bob does suggest a possible route out of the Catch-22 we identified for the industry — but one with its own risks. 7/26/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — CPMA & PMA To Lead Industry Closer To Global Traceability relates how much of the trade’s actual knowledge about traceability in the produce industry and the specific problems the trade has relates back to a joint endeavor by the PMA and CPMA, which was published as a Traceability Best Practices document for the North American fresh produce industry. So we were especially pleased to receive this letter from Jane Proctor, Director - Industry Technology & Standardization with the Canadian Produce Marketing Association regarding our coverage of this critically important issue. 7/25/2007

California Leafy Greens Audit Means Some Will Pass And Some Must Fail writes that, as promised, Monday, July 23, 2007 marked the first day of mandatory compliance audits for the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Lots of articles, such as this one we excerpt here from San Diego featuring Jack Vessey, also show a lot of confusion about the agreement. The launch of the mandatory compliance audits is a milestone, but it also indicates what a Catch-22 the industry is in. 7/24/2007

Seeking An Executive Director For The Center For Produce Safety explains that the personal characteristics of the first Executive Director for the newly established Center for Produce Safety —whose launch we dealt with here — will establish the patterns likely to determine if we are to have a great new industry institution. It is a crucial position and UC Davis has just posted the job description for the CPS Executive Director, which can be found here. We urge Pundit readers to think hard about who they could urge to apply for this position. 7/24/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — ‘Unplanned’ Mandate For California Leafy Greens Marketing found that just as the inspectors began actualizing the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, our piece, Marketing Of California Leafy Greens Will Cause Consumer Confusion, brought this letter of clarification from Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement who says they will not be mounting an advertising or PR campaign behind a consumer seal, and that “It is not the mandate of this organization to conduct such a campaign.” We wish that was so. But the reason this is an issue so essential to resolve is that the documents that define the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement are biased toward consumer efforts in this area. 7/24/2007

Getting A Better Grasp On Traceability discusses how our piece, Bruce Peterson Focuses On Traceability detailed this basic point: that the produce industry is more likely to reduce the negative impact of food safety problems by enhancing traceability than through any other single measure. To find out how we might make this happen, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to speak with Michael McCartney Founder and Principal of QLM Consulting so we could better understand the collaboration between Bruce and Michael and so we could fill in the details about the challenges ahead. 7/19/2007

Marketing Of California Leafy Greens Seal Will Cause Consumer Confusion mentions that Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, raised a point about the use of the mark or insignia of the CLGMA that raised real concerns about the future of the Agreement. At this stage there is no problem; Scott explained that the insignia would be used on letterhead and invoices. Yet, he also said the expectation is that the insignia will be used in the future on consumer packaging and will be advertised to consumers. Consumer promotion of the seal or mark would be ill-advised for several reasons, one of which is that the seal can only be used on leafy greens, so training consumers to look for the Seal will lead them to doubt the food safety of other products — why don’t oranges, tomatoes, peaches, apples, potatoes — why don’t all these items have the seal? 7/19/2007

Tim York Recognized For Food Safety Leadership describes what was surely the most predictable and the most deserved award given this year, Tim York, President of Markon Cooperative, was chosen as The Packer’s Foodservice Man of the Year. Tim spearheaded the Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative. Tim didn’t have to lead this effort. He had already been chairman of the board of PMA, and nobody could have said that he hadn’t done his bit for the trade had he done nothing at all. Yet Tim was possessed by a steely resolve to see right done and he did what a man secure in the virtue of his cause is compelled to do. In so doing, he both substantively moved ahead the industry’s agenda on food safety and provided an example for us all of the power of one man with a righteous cause. 7/18/2007

Learning From The High Priests Of Food Culture reports that PMA’s annual Foodservice Conference in Monterey, California just concluded and it was, as it always is, a highly successful event. Much of the conference focuses on chefs, and those chefs are very much in-touch with consumers and with culinary trends. An issue we need to be cautious of is that too many chefs are prone to dismiss concerns that they cannot easily control. Issues, such as food safety that are crucial to the future of our industry, can be dismissed with the wave of a hand and an unsupported assertion. 7/18/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — National Marketing Orders And Agreements received a letter today from Dan Cohen, Owner of Maccabee Seed Company, who raises an important issue: What is the next food safety step for the industry after the California Marketing Agreement? The original plan was for California growers to move from a Marketing Agreement — which is optional, although it is legally enforceable once one does sign up — to a mandatory Marketing Order. USDA AMS is in the most preliminary stages of seeking comments from the industry, consumers & other interested parties on whether the California Leafy Greens Agreement should be expanded nationwide. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott spoke with Bob Keeney, Deputy Administrator for Fruit and Vegetable Programs, Ag Marketing Service (AMS) to get some details. 7/18/2007

Watermelon Industry Creates Food Safety And Crisis Management Guidelines covers how we’ve been running a project here at the Pundit to learn what different commodity groups and geographical sectors are doing to enhance food safety. Now we try something different… we look at the watermelon industry, which, almost uniquely, has a national association and a national marketing order. To learn how this industry is addressing the issue of food safety, we asked Pundit Investigator and special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to see what we could learn from Mark Arney, CEO and Executive Director and Leslie Coleman, Director of Communications at the National Watermelon Promotion Board. 7/12/2007

China Executes Food And Drug Safety Regulator confesses we thought it was a joke… surely they weren’t really going to execute the guy when we mentioned that China’s chief food and drug safety regulator had been sentenced to death. But he was executed. It was mostly a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had been sentenced just as China began feeling an urgent need to show the world toughness on food safety. The Chinese are taking it seriously. 7/11/2007

Raw Milk And Produce Do Consumers Desire Some Level Of Risk? our piece, Risk And Raw Milk, brought a response from Duncan McNiff, Owner of Bayfresh Produce Co., demonstrating the astonishing diversity of produce people and different perspectives on what is risky. Duncan got his training and qualifications as a dairy, beef, sheep and grassland farm manager in Ireland, so he knows a thing or two about dairies and milk production. The question regarding pasteurization and homogenization on milk is, though, whether it is in one sense the same question we are confronting on produce. Is there such a thing as an acceptable level of foodborne illness outbreak? Or is zero the only acceptable level? 7/11/2007

Salmonella On Veggie Booty Spurs writes that for many parents, including the Pundit, word of the E. coli outbreak last fall on bagged spinach didn’t ring too many personal alarms. After all, kids — at least ours — rarely touch the stuff. But word that Salmonella had been found on Veggie Booty, a snack food popular with children, struck horror in the heart. The Jr. Pundits live on the stuff. Robert’s American Gourmet Food issued a recall of both Veggie Booty and Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks. We were all fine in the Pundit household, but others were not so fortunate. And the whole outbreak raised several troubling questions. The CDC for example, published this Q & A related to the Veggie Booty outbreak. 7/10/2007

Chilled Food Association Delivers High Standards For British Retailers our piece, Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Chilled Food Association’s Kaarin Goodburn, brought to our pages a different perspective, from across the pond, on food safety practices in the produce industry. Kaarin Goodburn has also been good enough to share a presentation that details the way they see the supply chain for produce. These three slides are key. 7/6/2007

Why Don’t American Retailers Just Standardize On EurepGAP? shares a letter from Richard Yudin, Food Safety & Regulatory Manager with Fyffes Tropical Produce, who asks why U.S. retailers don’t adopt the EurepGAP standard which covers food safety and worker welfare issues of many major retail chains in Europe and Japan? There is substantial discord in the U.S. on what is an appropriate food safety standard, and there is zero consensus on things such as “Labor Aspects/Workers’ Welfare”, “Corporate Social Responsibility” and “Natural Energy Resources.” To an American, it all sounds like a bunch of meddling in affairs that are properly left to individual companies to negotiate on their own. And there’s a deep suspicion that EurepGAP is a way to sneakily impose European perspectives of social welfare on unsuspecting and unwilling Americans. 7/4/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Chilled Food Association’s Kaarin Goodburn comments how we here at the Pundit have scoured the world looking to learn what we can about food safety from other countries. Now we have asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Kaarin Goodburn, Secretary General of the U.K.-based Chilled Food Association, who offers some insight into the UK’s built-in traceability, irradiation and organics. 7/4/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Call For Counterfeiting Countermeasures highlights a letter we received from Colin Harvey, General Manager of Fresh Foods with Dairy Farm in Malaysia, which leads us to an important point: As these counterfeiters do not have food safety standards, a consumer could actually be putting his life at risk. Fancy brands such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Gucci have long fought counterfeiters; with food it is even more crucial. 7/4/2007

Hannaford’s Organic Certification And Misguided Consumers/Press our piece, Hannaford Becomes First Organic-Certified Mainstream Retailer, attracted a great deal of attention, and now the Associated Press has caught wind of the story, in “Supermarket Chains Chase Success of Organic Grocers.” The article is a little wacky. Still, the article raises real questions regarding organic and conventional supermarkets. Organic certification is often a good idea for retailers. It is a good idea as a PR move to reassure mainstream consumers that you are doing good stuff for the world, not to think that by getting certified organic, your conventional stores will attract hard-core organic devotees. 7/3/2007

Security In Food Safety Jobs? reflects on how PMA announced its desire to hire a Vice President of Produce Science and Safety back in November of 2006, but has found top candidates rather sparse. Now United is losing Jim Gorny, who has held the position of Senior Vice President for Food Safety and Technology to academia — as he has accepted an exceedingly important position as the Executive Director of the Postharvest Technology Research and Information Center at UC Davis. United expects to hire another person for its food safety team, but with research opportunities expanding and corporate demand insatiable it is not going to be an easy hire. 7/3/2007

Compelling Irradiation Video asks if you would take four minutes out of your life to watch an NBC video with dramatic footage of executives at Sadex Corp, including Harlan Clemmons, President of the company, eating salad after it has been contaminated with E. coli and then irradiated. 6/29/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Economics Of Irradiation discusses a note from Warren Debnam President of Green Glen Produce who thinks irradiation is all fine and dandy, but viability depends on economics. The American Nuclear Institute says irradiation can be expensive but in line with other food processing techniques. If there are a few more outbreaks the FDA is likely to make it mandatory, much as most states require pasteurization of milk. Includes analysis of costs and comparison with traditional measures. 6/29/2007

Thailand’s Mangosteen And Mango Exports Will Increase Irradiated Presence excerpts a New York Times piece pointing out that mangosteens and mangos will soon be available from Thailand. These items are unlikely to dramatically alter the shape of the produce department, the broader significance is that more and more tropicals are now being treated with irradiation. Now is the time to push for irradiation approval for fresh-cut products and other commodities. 6/28/2007

China’s Food Safety Issues Plague Exports AND Imports explains that China still remains a question mark on the world food scene. CNN reports that, “China Shuts 180 Food Factories For Using Illegal Chemicals,” which implies that China is serious about enforcing its laws and food safety standards. China Daily, a government-owned newspaper, also pushed the story, indicating the government wants publicity for its enforcement efforts. So the good thing is that Chinese officials are acknowledging a systemic problem. The bad news is that the small, scattered nature of Chinese production will make enforcement of standards very difficult. 6/28/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — China, COOL And International Opportunities our piece, Chinese Apples Pose Threat To U.S. Apple Industry, dealt with the issue of whether the popular image of an invasion of Chinese-grown apples bankrupting U.S. producers was a future that must be or a future that merely could be, and we explored some steps that can be taken regarding the future of the apple industry in the United States. It brought a response from one of the most knowledgeable and thoughtful academics researching the produce industry. Thomas Reardon, Professor of Agricultural Economics at Michigan State University. His ideas regarding the competitive situation, vis-a-vis China, are well thought out and deserve the trade’s careful attention. 6/27/2007

Chinese Apples Pose Threat To US Apple Industry saw that the Associated Press did a piece entitled, “US Apple Growers Brace For China Rivals”, pointing out that, even with its food safety troubles, China is a large potential threat to the U.S. apple industry. 6/26/2007

Pundit’s Mail Bag — Food Safety Double Standard our piece, Food Safety And ‘Locally Grown’, brought an avalanche of responses, including this note from Jerry Van Solkema: “part of what you say is true. The only problem we have is that small growers now are having financial problems… They do not have the financial resources to put together an elaborate safety program.” I must confess that this Pundit can’t recall a time when small growers were not struggling. In this case, though, it strikes us that food safety and locally grown are a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. As long as a grower is in competition with growers not meeting any standards, it will be hard to absorb the additional costs of meeting standards. The solution is for buyers to constrain their supply chain to only those who meet standards. 6/26/2007

Food Safety And ‘Locally Grown’ as we roll into summer, locally grown programs are blossoming all across the country, which means that food safety standards, so carefully developed after the spinach crisis, are, for the most part, being tossed aside without a second thought. National or regional grower/shippers get preached to by retailers about the importance of food safety, the grower/shippers spend substantial amounts of money to conform to the best standards… then they lose the business to completely unaudited, uncertified, untested local growers. How will retail produce executives feel if some locally grown product causes a death and that executive knows that the death occurred because they waived the chain’s food safety policy? 6/22/2007

Pundit Pulse Of The Industry: California Almond Board asks that, with so much effort expended on California lettuce and leafy greens, an obvious question has been what can various segments of the industry do to get ahead of the game. We’ve run a project here at the Pundit to look at what different commodity groups and geographical sectors are doing to enhance food safety. Now we turn to almonds, a particularly intriguing exploration because the Almond Board of California is using a marketing order to impose mandatory regulation. We wanted to see what was behind it and how it would work, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to see if she could find out more from Richard Waycott, President and CEO of the Almond Board of California. 6/22/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — ‘Mandatory’ Had To Be Removed To Get Advisory Committee Approval our piece, USDA Fruit And Vegetable Advisory Committee Falls Short Of Mandatory Regulation Recommendation, drew attention to a discrepancy between the message the USDA Advisory Committee was giving and what United Fresh & PMA were saying. The piece brought this letter from John Shelford, President of Naturipe Farms. To clarify the Pundit’s stance, in no way did we intend to criticize the board collectively or any individual for doing, tactically, what was necessary to pass a resolution. We are, however, raising the question of why positions diverged between the USDA Advisory Committee and the boards of United Fresh and PMA. 6/22/2007

Chinese Garlic And Food Safety our piece, China Plays Down Food Safety Problems, didn’t mention any fresh produce imports from China, but China is a significant supplier of garlic, and the piece struck close enough to home to prompt this letter defending Chinese organic agriculture. When we get into an area such as organic certification in China, the culture and financial incentives leave someone wondering about compliance. Is that small organic farmer really going to care so much about being organic that he will disk his crop under and bankrupt himself because something inadvertently spills in the field? If a crop failure looms, will these people, with no financial reserves to draw on, still avoid spraying and simply accept a crop failure and utter destitution? 6/21/2007

China Plays Down Food Safety Problems when China Daily, an English language newspaper controlled by China’s communist party, runs an article titled: “Quality of China’s Farm Products Improving,” it is fair to say that authorities in China are concerned with world perception of the safety of Chinese food production. China now is trying to certify product as organic, and when Wal-Mart began its push for organics, U.S. organic producers feared Wal-Mart would look to China for less expensive organics. The USDA has not certified any domestic Chinese organizations as certifying agents, so any product that is certified organic had to bring in supervision from outside China. But they are required to do an annual inspection, not provide on-site supervision. Is that sufficient? 6/20/2007

USDA Fruit And Vegetable Advisory Committee Falls Short Of Mandatory Regulation Recommendation says that few industry institutions are more important than the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Advisory Committee. So this is the produce industry’s direct link to USDA — the one way we can be certain our concerns are acknowledged and our voices heard. On the most important produce industry issue of our times — food safety — we might expect that the Committee would send a strong message reiterating the positions already approved by the two national produce trade associations —United Fresh and PMA. And the Committee did recently meet in Washington, D.C. and did send a recommendation to USDA regarding food safety, but it was not the position that United Fresh and PMA have endorsed. 6/15/2007

Risk And Raw Milk found that The Flint Journal profiled the fact that a “Local Woman Finds Her Niche In Cow Shares.” The title references the fact that since raw — unpasteurized — milk is illegal for sale in most places but is not illegal to drink, advocates of raw milk are getting around the law by “selling” shares in cows. Then, as an “owner” of the cow, the owner gets the milk as a kind of dividend: This issue of risk and to what degree consumers should be free to pursue it is a question that all food safety discussions have to confront. 6/14/2007

FDA Begins Tomato Safety Initiative feels that when it comes to food safety, so much of the focus of the produce industry has been on leafy greens that it is easy to forget there are plenty of other items with food safety issues to be dealt with. The FDA hasn’t forgotten, however, and has announced that it will begin a multi-year “Tomato Safety Initiative.” The positive thing about this FDA effort is that it seems to be a genuine search for knowledge — everything from recommended practices being implemented to searching for other factors that could cause problems which might require a change in what practices are recommended. 6/13/2007

Lessons For Produce On Beef Recall discusses comments by food safety attorney Bill Marler, who had been under the impression that whatever the flaws in the food safety regimen for beef, substantial progress has been made. Yet now, Bill is focusing on what he sees as unfinished business to make regulations on beef stricter in light of increasing hamburger recalls and E. coli illnesses. Irradiation is still unapproved for food safety use on things like bagged spinach, but the beef situation should make the produce industry aware. We have to become far more aggressive advocates of irradiation. 6/12/2007

FDA Releases New Guidance Document On Carrot/Low-Acid Juice finds that in the midst of the spinach crisis, the produce industry faced a second food safety crisis related to one of its fastest growing categories — refrigerated juices. Specifically, there was a recall by Wm. Bolthouse Farms of certain 100% carrot juice products due to concerns about botulism. Lou Cooperhouse, Director of Rutgers Food Innovation Center, has written to let us know that the FDA has just released a new guidance document on refrigerated carrot juice and other low-acid juices. 6/12/2007

Bruce Peterson Focuses On Traceability when the press release arrived advising that Bruce Peterson had entered into a collaboration with Michael McCartney, Principal of QLM Consulting, to promote a traceback effort for the produce industry, we wanted to find out more. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to speak with Bruce. What is nice about this interview is to learn that Bruce, after having left Wal-Mart, still continues to focus on industry-wide initiatives. 6/8/2007

Another Unnecessary Beef Recall reports Supervalu has recalled some ground beef that was for sale in its Albertsons and Save-A-Lot chains due to E. coli 0157:H7 contamination. This recall stemmed from a recall by United Food Group of 75,000 pounds of ground beef. This is a food safety crisis that doesn’t have to happen. Let us hope these chains will follow the lead of firms such as Wegmans and offer irradiated fresh ground beef and frozen irradiated beef patties. 6/6/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Pesticides And Cancer our piece Pesticides Keep Pestering Us quoted a column in PRODUCE BUSINESS, a Pundit sister publication, that dealt with pesticides from a European perspective and in which Marc DeNaeyer, Managing Partner, TROFI in The Netherlands said: “The only known fact today is no one has died due to pesticides residue.” The piece prompted this succinct letter from a frequent Pundit contributor, Bob Sanderson, President Jonathan’s Sprouts, who believes this statement bears similarities to the smoking debate. Seeing problems is always the start of seeing solutions but, here, we need to distinguish between a theoretical problem and one we actually have reason to think exists. 6/6/2007

Wal-Mart’s ‘Opportunity Buy’ Policy Reveals Much About The Company recapped our series on procurement reorganization and vendor discontent. Points out that Wal-Mart is moving away from the integrated supply chain in favor of traditional produce industry transactional deals, which has implications for the entire trade. Is Wal-Mart prepared to assert that everyone it does an “opportunity buy” from has been verified by Wal-Mart to function to the same food safety standards as regular contracted vendors? Including suppliers without Wal-Mart vendor numbers whose product Wal-Mart asks contracted vendors to buy and resell for a small brokerage? 6/5/2007

Has Wal-Mart’s Desire To Buy Cheaper Changed Its Values? explains that the unfairness of Wal-Mart having one set of standards for its regular vendors and then another for “opportunity buys” is manifest. Maybe these vendors wouldn’t have so much cheap product to get rid of if they had to meet Wal-Mart’s high standards? Everything up to this point has been a matter of buyer-seller dealings. Yet, if Wal-Mart is prepared to not insist on identical food safety and traceability standards in order to take advantage of the opportunity to buy cheap product, Wal-Mart may be putting the reputation of the produce industry at large at risk. 6/1/2007

Pesticides Keep Pestering Us remarks that just when we thought that everybody was focused on pathogens on produce, it turns out that pesticides are creeping back into the public eye. Right now in the U.S. everyone is focused on food safety in the sense of looking for E. coli 0157:H7, Salmonella and so forth. Yet, as Marc DeNaeyer, Managing Partner, TROFI in The Netherlands discussed with us in the May 2007 issue of Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, even if these issues are “settled” one day, it seems reasonable to believe that a public, now more highly sensitized to issues regarding food safety, will be open to the claims of organizations such as Greenpeace. 6/1/2007

Prepare For Perchlorate Problems believes there are always issues bubbling just below the surface, not really causing a problem, but capable of doing so at any time. Our piece, Perchlorate Issue Is Percolating, dealt with the risks for the industry related to perchlorate. Now the FDA has issued preliminary estimates of perchlorate dietary exposure and updated its backgrounder on perchlorate. It includes this section on produce. 6/1/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Beware The Bureaucrats received a letter from John Shelford, President of Naturipe Farms who says he finds “the USDA position on beef testing for Mad Cow interesting. Is testing substantially unreliable or is the commercial risk of discovery excessive?” John’s letter gives us an opportunity to go back to the very first Pundit in which we ran a piece addressing this issue entitled, U.S. Beef, Food Safety And Freedom. Since the produce industry is determined to put itself under mandatory federal regulation, it is worth paying attention to how arrogant and abusive government bureaucrats can be. 5/30/2007 

Marketing Agreement Adds 39 New Names describes how Scott Horsfall is arriving to become CEO of a California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement that is on a roll. Initially 71 handlers signed-up for the agreement. Then two more signed on. Now an additional 39 have put their signature to the agreement. One company, Five Crowns Marketing, seems to have dropped off the list. In total we have 111 handlers agreeing to legally bind themselves to the Agreement and allow state inspectors on their property Here are the new additions to the list of signatories. 5/29/2007

Taking Food Safety Jobs VERY Seriously shows that here is an incentive program to maintain high food safety standards. 5/29/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Marketing Agreement Limitations received a letter from Karl Kolb Ph.D., President/CEO of The High Sierra Group & The American Food Safety Institute, International, who writes today expressing some worries he has concerning the California Marketing Agreement’s authority versus a complete GAP program and what the costs of this program might do to the small farmer. Karl’s letter raises many important points which we address here. 5/29/2007

Albertson’s LLC Experiments With New Temperature Monitoring Technology received a release pointing out that Albertsons LLC is still out there and doing some interesting things, including requiring temperature monitoring devices on all inbound produce to its distribution centers, with the preferred monitor being PakSense TXi™ Smart Labels by PakSense, Inc. To learn about this program, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with both Stacia Levenfeld, a spokesperson for Albertson’s LLC, and David Baldwin, Vice President Sales & Marketing for PakSense, the creator and marketer of the device. 5/25/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Irradiation, Pasteurization And Labeling brought a letter from Bob Sanderson, President of Jonathan’s Sprouts in response to our earlier piece Unfair CNN Report Showed One Clear Winner: Irradiation. At this early stage in the battle for irradiated food, maintaining “accurate” labeling of irradiated products will keep opponents from accusing those who are selling them of deception. The folks pushing irradiation should be proudly promoting the Radura symbol and the term irradiation and making it their own. 5/25/2007

PMA And United Agree On Federal Food Safety Regulation reports the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association have issued an unprecedented joint press release showing common ground on the issue of food safety regulation, endorsing “similar resolutions calling for a federal food safety regulatory framework to protect public health and enhance consumer confidence in produce safety.” Everyone seems to acknowledge that some form of regulation is inevitable. WGA has been trying to drive the process in such a way that regulation will wind up under State Departments of Ag and the USDA. Although PMA and United have both bent over backwards to praise WGA and the California Marketing Agreement, PMA and United are really seeing the world quite differently than WGA. 5/24/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Beef Industry Not The Best Guide For Produce Food Safety recalls it was the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative that called for the produce industry to look to the beef industry as a model for how food safety in produce might be improved. One of the trade’s most prominent food safety experts, Bob Stovicek, PhD., President of Primus Group, wrote to us to point out that the experience of the beef industry may not offer the produce trade as much guidance as we would hope. 5/24/2007

Unfair CNN Report Showed One Clear Winner: Irradiation tells how no publicity of this sort is good for the industry, but there was at least an attempt to present several sides to the story. The piece was certainly unfair. There was no sense of proportion or comparative risk. The injury of a child was used to emotionally manipulate the audience. No matter how down to earth our farmers, no matter how media coached, nothing is going to matter if we have more little girls with kidney failure. 5/22/2007

United Fresh Will Develop Microbiological Testing Database remembers how just after Charles Sweat, COO of Natural Selection Foods, appeared at United’s FreshTech conference talking about the company’s testing program, we ran, Task For Center For Produce Safety? Pathogen-Testing Data Collection, calling that a very important task that the new Center for Produce Safety should undertake. Well, it looks like United Fresh has stepped up to the plate on this one, and announced: “United Fresh Announced Development Of Microbiological Testing Database.” This is a relatively inexpensive but very valuable contribution to food safety. 5/22/2007

FDA Indicates Guarded Willingness To Regulate Produce saw several articles lately, including a Wall Street Journal article we excerpt here, claiming that in February of this year, the FDA proposed a substantial regulatory regime for fresh produce, but higher-ups at the Department of Health and Human Services rejected the plan. The article is interesting because it is the first hint that FDA might actually be interested in regulating the produce industry. The approach, however, that the article says the FDA proposed, implies that FDA will not put itself in a position of promulgating a regulation that could then be found faulty. 5/18/2007

Pesticide Spraying Gets More Attention remembers there was a time when the public perception of food safety on produce revolved around pesticides and pesticide residue. Industry leaders traipsed around the country telling everyone that pesticides weren’t the problem, the problem was pathogens such as E. coli or salmonella. Well, in fact, in the fullness of time people’s attention did shift. Now there are some noises indicating that attention is again being paid to pesticides, though with a different focus. The Associated Press has come out with an article claiming that “Children Face Exposure to Pesticides,” focusing on spraying near schools. 5/17/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety For Private Label Versus Branded Product/One Nation Versus Another our piece, Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry — OneHarvest’s Rob Robson And His Food Safety Team, which reviewed the food safety operations of Australia’s largest fresh-cut processor, brought this trenchant commentary from Bob Stovicek, PhD., President of Primus Group. Bob operates at the confluence of many of the trade’s food safety issues as his company, a leading third party auditor, hears from everyone what, particularly, they want to see audited. He astutely identifies several important areas to think about. We want to draw attention to two key points for the industry to consider. 5/15/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry — OneHarvest’s Rob Robson And His Food Safety Team remarks how as an industry, we need to be relentless in our search for solutions. Most food safety experts believe the answer to food safety concerns is more likely to be found in a limited number of processing plants than in thousands of farms all across the world. So today, we travel ‘down under’ to speak to the largest fresh-cut processor in Australia, OneHarvest. With OneHarvest dealing with customers as stringent on food safety as Woolworth’s every day, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to see what we could learn from OneHarvest’s CEO, Rob Robson, who gathered some of the key people on his food safety team for a round table discussion on food safety. 5/11/2007

‘Take-Aways’ From United’s Short Course On Organics mentions how as part of its annual convention, United Fresh Produce Association offered a series of “short courses” on the Saturday before the trade show started including one covering food safety. Organic produce production is still very much a cottage industry, and it is unclear that these growers will be able to implement and sustain the kind of rigorous food safety and traceability systems that government and buyers will soon demand. 5/9/2007

Irradiated Mangos Arrive From India explains that the 20-year hold-up on importing mangos from India had been phytosanitary, specifically, the dreaded mango seed weevil, which we don’t have in North America and which the USDA is intent on keeping out of the country. In January 2006, the Agriculture Department allowed the importation of produce treated with low doses of irradiation to kill or sterilize insects. These Indian mangos are the vanguard of many more irradiated items to come. 5/4/2007

Perchlorate Issue Is Percolating writes that in January of this year, U.S. Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer introduced two bills that aim to set standards for perchlorate, a chemical used widely in a variety of industrial processes and found in water supplies nationwide. The first bill requires EPA to establish a health advisory and a standard for perchlorate contamination in drinking water supplies by the end of the year. The second bill requires drinking water to be tested for perchlorate and mandates public notice if the chemical is found. We sent Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott out to get an update from several key industry figures and learn more about how this issue impacts the produce industry. 5/4/2007

McDonald Of Taylor Farms Wins United’s Technical Award mentions that at United’s FreshTech Conference in Palm Springs, United Fresh gave out its first version of a special award long given out at the IFPA convention before its merger with UFFVA, announcing that: “Drew McDonald of Taylor Farms Receives 2007 United Fresh Technical Award.” Drew is held in exceptionally high esteem. All through the spinach crisis, people constantly were calling the Pundit to tell us what Drew McDonald thought. Sometimes they hadn’t even spoken to the man but, like Kremlinologists of old, they would watch him in public meetings and fire off e-mails on their blackberries to let the Pundit know when he was nodding his head in agreement or raising an eyebrow in doubt. 5/4/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Can Irradiation Follow The Path Of Pasteurization? shared a letter from one of the trade’s most intriguing thinkers, Bob Sanderson, President of Jonathan’s Sprouts in response to our earlier piece Raw Milk And Dirty Produce: Perfect Together. Bob raises a question about how the very existence of use of technology changes the prism through which we evaluate our environment. He also acknowledges, if we have more outbreaks, this may be the only path open to the industry. 5/4/2007

Task For Center For Produce Safety? Pathogen-Testing Data Collection reports that United held its Food Safety Summit as a preliminary event to its FreshTech show in Palm Springs. Among the most interesting things brought out at the conference was this little tidbit. Charles Sweat, COO, Natural Selection Foods, appeared at the conference and explained how the company was now conducting food safety testing on both raw product and finished product. This points to a very important task that the new Center for Produce Safety should undertake. With so many companies now testing both raw material and finished product, the CPS should build a repository of this data to be held on a confidential basis. 5/1/2007

National Restaurant Association Clarifies Its Position On Food Safety revisits our coverage of the National Restaurant Association and its involvement with the issue of produce safety by reporting the NRA has agreed to endorse the California Marketing Agreement metrics — at least for the time being. It has issued its release formalizing this point. The release, written in the name of Dr. Donna Garren, Vice President of Health and Safety Regulatory, does endorse the GAP metrics but also includes a message for the whole produce industry. 5/1/2007

Taylor Farms And Dole Veg Paying Up For Food Safety describes how after the enormous industry-wide effort to increase standards on California leafy greens culminated in the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, now the producers are trying to figure out how to pay for it all. Taylor Farms was first out of the gate with a 20-cent per carton price increase to pay for enhanced food safety efforts, including the 2 cents per carton assessment from the State of California for the Marketing Agreement. Dole Fresh Vegetables has tacked on a 22 cents-per-carton price increase. For a retailer, if you compare to the cost of outbreaks, pulling things from shelves and being out of stock, it is a bargain. However there are still problems ahead. 4/24/2007

Mechanisms For Trace-Back And Trace-Forward Needed asserts that the logical way to reduce the impact of any future foodborne illness outbreak is to limit its scope. This is what traceability is all about. As part of its leadership on traceability issues, PMA should develop a mechanism for these two things: The FDA and other regulators can never again be confused by who produces what brands, and we can never have recalls dribbling in for days because we don’t know instantly where our product went. 4/17/2007

Would British Retail Consortium Standards Have Prevented The Spinach Crisis? highlights the British Retail Consortium, a rough equivalent to the Food Marketing Institute in the U.S., has a well known post-harvest food safety protocol that has been adopted by all major British retailers and by many retailers around the world. How did this come about? Why have retailers been so aggressive in the United Kingdom and so hesitant to act in the United States? Most were not even willing to restrict their supply chains to signatories of the California Marketing Agreement. To find out more we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Jo McDonald at the British Retail Consortium. 4/13/2007

Fresh Express Research Grant Is Allocated To Scientists our piece, Center For Produce Safety Established: An Act Of Faith In The Future, highlighted the birth of an important industry institution to fund and conduct scientific research on produce safety. Yet, back in January, when Fresh Express announced its gift of $2 million it gave the industry another unique gift — an advisory board to allocate the money. The surprise, and the big win for the industry, of the Fresh Express announcement, though, was that government regulatory authorities, Dr. Jeff Farrar, Dr. Bob Buchanan and Dr. Robert Tauxe, would lend their name and commitment to work hand in hand with the industry to direct this research. That had never happened before. Now months of evaluation of proposals is paying off as projects have actually been approved for funding. 4/13/2007

Center For Produce Safety Established: An Act Of Faith In The Future believes that the establishment of the Center for Produce Safety is of no small import. For it represents a life view that we as an industry, that humans as species, are not condemned to merely endure the trials of life but that by harnessing the human intellect with disciplined work we can, in fact, prevail against the obstacles before us. In this sense this Institute is not so much about E. coli or spinach, it is about the attributes that make us distinctively human. 4/12/2007

Guest Pundit: Traceability — A Forgotten Piece Of Food Safety Gary Fleming, Vice President, Industry Technology and Standards for the Produce Marketing Association has been kind enough to bring us another Guest Pundit focused on some findings he made during a trip to Argentina. It comes as a shock to most Americans, but quite often shippers in other countries are ahead of many U.S. shippers because these shippers often have to meet stringent requirements in order to be able to export. Here we share Gary’s take on what he found to be a practical traceability system used in Argentina. 4/12/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Two Windows And Two Issues our piece, California Marketing Board Accepts GAP Metrics, brought an interesting response from Dan Cohen, Owner of Maccabee Seed Company. He raises the issue of investing money on research and treatment related to Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome - this is what typically kills or causes permanent damage as a result of E. coli 0157:H7. The industry is loathe to even discuss this because it might be seen to imply that we intend to continue to have outbreaks. Dan’s other point focuses on the dangers of production practices with regard to meat or dairy with a focus on what can be done to reduce E. coli 0157:H7 prevalence in cattle. 4/12/2007

Does Constant Food Safety Talk Make Situation Worse? reflects as the industry celebrates its victories on the food safety front, we turn to some thoughts sent by one of the most important voices on the retail side of the business who says that “all of this media “noise” about what “so and so group” is doing about the food safety issue will keep consumers focused on the issue, and it’s an “Achilles heel” for the produce industry.” Our correspondent is both experienced and thoughtful and he raises several important points. 4/10/2007

Understanding And Assessing Risk comments that being on this ski mountain in Utah really makes one think that the whole food safety issue is somewhat bizarre. Virtually nobody reads any of the warnings dotting the slopes, so it would be wrong to say that there is some sort of rational exercise going on with people carefully weighing the risks and benefits. Yet one can’t help but think that we live in a world in which something has gone seriously awry. There seems to be not a gap but a chasm between public health standards, in which regulators demand zero risk and public behavior, in which people regularly elect to engage in dangerous activities. 4/10/2007

Marketing Agreement Signatories Account For Nearly 100% Of Product reports that now that the deadline has passed and Fresh Express has become a signatory to the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has issued the names of all the signatories and we share them here. It is certainly an impressive list… and that the whole industry could come together in this manner is an impressive accomplishment. 4/4/2007

Race Is On For Mandatory Regulation our piece, Fresh Express Signs California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, detailed our take on the decision by Fresh Express to join the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. United Fresh President Tom Stenzel issued a statement on the same issue. The key issue for United Fresh now is how to transition from this particular agreement covering one product category in one state to United’s position calling for uniform national standards adopted by the Federal government that, to the extent possible, will be from the science-based metrics that are now in force on a voluntary basis. 4/4/2007

Moving Food Safety On To Other Commodities: California Tomato Farmers Raise The Bar discusses how since the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement has taken effect, there is a danger the industry will relax on food safety. Even if the Marketing Agreement is successful at solving the problem for leafy greens, it still covers just one state’s commodity group. Tomatoes have long been an area of regulatory concern with food safety and one of the more proactive groups has been the tomato industry. Recently a group comprised of the largest California tomato growers announced the establishment of a group called California Tomato Farmers. To learn more, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to interview Ed Beckman, President of California Tomato Farmers, an industry veteran who goes back decades with the tomato industry and who is serving as President of this new initiative. 4/4/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — At Your Service Alan L. Siger, Consumers Produce Co. Don Harris, Wild Oats Markets Fred Stein, FRED International Paul Klutes, C.H. Robinson our Pundit Special Edition included an overview article detailing A Big Win For The Industry, which came about when it was announced that NRA Adopts Leafy Greens GAP Metrics, and the piece de resistance was the news that Fresh Express Signs California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. We are extremely gratified to have received many phone calls and letters, including notes from these gentlemen applauding the Pundit’s work on these issues. We don’t want to overstate our role, but, if we can help, as Paul explains by providing “visibility and clarity” to issues confronting the trade, well, we can’t think of anything else we would rather be doing. 4/4/2007

Pundit Special Edition A Big Win for the Industry proclaims the industry’s primary response to the spinach/E. coli crisis of last fall, the use of a California Marketing Agreement to provide a form of mandatory regulation for leafy greens, has emerged triumphant. and has won virtually unanimous support in California. The concerted efforts of industry leadership turned it all around. Decisions in favor of the agreement by the National Restaurant Association and by the top executives of Fresh Express represent great acts of leadership. That this highly fragmented industry has been able to gather around this initiative says an enormous amount about what true leadership can accomplish and gives just cause for an optimistic attitude about what the industry can achieve if it can maintain its focus on food safety. 4/1/2007

NRA Adopts Leafy Greens GAP Metrics assures that the produce industry got very lucky here. We were able to get wind of what was going on early enough to bring enough pressure so that NRA didn’t follow its original plan, which was to announce a fait accompli at its conference, in which 25 major chains would have already signed off on the GAP standards that had been drafted by the Food Safety Leadership Council. Donna Garren and Peter Kilgore, Acting Interim President and CEO of the NRA, along with other key NRA executives, deserve much praise for coming out in the right place. A willingness to change course when the facts demand it is a leadership quality much to be desired. 4/1/2007

Fresh Express Signs California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement spreads some astounding news that represents a big win for the produce industry, as Fresh Express has just announced it will sign the California Leafy Greens Handler Food Safety Agreement. Sometimes one serves the trade by going along, and sometimes one serves the trade by saying no. But it was in a spirit of joining together to make an industry initiative a success that Fresh Express has signed. 4/1/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Last Chance reports that March 31, 2007 is the final deadline for eligible handlers to sign up for the California Marketing Agreement for this year. You can read about the marketing agreement here, and you can read the Good Agricultural Practice Metrics that the CMA board accepted here. We believe in fighting the good fight, so while the GAP metrics were in draft form we fought for tougher standards. We didn’t win that battle this year, so we will fight on for next. But these are mere details. Now that the terms have been set, the Marketing Agreement is the trade’s primary response to the E. coli 0157:H7 outbreaks of last year and we have to join together to make it a success. 3/30/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — On To The Next Stage feels that with the California Marketing Agreement deadline looming, it is time to focus on the next step. And that must be the processors themselves. It is probably true, as the FDA stated in its report, that the E coli. 0157:H7 did in fact come from a field. It is simply terrific that we have so many initiatives designed to improve food safety at the grower level. However, there is no reason to believe that any of these efforts will be 100% effective. Therefore, we must operate on the assumption that “dirty” product will be delivered into processing plants — sometimes with E. coli 0157:H7 — and that it is the job of the processing plants to get it clean. 3/30/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — John Krakowski: Buyers Hurting Themselves our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Dole’s Schwartz Comments On Silent Buyers, included this challenge: “Eric Schwartz says we should “... challenge the buying side of your readership to come forward and help us understand why a mandatory signature to the agreement is not in the best interests of the entire industry.” And so we issued the challenge. No buyers are speaking for the record yet, but John A. Krakowski, RD, a food safety expert, sent this note along. 3/30/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Dave Diver: Quality Assurance At Every Level our piece, Insightful PMA Food Safety Sessions Reveals Buyer Hesitancy, focused on the idea of separating the buying function from the food safety assurance function through the use of Quality Assurance departments. It brought this comment from veteran retailer, David Diver, formerly Vice President of Produce with Hannaford Brothers. The problem in food safety is one of conflicting interests. Of course the produce executives want safe food, but our knowledge here is imperfect, so it is very easy to persuade oneself that a particular standard is unnecessary if it is going to cost money. Especially if the chain is actually evaluating the produce executives based on sales and profits — not food safety. And this is almost always the case. 3/30/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Rick Eastes: Do The Right Thing With Food Safety our piece, Tim York Points Out Buyer Commitment To Food Safety, discussed why buyers were hesitant to constrain their supply chain and commit to only buy from those with high food safety standards, and we discussed the cultural preconditions of food safety. It led Rick Eastes, Owner of Rixx International Marketing Co. Inc., to share the perspective that “what many management teams and companies fail to address are the incentives that go along with assuring that a well conceived policy will be embraced and followed by the employees who ultimately must carry out the proposed policies.” 3/30/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Robert Stovicek: Trusting CDFA our piece, GAP Program Still Leaves Questions, pointed out how difficult it has been to get a straightforward answer from the CDFA, particularly on the methodology it used to figure the percentage of California leafy green production that has signed up for the program. In response, we received this pithy note from Bob Stovicek, PhD., President of Primus Group, who asks, if it is so hard, “why are we being naive to expect the consumer or consumer advocates to trust CDFA?” Whatever the reason is, it is a cause of concern. 3/30/2007

GAP Program Still Leaves Questions points out the California Department of Food and Ag came out with a press release announcing what we announced yesterday — that the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board has accepted the industry-generated GAP for use in its verification program. The release raises three interesting points which we delve into here. 3/29/2007

Reasons For Buyer Reticence To Commit To Marketing Agreement details how The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is taking a lot of heat because after specifically asking for the establishment of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, very few of the signatories are willing to commit to buying from only those producers that are part of the Agreement. Most of the signatories are not even willing to commit to buy only from vendors third party certified to meet or exceed the standards accepted by the Marketing Agreement. It is sad but predictable. From the very start, there has been a peculiarity about the effort. 3/29/2007

The Effect Of Fresh Express And Its Absence In The CDFA Marketing Agreement fields a question from a large grower in Salinas who asks for our opinion of Fresh Express’ absence from the marketing agreement and what effect it might have on Dean Florez’s legislation. Fresh Express had its business reasons for electing not to participate, which we dealt with here, but it has been an easy decision for them because none of their customers have demanded that they sign or lose the business. The shocking thing is that WGA went ahead with the program without getting commitments from the top bagged salad manufacturers. 3/29/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — NRA And Liability as the National Restaurant Association’s Food Safety Conference approaches, our coverage has mostly focused on showing NRA the advantages of collaboration with the fresh produce industry to achieve higher levels of food safety. For example, debuting new requirements after the Salinas planting is done won’t help food safety. Beyond that, we theorized it could increase the liability of restaurants who would be forced to sell the only available product which won’t meet the food safety standards that their own association has told them is important. On that aspect we received a letter discussing this liability issue from Joel Bedol of Sy Katz Produce. 3/29/2007

California Marketing Board Accepts GAP Metrics reports that on Friday, March 23, 2007, the California Leafy Green Advisory Board accepted the metrics to be used in the marketing agreement’s verification program. It has been a long road to get to this point, and the many people from United, WGA, private industry, academia, etc., that contributed to this document should receive much appreciation. It has been tireless and difficult work. Which is why, for the good of the industry, it is very important that this whole matter be handled well from this day forward. A few points to consider. 3/28/2007

Aid For Spinach Losses received a note from a well-respected reader who responds today to an article appearing in USA Today that reports that Congress had passed $25 million in relief for spinach farmers. To clarify, Congress did not pass any such thing. It was a provision put in the House bill to buy support for the Democratic version of the emergency war bill. The problem for our society, of course, is that every special interest believes that the philosophical issue should be set aside for a later day while the current situation is resolved as these things are often resolved in our society — with federal funds. 3/28/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Dole’s Schwartz Comments On Silent Buyers our piece, Tim York Points Out Buyer Commitment To Food Safety, brought this trenchant commentary from Eric Schwartz, President of Dole Fresh Vegetables, whose words resonate: “The one thing we did not count on was the majority of the same buying leadership that asked for this step to go silent now that it is here.” It is painful to acknowledge the reality. The reality is that when the speeches are done, and without questioning anyone’s hearts or morals, the overwhelming majority of buyers are unwilling to risk having to pay more for produce in order to achieve food safety. Period. 3/28/2007

Tim York Points Out Buyer Commitment To Food Safety remarks that the signatories to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative represent a compilation of buying power never before assembled in the produce industry to achieve a common good: enhanced food safety. We’ve been urging the buyers to announce that they were prepared to restrict their supply chains to companies that either sign the CMA or are independently audited to meet or exceed CMA standards. Today, Tim York, who is, along with Wegmans’ Dave Corsi, the founder of the initiative, sent us a letter. Those who have refused to commit to a constrained supply chain are publicly maintaining their options to buy less expensive product even if it is grown to a lower standard. This is problematic. 3/27/2007

Insightful PMA Food Safety Session Reveals Buyer Hesitancy shares how the Food Safety Session at PMA’s Produce Solutions Conference was terrific. A concise, yet comprehensive, review of the issues confronting the trade. The big disappointment at the conference was when Tim York, speaking in his capacity as a founder of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, revealed that only six of the signatories to the Initiative… only six of this self-selected group of buyers who urged the establishment of the California Marketing Agreement for spinach, lettuce and other leafy greens… were willing to constrain their supply chains and commit to only purchase product from those who had signed the agreement. It is a very serious issue for the industry because if buyers aren’t willing to assure growers that there will be a market for produce grown to higher standards, there won’t be a lot of produce grown to higher standards. 3/26/2007

The Spinach Crisis Report Is Out And From It We Learn…Nothing reveals that the final report on the spinach/E. coli 0157:H7 crisis is out. The Pundit has read all fifty pages and learned very little. Some permits weren’t in order, some records weren’t as orderly as you would like. They used chicken manure pellets on a field. But there is no smoking gun and very little that is new. In fact the association with one field is actually fairly weak as they found no samples of the strain of the illness on any field and have only conjectures about how the E.coli 0157:H7 might have traveled to the field. It is impressive as detective work, but unsatisfactory as a guide for preventing foodborne illness. 3/26/2007

California’s GAP & GMP Recommendations shares the recommendations of the State of California — Health and Human Services Agency, Department of Health Services. Yet many of the recommendations are still too vague. What, exactly, is the “sufficient frequency” with which water needs to be tested? In other cases, these recommendations are giving the industry a specific charge: traceback to a specific field within one to two hours for example. It would be desirable for the California Leafy Greens Marketing Board to make sure that all these “recommendations” are included in the GAPs, and other growers of spinach and other leafy greens should make sure they are standardizing on these practices as well. 3/26/2007

NRA’s Food Safety Plan Still Looms In Mystery we’ve been focused lately on the plans of the National Restaurant Association to address produce-based food safety issues. There are some real concerns. There is some talk that NRA has changed plans and now is thinking of just unveiling draft requirements at the conference. But NRA is being mysterious and is unwilling to confirm that to be true. In any case, nobody should be holding back on food safety ideas to sell tickets to a conference. If NRA or the Food Safety Leadership Council, which is drafting the NRA proposals, actually has concerns, they should be discussing them with the people working on the draft GAPs right now. The whole point is to discuss these things before positions harden. The minute NRA “unveils” something at a conference, it has something to defend — and defensiveness won’t produce food safety. 3/26/2007

Boskovich Sues Taco Bell revisits how in the midst of the Taco Bell/E.coli 0157:H7 situation we published Taco Bell’s PR Fiasco, which pointed out that Taco Bell had unfairly released preliminary information because of its own interest in seeing the situation resolved. In effect, of course, this indicated that Taco Bell was willing to throw the grower of its Green Onions to the wind, to save its own skin. This is not really surprising since Taco Bell dumped Ready Pac, its actual direct supplier, for no reason at all — just a hope that it could intimate that other people were responsible for the Taco Bell problem. Now the LA Times is reporting that Boskovich Farms is suing Taco Bell. 3/26/2007

Lessons From Los Angeles: Food Safety And Security Are Everyone’s Problem explains that ever since an NBC affiliate in Los Angeles produced a segment on the horrible conditions at LA’s 7th Street Market, we’ve carefully monitored the story and tried to learn more. There is a tremendous temptation to dismiss a story like this if your company is not directly involved. That would be a mistake. To use the horror story of the 7th Street Market as an instructional aid for the whole industry, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with the governmental official in LA responsible for public health, Terrance Powell, Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Environmental Health. 3/20/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Reaction To NRA’s Reaction reports we’ve been focused on the National Restaurant Association and what it will be doing in the next month in relation to produce safety. Our concern is that NRA has not been sharing its concern over the draft GAP documents with the produce industry associations working on the draft GAPs. In response to NRA’s Peter Kilgore Speaks Out, in which we published a harsh letter sent from NRA to the Pundit, Fred Stein, of FRED International, a Food Safety Consultancy, sent in this nice letter. For very important people, the Pundit can be an acquired taste. Yet we never attack people — we attack ideas. And we feel confident that no good idea need fear the relentless scrutiny of inquiring minds. 3/20/2007

NRA’s Peter Kilgore Speaks Out explains that we all learn more if we are willing to learn together and one could say that this has been our primary critique of the National Restaurant Association’s announced plans to unveil a food safety program for fresh produce at its conference in Monterey at the end of this month. We received a note from Peter Kilgore, Acting Interim President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. Although we appreciate Mr. Kilgore’s writing to us, we fear that NRA is such a large organization that he may not have been kept fully briefed by his people on exactly what is happening down on the ground. 3/16/2007

No Deal On The Seal! reports that decisions are starting to be made and the single most important decision regarding the California Marketing Agreement is what to do with the “Marketing” portion of the agreement and, specifically, with the Seal. We’ve discussed this issue extensively in pieces such as, Seal Or No Seal: Marketing Agreement May Confuse Consumers, California Food Safety Seal Bound To Cause Consumer Confusion and Leafy Greens’ Board Should Disavow Marketing Effort. Bottom line, the board should disavow any consumer marketing efforts and encourage signatories to use the seal only on trade communication such as letterhead and invoices. 3/16/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry — Meruelo Maddox’s, Michael Bustamante And Steven London mentions how we’ve run several pieces to analyze the situation on the 7th Street Market in Los Angeles. Our first piece, Rats In Los Angeles: The Produce Industry’s Shame, highlighted the report of a local TV station on the horrible conditions in the market. We followed up with Lessons From The LA Market and Pundit’s Mailbag — Beware TV Crews Coming To A Market Near You. Today we speak with two people both working for the owner of the market to find out what transpired and how things are changing: Michael Bustamante, spokesman for Meruelo Maddox, which owns market operator Alameda Produce, and Steven London, Health and Safety Consultant for Meruelo Maddux, which owns Alameda Produce Inc. 3/16/2007

What Is Wal-Mart’s Role In The New NRA Food Safety Standards? explains that Wal-Mart, a founding member of The Food Safety Leadership Council, has traditionally held to the position that it is the responsibility of the FDA to establish and enforce food safety standards on produce. Wal-Mart stopped selling spinach because the FDA said it was not safe and Wal-Mart started selling it again when the FDA said it was OK to do so. This philosophy is why Wal-Mart was so conspicuous by its absence from the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. In other words Wal-Mart didn’t believe private groups should set standards and bail the FDA out of its responsibility. Yet now this group is all hot to impose private standards — and Wal-Mart is a founder. 3/15/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Another Victim Of Spinach Crisis received a letter from Paul V. Battaglia, President of Krisp-Pak Co., Inc., a regional Savoy spinach packer, who says his sales suffered unfairly in the spinach crisis and blames California growers and packers for not taking any initiative to recall tainted product, resulting in the FDA blanket advisory not to eat any spinach. It seems the real anger should be directed toward a CDC and FDA procedure that is so weak that it can ask totally innocent companies to spend millions and millions of dollars. It is certainly true, though, that processors, and others, need to do their jobs with integrity. 3/15/2007

Calling All Produce Executives Who Work Heavily With Foodservice reports the National Restaurant Association is on the verge of possibly causing a very big headache for the produce industry…and for its own members. It is not acting alone, but with a group called the Food Safety Leadership Council. This group is the primary architect of the standards that NRA is poised to unveil at a special conference at the end of the month. But whatever the standards should be, there is a method and a time and a place for making these things happen. And, bottom line, NRA has simply missed the time to have any effect on this Salinas season. To show up, just as the season is starting, with a totally new set of standards that nobody has ever seen, is a catastrophe waiting to happen. 3/14/2007

FDA Guides The Fresh-Cut Industry But… We Hope The Industry Is Ahead Of The Guidance reports that the FDA has come out with its guidance document for fresh-cut processors, entitled Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables. PMA has welcomed the guidance and United was able to report that “…Sixty-eight of our 73 submitted suggested edits were accepted and incorporated by the Agency into the final guidance document.” As for us, we welcome any guidance from FDA since half the time we can’t figure out exactly what they would like the industry to do. At the same time much of the document is so elementary it scares us to think someone may find this useful. 3/14/2007

Buying Community Strangely Quiet On Food Safety Standards on January 19, 2007, writing on behalf of “Markon Cooperative and 21 other major buyers of fresh produce,” a letter was sent out over the signature of Tim York to the California Department of Food & Agriculture. The final line of that letter: “We strongly urge that the marketing agreement be implemented.” The question is were these people all serious or was this a matter of PR? The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative has 22 total signatories. Of these 22, three have declared that they will only buy from signatories to the California Marketing Agreement. This leaves 19 total signatories who have not yet agreed to restrict their supply chains to those who have signed the California Marketing Agreement. There is a lot of resentment building. 3/9/2007

NRA Stands Defiant reports the NRA intends to announce new food safety standards at a conference in Monterey at the end of March. These standards will reject the sufficiency of the standards that are about to be adopted as the accepted Good Agricultural Practice document under the California Marketing Agreement. Yet NRA will not share with the produce industry what areas of the GAP draft NRA has concerns about. In fact, every indication is that NRA has no scientific concerns but just wants to be seen as the toughest guy on the block. 3/9/2007

PMA Adds Food Safety Session To Produce Solutions Conference with the Produce Solutions Conference fast approaching, PMA has also added a new food safety session for the conference. Since the theme of the conference is Consumer Trends ’07, this session will provide an overview of PMA’s response to the food safety crisis, including how the industry can expect to benefit from the $2.75 million that PMA has committed to spend on food safety initiatives, highlight consumer research PMA has done related to food safety and outline PMA’s plans regarding a Consumer Communications Plan to restore customer and buyer confidence in fresh produce. 3/8/2007

Second Appeal To NRA mentions that we’ve been focusing on the National Restaurant Association and Donna Garren, its Vice President of Health and Safety Regulatory Affairs and the group’s intention to unveil its own food safety plan. Donna knows the issues, she knows the people and she is a scientist. It is inconceivable that, given her druthers, she wouldn’t prefer to work collaboratively with other scientific and technical people. So why the secrecy? Why is it that although the produce industry has been keeping NRA fully apprised of its thinking on technical and scientific issues and industry standards, the NRA won’t share its thinking? After all, there are only two possibilities. 3/8/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Stenzel Speaks Out On Food Safety And Food Dudes our piece, A Tip Of The Hat For Stenzel, brought a thank you note from Tom Stenzel, President & CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, plus a commentary on both the state of legislative interest in the produce industry and efforts to increase produce consumption drawing special attention to our article, Food Dudes Beat Junk Punks And Kids Eat More Produce, praising that program and placing it in a larger context. 3/8/2007

Trust But Verify explains that as large handlers try to persuade retailers and other buyers to restrict their supply chain to only those who have signed on to the California Marketing Agreement, it is easy to suppose that the main issue is standards. The truth, however, is that small differences in the standards are not likely to be half as important as the likely differences in the rigor with which the standards are implemented. And so, the challenge for a buyer today is really that each buyer has the obligation of verification. 3/7/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Deadline Approaches heard from Eric Schwartz, President of Dole Fresh Vegetables, who sent a letter with his thoughts on the current state of the industry in reference to the California Marketing Agreement. We know that CDFA keeps saying that they are told that the reason people aren’t signing up for the California Marketing Agreement is that these handlers tell CDFA they don’t want to lower their standards. But we don’t believe there is any significant confusion, we think that is just what they feel is a good thing to say to CDFA. A more realistic assessment is that most companies that don’t sign, don’t do so for one or more of three reasons. 3/7/2007

An Open Letter To The Board Of Directors Of The National Restaurant Association writes that despite our great respect for the foodservice industry, for Donna Garren and for the National Restaurant Association, our recent conversation with Donna, published under the title, National Restaurant Association Soon To Unveil Its Own Food Safety Plan, has raised substantial concerns. So much so that we fear the National Restaurant Association may do the NRA membership and consumers a real harm if it doesn’t modify its course. And it is for that reason that we write you today. 3/6/2007

Getting ‘Locally Grown’ Up To Standard received a message from a smaller independent chain in the Midwest looking for ways to make sure its small local growers who only supply seasonally are doing the right thing as far as food safety goes. It is not an easy challenge because these small growers don’t have the resources to meet the highest food safety standards, such as those established by the British Retail Consortium. I turned to Bob Stovicek, who holds a PhD and is President of Primus Group, a leading third party auditor, to ask how we could help in this situation. The Pundit was bowled over at the resources Primus makes available at no charge to help these growers. There are a lot of small growers. If we simply demand all kinds of things, we will force them to consolidate. Primus is saying we can help them just as they are. 3/6/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — GAPs Are Living Documents heard from Dale Coke, Founder of Coke Farm, who wrote us to comment on our piece Is The California Marketing Agreement A Triumph Or A Failure, in which we included Dole Fresh Vegetables’ statement that it had signed the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Dale asks why we should support the status quo if the GAPs that were already in use did not work. Dale has gotten caught in a common misperception. The Good Agricultural Practices documents are periodically redrawn, and the new draft GAPs have little in common with the ones in place last year. 3/6/2007

Yum Brands Makes A Video: Too Little, Too Late reports that after a few days of insisting it was strictly a local problem and hiding a one-paragraph statement on the back page of the KFC and Taco Bell web sites, Yum Brands decided to post a video on the same web sites, still on a back page that consumers have to search for. The video is placed on a page that cannot be directly linked to, and it still is not on the main Yum Brands web site. Yum Brands selected out a paragraph from the video of Emil Brolick, U.S. President of Yum Brands, and this statement of repentance really shows the arrogance of Yum Brands. 3/2/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Building Regulatory And Consumer Confidence With Transparency received a nice letter from Fred Reimers, Owner of Creative FoodSafe Solutions, complimenting the Pundit on digging in to our pocket to offer $1,000 honorarium to the person who most helps us to improve the draft GAP standards. These GAP standards are important. We ran a piece entitled WGA’s Secret Science Panel urging WGA to answer five simple questions about the panel of scientists supposedly drawing up the GAP standards. You don’t get credibility by repeating the word scientist. You gain credibility by showing that the scientists you’ve got are credible. 3/2/2007

National Restaurant Association Soon To Unveil Its Own Food Safety Plan feels it was inevitable that the National Restaurant Association would want a place at the table for its views on food safety to be expressed. As we detail here, NRA is ready to unveil its plan this March at a special Food Safety Conference it is hosting. NRA has the right to make any recommendations it thinks wise to its members, but the way NRA is handling this matter is not right. NRA has refused to make these proposed standards available to the produce industry associations working on developing the Good Agricultural Practices standards for leafy greens. This makes us feel that more industry politics than food safety sincerity is involved here. It would be morally grotesque to hold back this valuable information. 3/1/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Beware TV Crews Coming To A Market Near You our companion pieces, Rats in Los Angeles: The Produce Industry’s Shame and The Rats Of New York Teach The Produce Industry Some Lessons On Food Safety, brought forth this letter from a reader close to the Pundit’s heart, his father, Michael Prevor. We offer a word of advice to all wholesale markets: Media outlets are often like lemmings. They follow each other. So you can count on media outlets in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and other cities where there are markets planning right now to duplicate the success NBC had in Los Angeles with undercover reports on markets in their cities. 3/1/2007

Lessons From The LA Market received a note from a progressive Los Angeles area importer and distributor regarding our piece, Rats in Los Angeles: The Produce Industry’s Shame, who says demolition would be the only solution to the issues with the 7th Street Market. Many modern wholesale markets, even some still on the design boards, are not really suitable to meet current standards for food safety and food security. The Boston Terminal Market, as well as many markets around the world, more closely follow the design pattern that is required. Basically you need to separate the sales function from the storage function. The key thing is that the produce storage building is secured. 2/28/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Cheesecake Factory’s Kix McGinnis Nystron Everclean Services’ Jack McShane writes that today we are pleased to continue our series on procedures at foodservice operators with a different perspective. Food safety discussions in the industry have tended to stop in the processing plant. Yet food safety challenges continue right up to when the product is consumed. So we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Kix McGinnis Nystrom, whose position at the Cheesecake Factory is not Buyer or Quality Assurance but Vice President of Kitchen Operations. Mira also spoke with Jack McShane, CEO and Founder of Everclean Services, which acts as an independent auditor and trainer for The Cheesecake Factory. 2/28/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Rats In The Trenches an industry luminary and multi-generational produce family businessman sent us a letter in response to, The Rats In Los Angeles: The Produce Industry’s Shame, calling it the “absolute perfect metaphor for those of us who operate daily in the trenches.” He goes on to say that in food safety, “there is a terrific disconnect between what happens in theory and what happens in practice.” The gap between lofty ideals and execution is substantial in most things and in food safety it is a canyon. Culture is a huge indicator, and an important one, but it is not immutable, and focusing on changes in structure and incentives can lead to cultural change. 2/28/2007

Rats In Los Angeles: The Produce Industry’s Shame says if you need evidence that mandatory regulation is no panacea — and of the importance of the media in focusing attention on public health and food safety issues — take a look at this video we link to here. The public news is that this media attention has led to 63 vendor closings and three businesses with permits revoked at LA’s Seventh Street Produce Market. In addition, they made many referrals to the city attorney. Firms on LA’s other two produce markets have been busy sending letters assuring customers that they are not located there and that they don’t buy from the 7th Street Market. One wonders how many additional facilities around the country are not up to snuff. 2/27/2007

The Rats Of New York Teach The Produce Industry Some Lessons On Food Safety reports that a lot of people were watching rats scurry around a KFC/Taco Bell co-located unit this past weekend. Pretty revolting to most people, especially if you had happened to have lunch there the day before you saw the video. Yet there are several lessons directly relevant to food safety issues, to voluntary efforts and to United’s call for mandatory regulation. 2/27/2007

FDA To Hold Hearings On Safety Of Fresh Produce saw the FDA has issued an announcement: “The Food and Drug Administration will convene two public hearings to share information about recent outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with microbial contamination of fresh produce, and to solicit comments, data, and other scientific information about current agricultural and manufacturing practices used to produce, harvest, pack, cool, process, and transport fresh produce. FDA is also seeking information and comments on risk factors for contamination of fresh produce associated with these practices; and on measures by FDA that could enhance the safety of fresh produce.” The FDA has been saying it would do this for some time and probably was waiting to see the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement come into effect. The implications of these hearings are vast. 2/23/2007

Leafy Greens’ Board Should Disavow Marketing Effort believes it has become increasingly obvious that the marketing component of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement is a colossal mistake. If this was simply an agreement to follow a baseline food safety program, participation would be less in question. But the agreement has a marketing component. Basically the Agreement contemplates spending the assessment on a marketing program to tell everyone that leafy greens with the logo are safe and that consumers should look for the logo. A top priority of the advisory board must be to disavow this language. Not one penny should be spent promoting this seal. 2/23/2007

Costco Quandary — Should Pre-Washed Spinach Be Washed Again? mentions we’ve run several pieces related to Costco and the reintroduction of spinach into its warehouses. The articles were all focused around Costco’s decision to reintroduce spinach to its produce departments. We went to our local Costco to see what was being sold. Although packages we noticed said clearly that the spinach was “pre-washed” or “Triple Washed,” they also told the consumer to “Wash Product Before Use” or “Rinse Before Use.” There are a few issues with this concept. 2/22/2007

Top Ten Food Safety Myths Slideshow found that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has come up with a “Top Ten” food safety myth slideshow for consumers. The are some interesting facts, and we list them here. Not a bad thing to expose all one’s employees to. 2/22/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — More Questions About Leafy Greens Board our article, Marketing Make-up Causes Concern, brought a diverse response. We passed on a concern that the individuals were mostly management, marketing and financial people, rather than growers. We’ve heard from a number of growers all expressing concerns that the composition of the board is too heavily skewed toward processors including one note today expressing that same sentiment. To get a different perspective, we asked one of the most perceptive, and frank, processors we know for his thoughts and received this response from Eric Schwartz, President of Dole Fresh Vegetables. 2/21/2007

Raw Milk And Dirty Produce: Perfect Together ponders how, as the produce industry spends what will wind up to be billions on enhanced food safety, it is worth noting that there is a whole movement afoot to allow consumers to expose themselves to food safety risks. Raw, unpasteurized milk is generally restricted and often illegal to sell. And for good reason. We just think it is interesting that everyone assumes that people are so risk adverse that the whole produce industry must be turned upside down, and then you read about the risks many are prepared to take to have raw milk. 2/16/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Rutgers Response our piece, Consumer Studies On Spinach Reviewed…And Costco’s Proactive Approach, brought a response from William Hallman, Director of Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University, who sponsored and authored one of the studies referenced in the article and writes to clarify what he sees as misperceptions in our article. The Pundit thinks, however, that intelligent and well-intentioned researchers selected the wrong path, in deciding how to proceed with this study. While the Pundit is doubtless guilty of many sins, not reading documents carefully is not one of them. 2/16/2007

The Federal Food Safety System: A Primer saw the Congressional Research Service has just published, “The Federal Food Safety System: A Primer.” The CRS describes the report this way: “Numerous federal, state, and local agencies share responsibilities for regulating the safety of the U.S. food supply, which many experts say is among the safest in the world. Nevertheless, critics view this system as lacking the organization and resources to adequately combat foodborne illness, which sickens an estimated 76 million people and kills an estimated 5,000 each year in this country.” This piece is an excellent six-page primer on where we stand now, which is the starting point for the debate that we can expect over the next few months. 2/15/2007

Organics, GMOs And Irradiation: The Voice Of Science discovered in the editorial content of the journal Nature Biotechnology, there is a bit of correspondence that starts out with a lambasting letter to the editor as a Craig Holdrege of The Nature Institute, an advocacy group for organics, attacks an editorial from an earlier edition. Here is the joke: The initial editorial wasn’t an attack on organics at all, it was an ironic joke pointing out how unacceptable it would be to the research community if the same type of scaremongering and distortions that are routinely applied to GMOs were ever applied to organics. 2/15/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety And Lake Wobegon mentions that Mark Beeler of Watsonville Produce sends us a brief, but pointed, note in regards to our piece Fresh Express Declines To Sign California Marketing Agreement. Mark is no stranger to the Pundit, having written us to argue for the use of irradiation as a food safety tool right here. Because we do not use irradiation or some other “kill step” that allows us to say “this product is now safe” — it is always going to be expected that some companies will have better food safety programs than others. 2/15/2007

Fresh Express Declines To Sign California Marketing Agreement says the big question regarding the California Marketing Agreement for spinach, lettuce and leafy greens has been whether Fresh Express would elect to sign the agreement. As the biggest player in the field and the one with the best reputation for its food safety program, its signature to the agreement would certainly have helped solve a public relations problem for the industry. From a business standpoint, though, its decision is completely understandable. Our sense is that Fresh Express is sincere in its critique of the California Marketing Agreement. Yet we are also reminded of John Maynard Keynes who warned us that “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” 2/14/2007

Heads Up — PR Problems For Produce saw the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric is running a series called What’s on the Menu. As CBS puts it: “... the three-part series will take a hard look at the issues surrounding food safety and what is — and is not — being done to protect us from what we eat. It’s an issue that’s at front and center stage for many Americans these days, especially in light of the recent rash of stories about e coli outbreaks, and we hope our series will shed some light on the subject and give people some context in which to make decisions regarding food choices.” 2/14/2007

Science: As Tough As You Like It shares how the Pundit had an opportunity to sit down with a couple of key players in the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, and we were challenged on our repeated suggestion — see here, here and here — that the standards Fresh Express detailed in a USA Today article should be adopted as minimum standards for the ready-to-eat industry. The argument the buyers made is that we need a science-based standard, and the Fresh Express rules are arbitrary. It is a fair critique. But in the absence of more information, there is no reason to believe that the draft GAPS are any more scientific than the Fresh Express standards. Indeed it is not even clear that “science” can play more than a minor role in this process. 2/14/2007

United’s Regulatory Call Faces Big Hurdles writes that we recently spoke kindly of the announcement by United Fresh that it was calling for mandatory government regulation of the produce industry. To go from the notion that this was an isolated, almost idiosyncratic, problem to the notion that the solution is mandatory government regulation of hundreds of items that have never been implicated in a food safety outbreak, grown in 50 states, over a hundred countries and tens of thousands of growing areas is a big leap. So big, in fact, that it is likely nothing is going to happen — at least for a long time. 2/13/2007

California Food Safety Seal Bound To Cause Consumer Confusion thinks that it looks like the California Marketing Agreement, having been certified by the state and with the board soon to be appointed, will actually be affecting the trade and food safety very soon. Yet for many reasons, any state-based, commodity-specific plan is problematic for an industry that operates on a national and international scale. What is clear is that even if the California Marketing Agreement substantively raises food safety standards in the growing of spinach, lettuce and other leafy greens and thus is good for the industry, the use of the seal in consumer marketing is bound to cause confusion. 2/13/2007

US Buyers Should Follow British Lead In Food Safety Standards explains that in Europe, the most notable substantive difference in the offer that produce vendors make to buyers is that each vendor flaunts its multiple certifications. The base line is EurepGap. If you are a grower in Uruguay looking to sell to large European chains the very first thing you have to do is get EurepGap-certified. The Gold Standard is probably the Marks & Spencer program known as “Field-to-Fork,” which incorporates EurepGap standards and also goes beyond food safety to include all kinds of environmental and ethical standards. The interesting thing is that none of these standards are government requirements. They are driven by the British retailers. 2/13/2007

Is The California Marketing Agreement A Triumph Or A Failure? reports the California Department of Food and Agriculture trumpets in its most recent press release: “The Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which would establish an inspection program for handlers of leafy greens, has been certified by the California Department of Food and Agriculture following sign-ups by handlers representing 70 percent of leafy greens produced in California.” Assuming both these players have their numbers correct, what does this tell us? First, that most of the small-volume processors around the state have not signed up. This means that the bulk of the industry’s actual food safety problem, smaller substandard processors, will not be affected by the marketing agreement. Although, of course, they could still be impacted if buyers refuse to buy from those who are not parties to the agreement. 2/9/2007

CDFA Numbers Challenged investigates how the CDFA issued a press release saying that handlers representing 70% of volume had signed the new California Marketing Agreement. They later told the Pundit that they were up to 85%. But CDFA won’t release names and some are questioning its methodology. 2/9/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Dole Vegetables’ Eric Schwartz in this time when everyone keeps saying that bagged salad demand is depressed, Dole sent an announcement that it is expanding, announcing the opening of a new bagged salad plant in North Carolina. To learn more about the plant and where it fits into the larger role Dole plays in the industry — especially Dole’s food safety program, in light of its announcement that it had signed the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement for spinach, lettuce and other leafy greens — we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to learn more from Eric Schwartz, President of Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc. in Salinas, California. 2/9/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Plus! — Costco Clarification following our piece, Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Costco’s Dale Hollingsworth, Dale Hollingsworth contacted us to provide further information and clarification to his interview on February 8. Craig Wilson, assistant vice president of food safety and quality assurance, shared his comments as well. We appreciate Dale and Craig amplifying on Dale’s previous comments. What really makes this a strong plus for the industry is that Costco, as one of the signatories to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, is not waiting for some grand industry “solution” to insist upon enhanced food safety measures. 2/9/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Costco’s Dale Hollingsworth our piece Consumer Studies On Spinach Reviewed… And Costco’s Proactive Approach included a reference to a USA Today article in which Costco publicized its insistence that suppliers product test spinach. To better understand Costco’s product testing regimen, we asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to find out more from Dale Hollingsworth, Corporate Produce Buyer for Costco. Dale identifies one of the key problems as space to store all of this product while it is being tested, one wonders, though, if a good logistics approach couldn’t significantly ameliorate the problem. 2/8/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Gatekeepers And Risk Aversion our piece Consumer Studies On Spinach Reviewed … And Costco’s Proactive Approach brought a quick response from John Shelford, President of Naturipe Farms LLC. In it, John segues into the fact that United Fresh has endorsed mandatory government regulation, a point we covered in United Calls For Mandatory, Federal, Uniform Food Safety Standards. The Pundit endorsed the concept for the same reason John gives: It seems the only way to really align the regulatory apparatus and the produce industry and thus build regulatory confidence. But the devil is in the details. On the one hand, we have had problems with spinach and leafy greens, tomatoes, scallions, melons, berries, sprouts and almonds. It is a big leap from seven product categories to hundreds of produce items. It may be overreaching. 2/8/2007

Consumer Studies On Spinach Reviewed... And Costco’s Proactive Approach reveals a couple of studies are out, each designed to advance our understanding of consumer behavior related to the spinach/E. coli 0157:H7 situation. Rutgers Food Policy Institute has issued a report entitled, “Public Response to the Contaminated Spinach Recall” of 2006. The report, based on a 1,200-person telephone survey, is well worth reading. Yet it suffers from some serious flaws. Far more in the loop on things produce, the Perishables Group came out with a study that was the subject of a January 29 article in USA Today titled, “E. coli’s long gone, but spinach sales are still hurting.” In a proactive approach, Costco is now requiring suppliers to random test spinach at the processing plant, including for E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella. 2/7/2007

Prize For Best GAP Idea Rises To $1,000 here at the Pundit, we unveiled the draft Good Agricultural Practices in conjunction with an offer of an honorarium in the amount of $500 for the best suggestion to improve the draft GAP document. Now, although it has an April 25, 2006 cover date, there actually is an updated version of the draft GAP document available, and you can see it here. We are upping the honorarium to $1,000 because we need more help: The new draft, although more rigorous in some instances — recommending 30 feet from the edge of a crop instead of 20 feet for distances to grazing land, homes and other such things — is also weaker. 2/6/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — A European Provides Food For Thought In 2007 comments that as we prepare to make our visit to Fruit Logistica in Berlin, it seems fitting to share a letter from Marc De Naeyer, Managing Partner of TROFI in The Netherlands, who wrote to us once before and always has something interesting to say. We think Marc’s comment about the Zeitgeist is apropos in more ways than one, as the dictionary says: the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era. Many food industry advocates find issues such as food safety, organics and fair trade difficult to discuss because it seems not to matter what they say. That is because what often matters is the Zeitgeist, the general feeling as to what is right and what is wrong with the world. 2/6/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Florette UK’s Mark Newton ran a piece once we learned American-grown watercress, marketed under the Florette brand, had been recalled in Ireland due to suspected Salmonella. It is our policy to not leave things hanging too long, so we spoke to the folks who market under the Florette label to gain more insight into what happened and get a little background on their operation. Food safety is a sensitive topic, so much credit is due to the people at Florette for being willing to speak forthrightly. In doing so, they show themselves to be good corporate citizens willing to help the whole industry advance in this crucial area. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to obtain some additional information from Mark Newton, Managing Director of Florette UK. 2/2/2007

PMA Pledges $1.75 Million More For Produce Safety mentions that first, PMA committed $1 million for a food safety program. Then Fresh Express gave $2 million to fund research into E. coli 0157:H7. Now PMA is upping the ante and pledging $2.75 million total toward a food safety program for the produce trade. $2 million of that will go for research, $500,000 for a communications campaign to rebuild consumer confidence, $200,000 for training at the farm level, and the rest to help fund the development of new standards and verification methods. Here we share what PMA had to say to its membership. 2/2/2007

A Step Toward Regulating California’s Fresh Produce reports that Senator Dean Florez of California’s 16th District has introduced legislation calling for mandatory regulation of the California fresh produce industry. His office explains the measure in this press release. 2/2/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Traceability explains that one of the problems with the draft Good Agricultural Practices document for spinach, lettuce and other leafy greens is that, although it requires people to retain a lot of documents, it doesn’t specify their retention in a form suitable for quick traceback. Usually we hesitate to run letters that promote one particular product, but William Kanitz, President of ScoringSystem, Inc., claims to have a solution. Certainly it is worth exploring. 2/1/2007

Seal Or No Seal: Marketing Agreement May Confuse Consumers reports that the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement is out for signature. The nominees for the board have been made as we discussed here. The centerpiece of the marketing agreement is the fact that, as Western Growers has explained: “Product which is certified by state authorized inspectors to be grown under the specific food safety Good Agricultural Practices will be designated by an official “mark” or seal.” Yet this seal could prove problematic. 1/31/2007

Guest Pundit — Pairing The Global Language With Technology continues our discussion from yesterday’s Guest Pundit –Traceability And The Need For A Common Language in which Gary Fleming of PMA explored how data standards could enhance the ability of the industry to trace products back to their source. Today we have an encore appearance from our Guest Pundit as Gary takes the industry one step further, exploring how that common language can be paired with technology and how doing so can bring the produce industry into a new, and more sophisticated, age. 1/31/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety And The Role Of Buyers received a letter from Bob Stovicek, PhD., President of Primus Group, regarding our piece, Pundit’s Letter To The Signatories Of The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, in which we challenged the buyers to insist upon more rigorous standards than are proposed in the current draft Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) document. Bob zeroes in on important and relevant questions. 1/31/2007

A Suggestion To Improve The Draft GAP emphasizes that all this attention to form in terms of how industry food safety standards will get developed should be secondary to substance: What are the food safety standards going to be? Today, Roy Costa of Environ Health Associates offers his proposal, which is an attempt to help the industry achieve food safety on a more cost-effective basis by suggesting a risk assessment for each field. It is a sensible idea. Every field in every place does not require the same regimen. Roy proposes to grade farms with a risk assessment of high, medium or low and then adjust the testing plan for each field based on the risk assessment grade. 1/30/2007

Guest Pundit — Traceability And The Need For A Common Language wanted to explore how technology could be used to enhance the industry’s ability to effectively trace products back to their source. We spoke with Gary Fleming, Vice President, Industry Technology and Standards at the Produce Marketing Association, who has been kind enough to contribute two Guest Pundit columns related to this important topic. Today we talk about the need for a common language to make traceback work. Tomorrow, we will talk about how to pair that language with technology. 1/30/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — NY Apple Fights To Protect Healthy Reputation got a letter from Jim Allen, President & CEO of the New York Apple Association, who notifies us that New York recently enacted first-of-its-kind legislation that requires all cider produced in the state to obtain a 5 log reduction of harmful pathogens and that New York is the only state that has this law. Jim’s letter speaks to several important issues, which we cover here. 1/30/2007

Science And Political Choice explains that what unites the Buyer-led Food Safety Effort, the efforts of the Western Growers Association, the new principles that United Fresh has elucidated and countless efforts by regional, state, commodity-specific and other national groups? One thing: SCIENCE. Yet this appeal to science is misplaced. Not only because our scientific knowledge is so limited in these areas, but because, even if we had perfect knowledge, this is mostly a matter of values. It is, in other words, an inherently political choice. 1/26/2007

Procedure vs. Substance finds there is an awful lot of public discussion going on regarding the procedure by which food safety standards shall be set. All these initiatives and many others focus on the kinds of procedures that will build regulatory and consumer confidence. Fair enough… and we support efforts to develop proper procedures. But in the end nobody will care about the procedure. What will rebuild regulatory and consumer confidence is long periods without outbreaks. That means that the substance of the food safety standards adopted is crucial. 1/26/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Role Of Produce Traders our article Cheaper Produce In Chinatown got a lot of attention, including this letter from Richard Kaiser, Principal of The Richard Kaiser Company, who points out the inefficiencies that result when speculation is reduced or prohibited. His point is well taken. One of the main differences between retailers and terminal market wholesalers when it comes to procurement is that, while retailers buy what they want, many wholesalers specialize in helping growers find outlets for what the growers need to sell. We suppose that in the end, efficiency will prevail, and that if the world finds it better to kill off the speculators, then it will do so. 1/26/2007

Petrified Or Paranoid? found the Mercury News has a columnist named Kim Boatman who has a bit of a problem: “Tempted by a spinach salad heaped with goodies at a local pizzeria the other night, I succumbed. Eating your veggies shouldn’t feel akin to bungee-jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, but I felt a little giddy with the risk, real or imagined.” The question for the industry is how many consumers are still holding back on purchasing spinach? And what are they substituting? And how long will this effect last? 1/25/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Traceability Is Part Of The Food Safety Solution shared a note from Scott Cernosek from Primary Package, Inc. who comments on the European Community’s regulations on tracing food “one step and one step down”. In fact, he devotes a whole page on his company’s website to “track and trace” issues. One thing Scott is absolutely correct about is that in many cases we don’t have to reinvent the “traceability” wheel. The mechanisms are already developed in other countries. 1/25/2007

United Calls For Mandatory, Federal, Uniform Food Safety Standards reports that the Board of Directors of United Fresh issued a statement today unanimously adopting a set of principles to shape our nation’s food safety regulatory process. The letter elucidates four principles: Uniformity — no regional programs, no state programs. All produce, imported and domestic, must follow acceptable safety standards. Mandatory, not voluntary — with federal government oversight. Standards set by government — not industry. Commodity-specific and based on science. This is an important statement of goals. It is polite to all parties but draws a line in the sand between the regional, voluntary, maybe one day mandatory, governed by the industry, standards that Western Growers Association has been pushing, and what United’s board will consider acceptable. 1/24/2007

Foodborne Outbreaks May Bring Opportunity To Increase Fiber Awareness wonders if it is possible that all this attention to deadly pathogens will rebound to the benefit of the produce industry? An article in The San Francisco Chronicle by Jeff D. Leach, the director of a Paleobiotics lab in New Orleans, Louisiana, holds out that possibility: “The friendly bacteria in our bodies are the first line of defense against invading pathogens, such as E. coli. Like any good soldier, they require food to fight the good fight. Dietary fiber is an important part of that nutrient base. Simply stated: Fiber is not food for us, it’s food for the bacteria that live in our gut.” 1/24/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Auditing Standards explains that we’ve been focusing attention lately on the issue of auditors. First in Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety Audits And Government Oversight we discussed the question of whether a state-run program made sense or if we weren’t better off with private auditing firms. Then in Pundit’s Mailbag — Auditor Qualification And Certification, a letter from Jeff Dlott of SureHarvest led us to discuss the issue of certification for auditors. Today we have a letter from a prominent third-party auditor, Bob Stovicek, PhD., President of Primus Group, providing amplification on the issue. 1/24/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Florida Tomato Committee’s Reggie Brown explains that the Florida Tomato Committee lost its battle to restrict sales of UglyRipe Brand tomatoes, but a more important long-term battle is to assure trade buyers and consumers safe product and, on that score, the industry is working hard to succeed. This interview, conducted by Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott, is part of a continuing series highlighting food safety efforts made by regional groups such as the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and commodity-specific groups such as the California Strawberry Commission. Today we hear from Reggie Brown, Manager of the Florida Tomato Committee and Executive Vice President of the Florida Tomato Exchange & Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. 1/23/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Auditor Qualification And Certification our piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety Audits And Government Oversight dealt with the proposal to set up a new state-run audit function in California. Some readers thought this an excellent place to kick off a discussion on the subject of auditor qualification and certification and we received this letter from Jeff Dlott, Ph.D., President & Chairman of SureHarvest. Jeff’s letter is incisive and raises a key point: “Right now there is no governance structure and corresponding policies in place for issues such as quality assurance of auditor personnel and processes; and handling disputes between auditors and auditees.” 1/23/2007

Pundit’s Letter To The Signatories Of The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative upon being given the chance to review the Good Agricultural Practices for Spinach and Leafy greens draft document, it became obvious that there is work to be done. As a result, the Pundit has decided to issue an Open Letter to the signatories of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. You can find the letter and the Signatories of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative here. 1/22/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Beef Industry Food Safety Council’s James “Bo” Reagan points out the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is endorsed by a substantial number of important buying organizations and is driving a great deal of food safety activity across the produce trade. Recently, it identified an organization outside the produce industry that was doing what it wanted to see done in produce. Yet most in the produce industry know little if anything about BIFSCO. What is it? How did it come about? How does it help the beef industry? To learn more, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out what we could about the organization and its relevancy to enhancing food safety in the produce industry from James “Bo” Reagan, Ph.D., Chairman of the Beef Industry Food Safety Council. 1/22/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety Audits And Government Oversight received a letter from a third-party auditor warning of a problem with the way the proposed California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Agreement and Marketing Order are structured in that there is no mechanism for forcing competitive pressure on the entities that obtain the funds. Our correspondent makes several other key points which we discuss here. 1/22/2007

Fresh Express Gives $2 Million: But Its Food Safety System May Be A Bigger Gift reveals Fresh Express has committed $2 million dollars to fund research into E. Coli 0157:H7 in produce. It is a substantial gift and just what the industry needs. The Pundit has read a lot of food safety plans now, and the core problem is that we know very little about E. coli 0157:H7 and thus don’t actually know if the things we propose will be effective or to what degree they can be effective. It also addresses a key question regarding Fresh Express and its role in the industry. Fresh Express is the largest player in the fresh-cut business. It has been spared from being implicated in any of the recent outbreaks. The reasonable question: Smart or lucky? 1/18/2007

Draft GAP Plan Shows Great Improvement…And Need For More Input mentions that United, PMA, WGA and others have been hard at work drafting the revised version of the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) document for spinach and leafy greens. The current version, published in April 2006, has been widely criticized as being watered down and non-specific. A team of top people in the industry has developed a draft to be used as the core of the new Good Agricultural Practice document for spinach and leafy greens. You can read the draft here. We’re posting the draft in the hope that the many readers we have with interest and expertise in this area will review it and contribute your thoughts on how it can be made better. This includes the many experts outside the U.S. who deal with such matters. 1/17/2007

Food Safety Concerns Clash With Organic Values agrees that everybody is in favor of food safety — right up till it bumps into something else they value. This article: “Farms May Cut Habitat Renewal Over E. coli Fears” in the San Francisco Chronicle has gotten many organic growers, who value programs that are geared toward encouraging biological diversity, questioning what will actually be required under the California Marketing Agreement and a later Marketing Order. As food safety moves from a generalized principle to detailed actions required by buyers or government, the willingness to cooperate is likely to go down fast as competing values enter the fray. 1/17/2007

FDA Points Finger At Dairy Farms In Taco John’s Outbreak reports that the FDA issued a statement regarding the E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak at Taco John’s Restaurants saying they: “have DNA-matched the strain of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria associated with the outbreak with two environmental samples gathered from dairy farms near a lettuce growing area in California’s Central Valley.” If this turns out to be the cause of the E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak at Taco John’s, we are seeing an example of why we have to look at not simply playing defense by testing water, putting up fences, etc., but also look at holding people responsible for controlling waste products generated on their property. 1/17/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: John Baillie Talks About GAPs And T&A finds that among the more stalwart defenders of the grower and of the Salinas Valley is John R. Baillie of the Jack T. Baillie Co., Baillie Family Farms and Tri-County Packing. Now Tanimura & Antle, a company John grows for, has come out with some new food safety rules that growers are expected to follow. To learn more about these rules and how growers perceive them, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with John. 1/17/2007

California Strawberry Industry Moves To Make Food Safe the California Strawberry Commission was already running hard on food safety, and created a new Issues and Food Safety Committee to build on its pre-existing Food Safety Program. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more from Mark Murai, President of the California Strawberry Commission. Efforts such as theirs will make food safer. Many in the industry think the world really won’t find any outbreaks acceptable and so they endorse “kill steps,” such as irradiation. 1/12/2007

Oh, No! U.S. Watercress Has A Salmonella Problem In Ireland reports that food safety problems in the U.S. produce industry are affecting our friends in Ireland. There has been a recall that Irish authorities believe can be traced to U.S. produced watercress. How do they know it was the U.S. produced watercress? And at what point did the watercress get salmonella on it? Who supplied the watercress? Is there a problem anywhere else with watercress? If any of our Irish readers can provide additional information, it is certainly appreciated. 1/12/2007

E-coli 0157:H7 Vaccine Approved For Use In Canada our piece, Fighting E. coli At The Source, discussed research in Canada regarding a new vaccine for cattle that could significantly reduce the level of E. coli 0157:H7 in cattle. Well that vaccine has now been approved for release in Canada. Of course, the way to motivate cattle owners to use such a vaccine would be to, as our letter writer urged yesterday, and as the Pundit earlier urged here, make the owners of cows legally responsible for the way they handle the manure. 1/11/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Arguing For Irradiation received a letter from Mark Beeler of Watsonville Produce in response to our article Irradiation Will Prevent Future Outbreaks. His letter taps into a growing sense in the industry that nothing that is done at the grower level will provide the level of certainty of safety that government and the public demand. The thought is that we need a guaranteed kill step. And the only one available is irradiation. 1/11/2007

Pundit Pulse — New Jersey Dept of Ag’s Al Murray exemplifies New Jersey as one of the most proactive states for food safety initiatives. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, found that the N.J. Department of Agriculture and the N.J. Department of Health and Senior Services announced formation of a Produce Safety Task Force “to protect New Jersey consumers and help local producers adapt to anticipated new produce-safety standards in the wake of several recent outbreaks of food-borne illness.” One central aspect is how food safety standards could be linked to use of the Jersey Fresh marketing campaign. Al Murray, NJDA Director of the Division of Marketing and Development said: “One of the things we feel is that while new standards and protocols may be coming down from the federal government, locally grown has been a huge byproduct of what happened with recent outbreak events. We see linking food safety to Jersey Fresh marketing as an opportunity for our growers. We want to help shape policy.” 1/10/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Oversights In Food Safety received letter from an important organic grower and marketer, Tom Russell, President of Dynasty Farms and Pacific International Marketing, which is very important for four reasons, First, an important organic grower and marketer is going on the record saying that all cow manure should be banned from produce fields. Second, he contends that cow manure is a bio-hazard deserving special handling. Third, he asks, in the context of antibiotics and their use, why we have E. coli 0157:H7 and why it is so virulent. Fourth, he says that we better look hard at irradiation and is urging a “Right to Irradiate” law. 1/10/2007

Food Safety Leadership Awards feels that with all the work being done to enhance food safety in the industry, perhaps we can win some awards and show how much effort is going into these initiatives, as today: “NSF International today announced the first call for nominations for its 2007 Food Safety Leadership Awards (FSLA) Program.” 1/9/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Farmers Are Not The Cause Of Food Safety Problems weighing in our coverage of the spinach/E. coli 0157:H7 crisis and food safety issues in general is Karl Kolb Ph.D., President and CEO of The High Sierra Group and the American Food Safety Institute, International, who sends this letter stating it is not the farmer causing these problems. It is quite a letter and Karl makes several key claims, one being that even after years of attention to food safety issues, most sprout producers are more lucky than food safety conscious. 1/9/2007

FDA’s Money Problems found that on Christmas day, the LA Times published an important article that really capsulated the dilemma the produce industry is dealing with. The piece is entitled, “Federal Science is Lacking on Food Contamination.” As the article points out, regulation and inspections are futile as we don’t know what the regulation should be or what standard we should inspect to meet. The problem is a lack of money for research. FDA doesn’t have enough money, and the food programs are getting squeezed partly because the drug component is getting a larger share of the budget. 1/5/2007

From A Victim’s Perspective saw that over the holiday the Contra Costa Times ran a profile looking at the spinach/E. coli crisis from the perspective of a woman who got very sick and almost died during the crisis. It is entitled, “California Produce Now Crop of Concern,” and is quite poignant. It also points to how continued consumer concern over produce safety may impact future sales. 1/5/2007

Food Safety Culture ran a piece recently explaining why those who had access to a satellite dish should have tried to view “Reducing Risk Factors In Retail and Foodservice.” Now the same program is available for easy video viewing with Real Media or Windows Media. There is a lot of interesting and valuable stuff here. Many in the industry will especially want to check out a presentation that includes Cas Tyba, Food Safety Manager of Big Y Foods, and others from Big Y dealing with how a supermarket can reduce food safety risk. 1/5/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — More On Manure received this letter from Bob Sanderson of Jonathan’s Sprouts regarding our piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Answers who asks, logically enough, how anyone can make a leap from a letter testifying they didn’t use manure or manure compost to urging the ban on the use of manure in growing spinach or leafy greens? Part of what the produce industry needs is simple but dramatic changes that will make consumers feel better about produce. One of the problems with all these committees developing good agricultural practices is that most of it is subtle and beyond the grasp of the consuming public. Simple rules: No cows within a mile of a spinach farm, no manure, compost, compost tea or any other form of manure on a field that is growing spinach or leafy greens. 1/5/2007

Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Maturing In More Ways Than One reports the list of Buyer-led Food Safety participants is almost three times as many signatories as the eight brave souls who were signed on at the start. The initial effort of the initiative was a letter sent to the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association and Western Grocers Association. We had some scepticism regarding the tone the project took in its initial letter. The deadline for action set in that initial letter was December 15, 2006. And just prior to that deadline, the expanded buyer’s group sent a new letter to the associations. Although not precisely humble, the new letter is significantly more restrained in tone than the first, demanding missive. The letter speaks for itself but contains three revelations not included in the initial letter. 1/4/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry — Ruby Tuesday’s Rick Johnson writes that as part of our effort to better understand food safety procedures at foodservice operators we’ve run a series of Pundit Pulses. Now Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, interviews Rick Johnson, Senior Vice President of Supply Systems with Ruby Tuesday for our first “grill and bar” concept. With a more diverse menu than a quick-service restaurant and a large scale, with company stores and franchises, Ruby Tuesday faces a range of food safety challenges. 1/4/2007

Publix And C.H. Robinson Join Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative finds the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative has picked up a couple of more important signatories. Garry Bergstrom, Business Development Director of Produce/Floral for Publix and Jim Lemke, Vice President, Produce for C.H. Robinson Worldwide, have signed onto the Initiative. Publix joining the Initiative is significant. For them to step out and accept the publicity that comes with signing something like this indicates a strong corporate priority to be a part of solving this food safety issue in the produce trade. Jim Lemke’s signature may be even more significant. C.H. Robinson also may play an intriguing role in this initiative. Conspicuous by its absence from the list of signatories is the largest produce retailer: Wal-Mart. 1/3/2007

Crisis Management writes that in countless seminars and articles, we are reminded of the need for every business to have a crisis management plan. Certainly the recent food safety issues have branded that lesson in the collective memory of the food industry. Pretty typical for these recommendations is that they urge each organization to appoint a single spokesperson for dealing with the media. However, our experience in dealing with these “spokespersons” over the past several months has led us to want to give a reminder: The purpose of answering press inquiries is to put them to rest. 1/3/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Taco Bell & FDA’s Rush To Judgment examines attempts by Taco Bell to rehabilitate its reputation. First they blamed scallions when, we now know, Taco Bell had no business making such an announcement. They also enlisted Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to have lunch at a Taco Bell in Philadelphia. Even the CDC’s involvement is very questionable. Cary Rubin, Vice President of Rubin Brothers on the New York City Terminal Market in Hunts Point, a long established firm well-known for representing many prominent brands, wrote to us to explain his frustration. 1/3/2007

Many States Are Weak At Reporting Foodborne Illnesses saw that a Scripps Howard News Service report finds that states are doing a wildly varying job when it comes to identifying the source of food and water borne illnesses. The report also explains why small, local producers often seem to have better food safety records. The implication of this study is that now that attention is being paid to this matter, state labs will be upgraded and under-reporting states such as Florida will identify many more outbreaks. 12/22/2006

Fighting E. coli At The Source feels that 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. 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. 12/21/2006

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Foodbuy’s Maurice Totty points out that foodservice operators are a difficult bunch for the produce industry to get in sync with. 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. 12/21/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Answers mentions that 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. 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 from Samantha Cabaluna, Senior Manager of Communications with Natural Selection Foods who gives us valuable information clarifying the transitional field and manure issue. 12/21/2006

The Cultural Contradictions Of Food Safety retells the tale of a farmer who, midway through harvest, was visited by an errant herd of cows and the harvesting company refused what was left. Several days later he was presented with a different buyer. It is easy to be morally righteous and note that there was a risk of contamination and that the farmer was morally obligated to disc the crop. Yet that is easy for anyone else to say. For a farmer, that crop is his livelihood. It seems that it is expecting too much virtue from people to depend on them abandoning their money in the field on the basis of a hypothetical risk. One answer is that if nobody will buy a crop leftover inexplicably in a field, then the moral hazard is moot. Resolving perverse financial incentives to take food safety risks is where we find real long term improvements in food safety. 12/20/2006

Listeria Video Available noticed the Association of Food & Drug Officials is making a video available at no charge called Control of Listeria Monocytogenes in Retail Establishments. Produced by the Department of Food Science at Penn State, the program is heavy on the deli side but valuable for all perishable departments. The Pundit thinks it underemphasizes the risk on raw produce, especially processed product, almost defining “Ready to Eat” as deli products. The truth is that concern over this pathogen is one of the major obstacles on fresh-cut fruit programs. It is a nasty bug too. It is estimated that 20% of the people who get Listeriosis die from it. 12/20/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — WGA’s Ambiguities our piece, WGA’s Food Safety Plan Gets Attacked, detailed CA State Senator Dean Florez’s attack on WGA’s proposal. We said that WGA had basically set itself up, as the proposal was neither what WGA had promised, nor a solution any industry critic will find acceptable. We received a helpful letter from Bob Martin, General Manager of Rio Farms, that in some ways reaches the crux of the problem. Bob makes several other points which we discuss here. To some extent WGA has to make dramatic changes to its own way of operating. It has always been a quiet, highly effective group that works behind the scenes. But the food safety issue is too high profile for that approach. The very fact that we learned about WGA’s submission of the legislation from a California Legislator and not from the WGA indicates a need for a reassessment of WGA’s outreach program. 12/20/2006

WGA’s Food Safety Plan Gets Attacked examines how Western Growers Association believes mandatory regulation would both solve the food safety problem and appease critics. So they seek to establish a California Leafy Greens Products Handler Marketing Agreement. The basic idea is that there will be a board approving a set of standards. Handlers pay a fee, agree to follow the rules and, in turn, can use a special mark on their products. Two things that stand out: A) Participation is voluntary, and B) The board will consist of between 7 and 13 growers, processors and others in the business; possibly there will be one representative of the public. It is not shocking that criticism began pouring in as soon as the hearing was scheduled. 12/19/2006

Olive Garden And The Norovirus reports an outbreak at the Olive Garden restaurant in Indiana has been identified as being caused by a norovirus. Previously known as “Norwalk-like virus,” this is often implicated in illness on cruise ships and it is highly contagious. It is the second most commonly reported illness, after the common cold, in the United States — around 23 million cases of acute gastroenteritis each year. Prevention is pretty clear: Can norovirus infections be prevented? 12/19/2006

More PR Fluff From Taco Bell And Taco John’s explains the PR strategy followed by both Taco Bell and Taco John’s seems to be from the same playbook and mostly focuses on impressions rather than substance. Both used their daughters as fodder for their PR wars. First the President of Taco Bell used his daughter to publicize the chain’s recovery, then the President and CEO of Taco John’s used his daughter to the same purpose. The decision of both to use their executives’ daughters in this matter isn’t just a matter of poor taste, it is an obfuscation. It is an attempt to provide a reassurance that isn’t justified by the facts. 12/19/2006

Irradiation Will Prevent Future Outbreaks pinpoints the core problem with ALL food safety initiatives currently being proposed for the industry is that NONE of them guarantee against another outbreak. Since this is the case, and no outbreak is acceptable, the only possible answer is we need a kill step. The only viable one is irradiation. With excerpt from Wall Street Journal editorial page in which Dr. Michael Osterholm speaks out in favor of irradiation. 12/19/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Organics And Manure reprints a pointed letter from Bob Sanderson of Jonathan’s Sprouts responding to Jeff Hitchcock’s letter regarding organic production and the possibility that the land on which the tainted spinach was grown was, in fact, organically grown and marketed as conventional due to the three-year time passage required for the conversion of conventionally grown land to organic production. Bob also raises the issue of proper manure composting practices. We think the whole notion of using manure in this day and age is somewhat barbaric, and the most effective consumer confidence building techniques are simple ones. So we would think the wisest course is for the industry to agree to ban the use of manure, composted or not, in commercial agriculture. 12/19/2006

Salmonella — Say It Ain’t So! reports U.S. health officials are investigating a nationwide outbreak of salmonella, and a CDC source has confirmed to the Pundit that produce is implicated in the outbreak but will not confirm what type of produce. The outbreak has sickened at least 172 people in 18 states and left 11 people hospitalized. Little information so far and, thankfully, nobody has died. 11/1/2006

Canada Opens Door To More, But Not All, US Spinach mentions that when last we checked in, Canada had imposed a ban on importing U.S. spinach. Now it has announced that it will accept U.S. spinach except for product grown in San Benito and Monterey counties. The Pundit has expressed mixed feelings on this matter. To some extent, there may be some protectionism here, but in another sense the FDA was so illogical, one day claiming this massive problem, then the next day lifting the advisory not to eat spinach without much explanation, that Canada really was guilty of taking the FDA more seriously than the FDA did. 11/1/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Acceptance of Risk deals with two interesting letters responding to two different articles, yet are subtly related. Bob Sanderson, President of Jonathan’s Sprouts, Inc. weighs in on our piece, PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds, discussing the underlying nature of HACCP and its meaning in relation to fresh food. Rick Russo of Tanimura & Antle provides an interesting perspective in which he deduces that the fresh produce industry has a fatality rate 360 times lower than that of the aviation industry. If the regulators on aviation can accept the idea of managing policy to reduce fatalities and consumers are willing to still fly planes, maybe the whole way we look at risk on field-grown crops needs to be reexamined. 11/1/2006

Taco Bell’s PR Fiasco finds that it seems increasingly likely that PR executives or advisers to Taco Bell profoundly misunderstood the nature of foodborne illness outbreaks and that, in their quest to win back customers for Taco Bell, they both threw their produce vendors to the wind and put Taco Bell in a more difficult position. The Wall Street Journal ran a piece pointing out that at the exact same time when Taco Bell announced its “presumptive positive” result on green onions, it also had presumptive positive results on another item. 12/15/2006

Taco John’s Drops Its Produce Vendor Too mentions we haven’t written about a separate E. coli outbreak that has been going on in the Midwest at Taco John’s, or its decision to drop its produce vendor, Bix Produce Company. Despite the oddity of two taco chains having outbreaks at the same time, the testing indicates they are different outbreak strains. In order to understand the story better, we had Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, talk to both Jon Austin, Senior Vice President, Fleishman-Hillard, a PR agency brought in specifically to deal with the situation for Bix Produce and a Brian Dixon, Vice President of Marketing at Taco John’s, who shared the following information. This business of dumping one’s produce vendor the minute there is an outbreak is getting bizarre. 12/15/2006

Another E. Coli Outbreak — This One In Washington State wonders, Taco Bell in the Northeast; Taco John’s in the Midwest. Anyone know any taco places in the Chelan-Douglas Health District in Washington State? The plot thickens… 12/15/2006

Pundit Special Science Report: Part 1 — Food Safety Vulnerabilities In Yuma And Salinas asks what do we really know about E. coli and the growing end of the business? With everyone focused on green onions, it’s worth noting that we do not fully understand the cause of the spinach/E. coli outbreak. There was a lot of attention paid to Salinas and possible problems with that growing area. Now that production has shifted to Yuma, we wanted to assess the vulnerabilities in the region and visit with academic researchers in Yuma as well as Salinas working to understand the horticultural roots of foodborne illness outbreaks. To kick off the effort, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, spoke to Jorge Fonseca Post-Harvest Specialist at the University of Arizona, Yuma Agriculture Extension Service. 12/15/2006

Pundit Special Science Report: Part 2 — The Science Of Waterborne Bacteria in addition to exploring the differences in environmental conditions and growing practices between Salinas and Yuma, we still wanted to know more about Yuma and particularly water issues there, so Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, spoke with Charles Sanchez of the Yuma Ag Extension Service and Director and Professor of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences at the University of Arizona, Trevor Suslow of UC Davis and Richard Smith of the Cooperative Extension in Monterey County, California. 12/15/2006

Pundit Special Science Report: Part 3 — Product Testing At Natural Selection Foods & McEntire Produce recognizes that the first two parts of this report covered the subject of product testing, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to get “real world” application of product testing from the folks at the epicenter of the spinach/E. coli crisis, Natural Selection Foods, which now tests product as it comes in from the farm. Mira spoke with Samantha Cabaluna, Senior Manager of Communications at Natural Selection Foods. And we finish our Pundit Special Science Report with insights into another processor’s program for product testing. In the first part of our Special Report, Yuma Post-Harvest Specialist Jorge Fonseca referenced a long-established program at McEntire Produce in Columbia, South Carolina. Mira touched base with R.C. “Buddy” McEntire, Jr., and got him to give us a little background on his food safety efforts. 12/15/2006

It’s Not Scallions, It’s Shredded Lettuce — They Think, Maybe reports that the CDC issued a statement saying that “Evaluation of all these data indicates that shredded lettuce consumed at Taco Bell restaurants in the northeastern United States was the most likely source of the outbreak.” So their best guess now is shredded lettuce, meaning the poor guys at Boskovich Farms were implicated for nothing. The Pundit, though, is not so certain the CDC is correct on its calling it lettuce. 12/14/2006

Where is Yum!Brands’ David C. Novak? received a bunch of messages today from people telling us about catching the President of Taco Bell on television trying to reassure the public that eating at Taco Bell is safe. It almost certainly is safe. But he also keeps repeating that as part of their effort to make sure their food is safe, they changed their produce supplier. This is really a horrid route for Taco Bell to take. Where is the CEO of Yum!Brands? David C. Novak is the CEO of Yum!Brands. The guy they are trotting around from Taco Bell is a subordinate of his. 12/14/2006

Spinach Take Two — This time It’s Salmonella thinks a salmonella finding on a small sample of Texas-grown, Canadian packed Queen Victoria brand curly spinach at one retail store in Atlantic Canada wouldn’t be news if it wasn’t for the hyper-sensitivity to foodborne illness and spinach that we are living in right now. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to get the full story. She spoke to both a representative of the processor and the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Joel Ippolito, President of Ippolito Fruit and Produce, Burlington, Ontario. 12/14/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Ground received a note regarding our coverage of food safety and the spinach/E. coli crisis from Jeff Hitchcock, Vice President of Boggiatto Produce, Inc. who calls out organic growers using transitional ground. When people heard E. coli and Natural Selection Foods, poorly composted manure was blamed. There was real fear that it could destroy the whole organic movement. Although the government has focused on wild pigs since the same strain of E. Coli 0157:H7 found on the spinach bags was found in the digestive tract of a wild pig, it proves nothing. It is possible both the E. coli 0157:H7 on the spinach bags and in the digestive tract of the pig could have had a common origin — such as incorrectly composted manure used to fertilize the organically grown acreage that was being marketed as conventional since they didn’t have their three-year transition finished. 12/14/2006

Taco Bell’s Blame Game noticed Taco Bell ran a series of ads in USA Today, the New York Times and other papers. Greg Creed, President of Taco Bell, signed the ad which said that Taco Bell food is safe. This is almost certainly true. Of the countless servings Taco Bell has served over the decades, only an infinitesimal number has ever resulted in any illness anyone knows about. Still, in the ads Taco Bell seems reluctant to really take responsibility for its own food safety program. 12/13/2006

Wholesalers, Independents May Get Windfall From Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative points out that one category of buyer missing from the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is the regional produce wholesaler or distributor. Regional wholesalers cannot demand that product be grown and packed to their own specs or have inspectors and auditors the way Kroger or Safeway or Costco, Sysco or Supervalu do. So the tack the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative has taken, which is to ask the associations to set standards, is great for smaller wholesalers because they can “piggyback” on the initiative, announcing that they won’t sell anything without an audit report saying it meets the new standards. 12/13/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Eliminating E. coli 0157:H7 heard from an experienced person in the food processing industry who sent in this note. Although the connection between antibiotics and E. coli 0157:H7 is hypothetical, this letter raises a broader point. The industry has treated the E. coli/spinach crisis as its problem, and countless committees are meeting to come up with rules that will enable the produce trade to produce safer food. Many are proposing mandatory regulation on produce growers and processors. But all this is an inherently unsatisfactory solution. No steps the industry can take can guarantee safe produce. Maybe we need to look at the issue another way. 12/13/2006

Taco Bell Makes Ready Pac Its Scapegoat saw that Taco Bell announced that it has dropped its produce supplier in the Northeast, which was Ready Pac. In its press release, the company said: “The company also switched produce suppliers in the region even though it has no indication they were associated with the illness. ‘We are not willing to take any risk with the public’s safety…’” But, of course, firing a company for which there is “…no indication they were associated with the illness…” is not going to help the public’s safety. In fact it is a PR stunt that evades responsibility by attempting to shift it to a third party. 12/12/2006

California Slow To Action On Taco Bell/Green Onion Case explains that we cannot definitively state that green onions were the culprit that transmitted E. coli 0157:H7 to restaurant patrons. It is a fluke that we even have anything more that a vague suspicion. The Health Department did its own tests and Taco Bell hired a private lab. Taco Bell’s results came back positive for E. coli, a result the authorities couldn’t confirm. But that was enough for Taco Bell to decide to pull all green onions from its restaurants. The State of California, though, seems to be suddenly defensive about California agriculture. 12/12/2006

New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety notes that the organic community has been struggling with the entry of companies such as Wal-Mart into the organic business. The mystery fades only when you understand that for many organic activists, the elimination of synthetic pesticides is only one goal and a modest one at that. Instead they want to use the organic industry as a way of establishing a supply chain that is aligned with a value structure. So, although Wal-Mart may sell a lot of organics, it won’t build the kind of world these activists yearn for. Now, however, in the face of so many food safety problems, we have to wonder if the culture that pushes to reduce costs is the culture that can most effectively enhance food safety. 12/12/2006

A Little Food Safety Irony discovered that even the Food Administrators have to eat… and some get sick. 12/12/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Aligned Supply Chains And Statistical Quirks heard today from Alan Siger of Consumers Produce Co. responding to our piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costs and, more generally to the Pundit’s position that a more closely aligned supply chain is the most likely route to better food safety. The constant repetition that foodservice does a better job of food safety than retail and that an aligned supply chain can produce better results starts to seem questionable when you have a large foodservice chain with an aligned supply chain involved with such a problem. Yet we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. We may be experiencing nothing more than the tyranny of large numbers. 12/12/2006

Will Green Onions Ever Get Back On The Menu Of Taco Bell? found out that Ready Pac processed specially packed green onions just for Taco Bell and has stopped production and shipment of green onions. Boskovich Farms, which sold green onions to Ready Pac, said it is working with everybody to figure it all out. So far the link to green onions is not confirmed. The big loss for spinach during its E. coli crisis was in the reformulation of spring mixes and menu changes at restaurants. Those types of changes represent business lost forever. One wonders if they will ever put green onions back on the menu? One thing is certain… all the initiatives for food safety better ask hard questions on the issue we raised yesterday. 12/8/2006

Jamba Juice’s Stand-up Attitude Out-Shines Lysteria Problem identifies an excellent contrast to the odd way Taco Bell has been handling its E. coli problem is the more exemplary way that Jamba Juice has been handling its problem regarding frozen strawberries by placing a notice on the front page of its website. This means that the average consumer who doesn’t think to navigate to “press releases” knows where to go to find information. They are not hiding from the truth. 12/8/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costs heard from the scion of a well known, long-established, farming family, Jack Vessey, Vice President/Marketing Director with Vessey & Company, in response to our article, FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered who fumes over just one of the many varied costs associated with required food safety practice. To use Jack’s example, placing traps every 50 feet are just a number. If a rodent were found to cause a foodborne illness outbreak and the field had trapping stations 50 feet apart, the processors would, henceforth, demand trapping stations 25 feet apart. Barring mandatory regulation, there are three ways this could go. Two will work out fine for Vessey; the third is the catastrophe all good growers are fearing. 12/8/2006

FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered reports FMI, the supermarket industry association, held its conference, “Leafy Greens: Building Confidence in a Safer Product”, in Phoenix and reports are starting to come in. One large chain retailer explained his take here. The Pundit had several discussions with consumer reporters at leading newspapers and TV stations, and these reporters are livid at FMI for not allowing consumers, via the media, to know what was going on at this conclave. Closed meetings behind locked doors don’t smell to consumers like a meeting dedicated to protecting their safety. It smells like a meeting where people are going to try to get away with doing less than they could. Our retail correspondent’s report of the meeting raises four substantial issues. 12/7/2006

Green Onions Removed From Taco Bell recounts how first it was an outbreak of unknown origin, then we learned some of those sickened were vegetarians. Now Taco Bell has issued a statement explaining that it had removed green onions from its restaurants. Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum! Brands, is still pretending it is not involved, with nothing on its web site. Although Yum! Brands has a good reputation for food safety practices, we will learn exactly how aligned Taco Bell’s supply chain is. The produce industry may get a real black eye on this one. 12/7/2006

Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline) shows how our attempts to understand the reasoning of buyers who have elected not to join the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative have taken us down many paths. Now we hear from a buyer who is concerned about the situation the industry will find itself in as a result of the letter written by the signatories to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, to PMA, United and WGA. The decision of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative to not act on its own but to request the produce associations to act was always problematic. There are nine days to go before the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative deadline. Will the associations meet the deadline? 12/6/2006

Uh Oh! Some Of The Customers Sickened At Taco Bell Were Vegetarians received word that investigators’ focus on the source of an E. coli outbreak at Taco Bell has shifted to non-meat products because several of those sickened report that they are vegetarians. In the midst of all that has come to light in the investigation, Taco Bell seems to be taking a very unusual PR path on this crisis. 12/6/2006

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Diversified Restaurant Systems to better understand the elements of effective food safety programs, we are running a series of Pundit Pulses focused on foodservice operators as the industry consensus is that foodservice is ahead of retail in the quality of food safety programs. Today’s interviewee, Michael Spinazzola of Diversified Restaurant Systems, represents a larger organization as his company supplies the Subway chain. He also has a PMA connection, serving on the foodservice board of PMA. Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, spoke to Michael about food safety. The Pundit extends much appreciation to Michael for helping the industry by giving some insight into his thoughts on food safety. We take away three big concepts. 12/6/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing World prints an important letter from Tim O’Connor, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board. It is important both because it comes from someone with experience outside of the produce trade, and because it draws on the increasing recognition that food safety efforts can’t be limited to spinach but, inevitably, must address issues throughout the produce trade. Tim’s letter is a salient reminder that the world has changed and buying practices have to change too. Just as the British regulatory scheme didn’t protect its people from BSE and the USDA scheme didn’t protect against Jack in the Box, no scheme, mandatory or voluntary, guarantees food safety. That means no scheme can excuse buyers from their responsibility to act on behalf of their customers. 12/6/2006

Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job? in the course of our discussions with buyers who didn’t elect to sign onto the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, we’ve entertained many criticisms. Some of the buyers also weren’t thrilled with the Western Growers Association’s proposal. Several objected to the two-stage method of the proposal; first a California Marketing Order and then some time in the future, a Federal Marketing Order. One buyer who wrote to us here felt this could lead to a discrimination between growing areas, but if it is federal regulation you want, the most likely route would be a successful state program. Our fear, however, is that the WGA’s proposal may not be rigorous enough. 12/5/2006

Taco Bell’s E. Coli Woes reports the recent news that Yum Brands’ quick-serve Mexican concept Taco Bell was implicated in an E. coli outbreak was, of course, distressing. Although, so far, they have not identified the dangerous E. coli H0157:H7 strain found during the spinach crisis, many people have been hospitalized. Although initially discovered in central New Jersey, the outbreak was found in Long Island restaurants as well. The fact that it has been linked to outlets in two states indicates it wouldn’t be a store-level employee. 12/5/2006

Spinach And The Consequences Of Buyers’ Actions continues our exploration of reasons why some buyers have declined to join the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, and so far we’ve uncovered several concerns. Today we are going to hear from a buyer who thinks that the effort focuses excessively on spinach as well as an executive on the buy-side who thinks that the buyer-led initiative hasn’t addressed the consequences of their actions, We talk about higher standards as if all growers are capable of meeting them. It is not true. Also, higher price levels may be permanently necessary to pay for the enhanced focus on food safety. 12/1/2006

Great Deal At The Refrigerated Foods Association Convention says that, despite all the news about fresh produce, most food safety issues involve other perishable items. And the association to help people in the prepared, refrigerated food field is the Refrigerated Foods Association. We’ve written previously to urge appropriate folks to check out their conference. Now we are told about a special deal that new manufacturing members can take advantage of. 12/1/2006

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins revisits our series of Retail Pulses in which we spoke with leading retailers to see how they were dealing with different facets of the spinach situation. One of the things that has come across in the course of discussion on the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is that most shippers think the foodservice industry is light years ahead of retail on food safety. We thought we would conduct a Foodservice Operator Pulse to see what foodservice operators think. As such Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, spoke with Janet Erickson, Vice President of Purchasing and Quality Assurance for Del Taco and PMA Executive Committee Chairman and also Daniel Crimmins, Purchasing Manager at the University of Notre Dame. 12/1/2006

Speaking Of Produce Washes reports that Tennessee State University did a presentation entitled: “Using Consumer and laboratory Research for the Development of a Printed and On-line Brochure Promoting Consumption of Safer Fruits and Vegetables.” Basically, it is a presentation about how they researched what are good practices for consumers and then created a brochure, both in print and online, to promote both consumption and safe handling of produce. Part of the research focused on the efficacy of washes and the conclusions were as follows. 12/1/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sprout Lessons Echo Food Safety Dilemma admits we are fortunate here at the Pundit to have been able to tap into the expertise of Bob Sanderson, President of Jonathan’s Sprouts. Bob’s lived through all this, and so he is more attuned to the nuances of food safety issues than many in the produce industry. He gave the introductory talk at the convention of the International Sprout Growers Association on July 7, 2006, long before the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative and the spinach crisis, which we excerpt here. The key issue is food safety. We don’t want people to promote food safety as a competitive edge, but if you can’t tell consumers that this bag of spinach is worth paying more for, well, why would they pay more for it? And if consumers won’t pay more for it, why would retailers? 12/1/2006

Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives expands our coverage of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative today with a note from a buy-side executive who thinks that self-interest is starting to play a role in all these buy-side efforts with national organizations promoting their own food safety and quality certification programs. Isn’t the most likely result of all this a panoply of competitive standards? And if everyone is busy defending their own turf, isn’t it likely that consumer interests will suffer. 11/30/2006

What’s In A Name? mentions that, with all the talk about E. coli, the Pundit hopes everyone paid appropriate respects yesterday. November 29, 1857, was the birth date of none other than Theodor Escherich, a pediatrician who did pioneering work on the relationship of intestinal bacteria to the physiology of digestion in infants. 11/30/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulation shares a letter from Al Zuckerman, Executive Director of ProMark Group, Inc. furthering our discussion of the Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative. In terms of the difficulties on spinach and leafy greens, the reason so many are now emphasizing mandatory regulation is that the spinach crisis taught us that the industry may be punished based on its weakest link. What did it matter if a particular company maintained a perfect supply chain? They got closed down with the rest of the industry. There are so many small growers that are not members of PMA, United or WGA. How do we make sure they are in compliance? The obvious answer is that the industry needs to do three things... 11/30/2006

Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative continues our coverage of the attention that the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is attracting. We thought it worth talking to some buyers who didn’t think it was a good idea. Yesterday we ran a piece in which buyers who declined to sign focused on the public nature of the project, including outreach to the consumer media, as a mistake. Our correspondent today shares three points, that food safety protocols should be mandatory, it is the FDA’s responsibility to determine what’s safe and that American’s respect for the FDA’s proclamations should be protected. These are reasonable positions, but they may raise as many questions as they answer. 11/29/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again finds today’s correspondent is, like the Pundit, another ancient soul, but on the production side, who gets sick at the notion that buyers are going to lecture him about food safety. He gives a little history right here by discussing the resistance long ago to “best if used by” dating. It is clear that the buyers don’t really perceive how offensive to many on the production side their efforts are. This is partly because of the implication that buyers care about food safety and producers do not and partly because the history of these issues is that the buyer community has traditionally, as this writer’s story points out, resisted all efforts to increase safety that might increase retail shrink or cost retailers money. 11/29/2006

Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative explains that we’ve devoted extensive space to analyzing the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. Despite the impressive list of signatories, there are many important organizations on both the foodservice and retail side of the business that have not signed. The Pundit has been hearing from many of those who declined to sign. Many buyers tell us they are objecting to two things: The notion that growers have to somehow be compelled to produce safe food is both not true and damaging to the industry, and many see the effort as misguided and, perhaps, self-serving, particularly the decision to promote the effort to the consumer media. 11/28/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Thankfulness says that with Thanksgiving around the corner, the Pundit gives thanks for having readers such as Harris Cutler of Race-West Company. Harris’ letter is both thoughtful and revealing. As to Harris’ kind words for the Pundit, we only wish we had more hours to deal with the fascinating issues this wonderful industry must contend with. As long as readers like Harris keep writing, we find this work not taxing, but invigorating. 11/22/2006

Thanksgiving’s Feast: Natural Carcinogens wonders if now that we are all done with our Thanksgiving feast, we might want to know what was in it. The ever useful Elizabeth Whelan, President of the American Council on Science and Health, wrote a piece that reminded us that for all the attention paid to organic food, those who focus on eating organic for health reasons have to address the fact that natural chemicals are every bit as carcinogenic as are synthetic chemicals. 11/22/2006

The Perishable Pundit’s Unsung Heroes Award feels that it seems appropriate that the industry should give thanks to those who perform yeoman’s service for the trade. So on this Thanksgiving Eve, we launch a new occasional series for the Pundit highlighting people who do important work, but are not often recognized. In the aftermath of the spinach crisis, it wasn’t even close to select our first three honorees. In this situation, there were also countless hours of difficult, technical work. Discussions with government agencies, with industry technical teams and much more — all to get the spinach re-start up and going. Many staff members contributed to this, of course, but our Unsung Heroes were the ones who really carried water for the trade through this technical process. 11/22/2006

Spinach Farmers Won’t Be Thanking Certain Processors This Holiday thinks that probably the best single guide to the FDA’s thinking about the spinach crisis is the testimony of Robert E. Brackett, Director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, United States Senate. It contains a fascinating revelation. 11/22/2006

If You Are Eating Out For Thanksgiving… found hidden within Bob Brackett’s testimony before a Senate committee is this doozy: “On September 14, FDA held a press teleconference and issued a press release alerting consumers about the outbreak, stating that preliminary epidemiological evidence suggested that bagged fresh spinach may be the cause and advising consumers to avoid bagged fresh spinach.” Here is a simple way that retailers could help the industry: All retailers should sign a pledge that no packaged product bought for retail sale will be used loose in their stores. 11/22/2006

Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis reports that we’ve been dealing extensively with the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. Growing out of initial conversations between Dave Corsi of Wegmans and Tim York of the Markon Cooperative, the Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative was quickly endorsed by nine important buying organizations, now another 10 important retailers have added their signatures to the letter, all of whom we list here. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, talked to Tim York to get an update on the progress of the Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative. 11/21/2006

Capitol Report: United Helps Coordinate ‘Spinach Fest’ learned that United Fresh has been hard at work on Capitol Hill as Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) hosted a “Spinach Is Back” Congressional luncheon with a number of Administration and public health officials to raise awareness that fresh, safe spinach has returned to store shelves, and is an important part of a healthy diet. The “Spinach Fest” got at least some local publicity in Representative Farr’s district, which was good for him as earlier in the crisis the Representative tried to hold a spinach-eating news conference and had to cancel it as he couldn’t find a retailer selling spinach to eat. 11/21/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Woeful Costco Experience received an insightful note from Al Zuckerman, Executive Director at ProMark Group, Inc. in response to our Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Westborn Markets, Schnucks, Wal-Mart. Al’s wife was given a pretty ridiculous answer after inquiring with the produce clerk as to where all the spinach had gone. The Pundit had a similar encounter at a restaurant recently. To those who are open to learning, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the spinach crisis. How does an organization such as Costco make sure its staff doesn’t give out wrong information? More ambitious: How does it make sure they do give out accurate information? 11/21/2006

Tale Of Two Buyers points out that one of the most difficult things to do is to align corporate culture and compensation programs with the goals of management. When we speak to VPs of Perishables or VPs of Produce at major retailers, all are very focused right now on food safety. But we are also hearing from shippers about a “disconnect” between the goals that executives are setting for their organizations and the way the actual buyers are reacting. Here is a fairly common scenario. 11/17/2006

GAPs/GMPs And HACCP Plans recalls that at the end of October, the United Fresh Produce Association distributed to its members a take on the spinach crisis by President and CEO Tom Stenzel. One part of the letter struck the Pundit, and so we asked Tom for clarification, and Tom was kind enough to send a thorough response. If the problem is faulty HACCP plans, maybe a solution is to require professional expertise in these plans. Maybe every grower should be required to have a HACCP plan developed and reviewed on a set schedule by a professional. Perhaps we should also be looking for a “safe harbor” provision in any ultimate plan. A grower or processor who follows the legal minimums required and has a HACCP plan drawn up in good faith by licensed professionals and who implements the plan diligently should not be liable if even these best efforts don’t happen to prevent an outbreak. 11/17/2006

Pundit Hall Of Shame declines to mention the name of the magazine from whose picture we display here in order to protect the guilty, but this publication, which likes to claim expertise in “merchandising,” selected this display as an example of great merchandising. As the publication wrote: “Urban Fare in Vancouver, British Columbia, knows that a wire rack serves as a great vehicle to cross-merchandise tomatoes with salad mixes.” Actually, a wire rack sitting on the floor without refrigeration is a great vehicle to grow pathogens on your salad greens now that you’ve basically tossed the cold chain out the window. 11/16/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Kill Steps And Irradiation excerpts comments on irradiation from industry leaders and a letter from an executive at a major food processor who says without a kill step in our processing plants, small measures will do us no good. FDA has been sitting on the petition to allow irradiation on bagged produce for over half a decade avoiding headaches over consumer acceptance of irradiation. Are the industry and consumers willing to pay more or be open to new technologies to ensure safer product? 11/16/2006

PulseNet, And The Pundit, In The News feels that one of the useful things the Pundit can do is try and advance public policy as it relates to food safety. Sometimes this means being critical of our regulatory agencies. One of the most useful things that could be done to contain the impact of any future outbreaks would be to improve the survey methodology used by the FDA. Another area we are working on is making sure that PulseNet, the national network by which food safety outbreaks are identified as such, is open at least during the hours of the state laboratories that contribute data. 11/15/2006

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Westborn Markets, Schnucks, Wal-Mart in response to industry inquiries, we launched a Pundit Pulse series to ascertain the way the spinach crisis is impacting sales at retail. Mira Slott, Special Investigator and Special Projects Editor for the Pundit, went to work. Are sales recovering? How fast? Are other produce items benefiting? What are people doing that works? As always the Pundit expresses great appreciation to those retailers willing to share their experiences with the whole trade. In today’s Pundit Pulse, we reached a store-level manager at Westborn Markets in Dearborn, Michigan. Every so often we like to go to the store level where so many things VPs think are happening, don’t happen. In this case we found a problem with outdated store-level signage. 11/15/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action in response to our piece, Buyer-led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question of Buyer Commitment, we received a number of phone calls as well as this letter from a well-respected member of the shipper community. This is an incredibly valuable letter, so much so we are going to deal separately with each of these six issues raised by our correspondent in the days to come. 11/14/2006

FMI Steps Into The Food Safety Fray comments that here at the Pundit, we’ve been focused quite heavily on the role buyers can play in helping the industry produce safer produce. Now FMI is stepping into the game, organizing a food safety conference on December 5, 2006. We sent Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Lawrence C. Edwards, Director Food Safety Programs, and Bill Greer, Director of Communications, at the Food Marketing Institute. One super big mistake: Media have been banned from the conference. 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. 11/10/2006

Farm-to-Fork Food Safety Resources extends another hat tip to Lou Cooperhouse, Director at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, for taking the time to provide some excellent resources for the industry that we share here. 11/10/2006

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Bigg’s Marvin Lyons received a call recently from Bruce McEvoy, Director of Global Affairs for Seald Sweet. Bruce was interested in knowing about how sales at retail are progressing on spinach, bagged salads and other items in light of the food safety issues the industry has been facing. In response, we are going to run a series, starting here, of Pundit Pulses. These are interviews conducted by Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, focused on exactly this issue. The first one is with Marvin Lyons, produce director, of the Bigg’s division of Supervalu. 11/9/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Grower received this thoughtful missive from Mark Munger of Andrew Williamson Fresh Produce responding to, Opportunity For Buyers’ Food Safety Initiative, and who has been concerned that buyers have put too much responsibility for food safety into the hands of the growers. If buyers are going to be effective in helping improve food safety standards, they have to care about food safety, not indemnifications. The problem with many growing operations is they only receive one or two inspections a season, and often they are scheduled and planned. If you find yourself preparing for an inspection, you are not implementing a proper food safety program. It is a competitive necessity for the produce industry to make sure all sub-par producers know they will have no outlet for their product and that buyers truly demand great food safety practices — which means they won’t buy, at any price, from companies that don’t follow approved procedures. 11/8/2006

NRA Forms Produce Safety Working Group The National Restaurant Association has formed the Produce Safety Working Group to develop new food safety standards for both growers and distributors who supply fresh produce to restaurants. NRA is being secretive and doesn’t want to identify the names of the 20 foodservice operators contributing staff to this effort. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, interviewed Dr. Donna Garren, VP of Health and Safety Regulatory Affairs for the National Restaurant Association in Washington, D.C. 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. This initiative seems a way to move in that direction. 11/7/2006

FDA Focuses On Retail And Foodservice Food Safety mentions that one of the issues we’ve been dealing with is that food safety does not stop at the production of the product, and so retailers and foodservice operators need to take action to reduce their own contribution to foodborne illness. Apparently the FDA also has some concerns in this regard, as they have announced a new satellite broadcast. 11/7/2006

Erratum published a piece called Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t, in which we linked to a quote and paper by Robert A. LaBudde, Adjunct Professor of Food Science at North Carolina State University and President of Least Cost Formulations, Ltd, who, in comparing the number of diarrhea bouts in the US to the number of lightning strike deaths, listed the strike death total as 28,500. Sensing an error, the ever vigilant Pundit reader Louis D. Albright, Professor of Biological and Environmental Engineering and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University, helped us in our quest to reach the correct statistic. 11/7/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — United’s President/CEO Responds (Part 2) mentioned the other day, United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel was kind enough to send the Pundit a letter which we addressed in two parts. Today we tackle part two in which we review the main body of Tom’s letter, dealing with some comments the Pundit wrote regarding the relationship between our associations’ government affairs efforts and the regulatory agencies. Tom doesn’t actually quote any offending passage but, as best as we can tell, he got a bit peeved as a result of a section from our article PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds. Reasonable people can differ, but progress for the industry requires civil discourse and respect for those whose opinions may differ from your own. 11/7/2006

Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse… Or Won’t highlights a paper by Robert A. LaBudde, an Adjunct Professor of Food Science at North Carolina State University and President of Least Cost Formulations, Ltd., a food industry consultancy. The paper says the Centers for Disease Control’s estimate that there are 70,000,000 individuals who get foodborne illness each year may be way off. About 80% of the foodborne illness outbreaks the CDC identifies are due to unsubstantiated “unknown causes” and thus may not exist at all. The paper was done in 1999, so the data is a little old but this section seemed relevant as the industry discusses the issue of food safety. 11/3/2006

Broader Concern For Food Safety extends a hat tip to Lou Cooperhouse, director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, for passing along this slideshow entitled: “Spinach Outbreak as Part of Broader Concerns about Producer Safety — An FDA Perspective.” It is by Robert L. Buchanan of the FDA’s Center For Food Safety And Applied Nutrition. Take a look at this presentation here. 11/3/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — CPMA’s President Sets the Record Straight shares our pleasure in publishing our first letter from outside of the United States, from Dan Dempster, President of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, who wanted to clarify a point made in our article, U.S. Spinach Still Banned In Canada. We appreciate Dan’s letter for helping to inform us on a range of issues, beyond just a mixed-up acronym. 11/3/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Denny’s Weighs In On Food Safety Effort our discussion of the Buyer-led Food Safety Effort brought forth this constructive contribution from Gene Harris, Senior Purchasing Manager at Denny’s. Anyone who knows Gene Harris is not the slightest bit surprised that he would endorse this initiative. As the Pundit has often pointed out before, in a voluntary system, regarding an issue such as field crops, in which there is no 100% guarantee of safety, the level of safety that producers will ultimately deliver is exactly and precisely the amount that the customer wants to pay for. So buyers play an enormous role. 11/1/2006

Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question Of Buyer Commitment reiterates the Pundit has been emphatic that, as long as food safety is a voluntary issue rather than a regulatory issue, the role of buyers cannot be overestimated. This issue applies to retailers as well. In the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, we published: Food Safety Is A Retail Issue, that pointed out the responsibility of buyers in this community. Obviously many in the industry are in agreement on this point as, in an unprecedented move, executives from eight substantial buying organizations signed a letter addressed to the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association and Western Grocers Association. 10/30/2006

Now We Know Why Spinach Salad Is Served With Bacon Dressing discusses how minimizing or preventing future outbreaks of E. coli 0157:H7 is the great question vexing the industry. The truth is we don’t know that much about E. coli. It is typically associated with ruminant animals, but the FDA and the California Department of Health Services just announced that they found E. coli 0157:H7 of the same strain that was in the spinach bags and in the sick people in the digestive track of a wild pig, which is a monogastric animal, not a ruminant. 10/30/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Should PMA And United Merge? covered the controversial issue of whether the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association ought to merge here

Salmonella Update: CDC Still Searching reveals the Centers for Disease Control are continuing to investigate the Salmonella outbreak. Although the authorities are comfortable saying it is produce-related, they are uncertain of the exact cause — although they report many patients reporting eating “red brown tomatoes.” We asked Pundit Investigator Mira Slott to speak with Dr. Wences Arvelo, EIS Medical Officer in the CDC Foodborne Illness Division and try to learn more. Here we cover a few key points. 11/2/2006

Opportunity For Buyers’ Food Safety Initiative finds much attention has been focused on the Buyers’ Initiative for Food Safety. The initiative gained added support when Gene Harris of the Denny’s Corporation expressed support right here. Gene’s addition to the list of signatories means we have the full panoply of retailers, distributors and operators with big names from the buying side supporting this proposal. Although we felt the signatories deserved great praise for proactively trying to advance food safety in the trade, the Pundit was skeptical about how the proposal would be received and concerned about its practicality. 11/2/2006

, and subsequently received quite a favorable response. Most wanted to be anonymous, but some put their necks on the line, such as Harris Cutler of Race West Company And Philip G. Ball Company, and Richard Kaiser of The Richard Kaiser Company. Others argue that despite a merger’s merits,, it wouldn’t have made a difference, arguing that the government is virtually compelled by cultural intolerance to any health risk. On that angle we heard from Bob Davis of the Maine Farmers Exchange. 10/30/2006

PMA Commits $1 Million To Food Safety Fixes reports that the Produce Marketing Association responded to recent food safety issues in the produce industry with an announcement that its board had authorized $1 million over the next 14 months for a food safety program. It was an important thing to do. If it accomplishes nothing else, it allows the PMA to go back to government and show that the industry is making a good faith effort to enhance safety. Let us hope it doesn’t give the industry a false sense of security that the problem is being “taken care of.” 10/27/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouse Solutions after the Spinach Town Hall Meeting at the PMA Convention, we addressed our frustration with the FDA for not clearly defining how much safety, precisely, they wanted the industry to “procure,” acknowledging that more safety would cost more money. We gave as our ultimate example that we could grow everything in greenhouses if we were willing to pay the price. This assumption, that growing everything in a controlled environment would cost more, was challenged by the following letter from Robert Langhans, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University. The research he describes is exciting, and I intend to take the good professor up on his offer to see their facility and learn more about it. 10/27/2006

Town Hall Spinach Meeting: Unanswered Questions mentions that the Produce Marketing Association held its “Town Hall” meeting on the spinach/E.coli crisis on Saturday, and it certainly was valuable to provide an opportunity for the trade to hear a kind of recap of what happened and what the issues are that need to be dealt with. It also provided a forum for individuals to ask questions on issues they were concerned with. PMA deserves kudos for putting it all together so quickly…still, I think there were difficulties with the format that prevented the forum from being as valuable as it could have been. 10/24/2006

Closure For Nunes reports that at least one of these situations is over and done with. The Nunes Company issued a press release: “FDA Tests Show Foxy Lettuce Safe - The Nunes Company President Tom Nunes, Jr. announced that FDA sampling of water, and California Department of Health Services extensive green leaf lettuce testing found no pathogenic E. coli, confirming earlier results from two other independent laboratories.” Hallelujah that there was no problem and, yes, praise belongs to Nunes for taking steps at a sensitive time. But we still don’t know if we should recall product, as a matter of policy, because the water supply tests positive for generic E. coli. 10/20/2006

Partial Closure In Mexico learned that Mexico announced its decision to allow the import of U.S. lettuce but not spinach. The United Fresh Produce Association sent along the news: “After evaluating the available information regarding the possible contamination of lettuces coming from the United States of America, both Secretariats determined the non-existence risk to public health due to the consumption of this type of products.” Just as we can’t depend on business to always do the right thing, so we need standards. The same applies to governments. We need standards and procedures that allow quick appeal of these decisions for perishable products. There’s too much risk of protectionism or political infighting motivating non-science-driven decisions. 10/20/2006

Seafood Trade-offs comments that we’ve been swimming in all the news about seafood this week. In a preemptive strike, before anything was even published, the Pundit started getting announcements designed to discredit a big report expected to come out on the risks and benefits of eating seafood. Most things in life involve both benefits and risks, and we have a significant problem when we try and assign words such as “safe” to products. The seafood industry believes that fish consumption is being unnecessarily reduced as most consumers are not anywhere near their maximum consumption level but get scared away by confusing publicity. 10/19/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouses and Vertical Farming as soon as the spinach crisis broke, we asked about the viability of greenhouses here. Now, Marvin N. Miller, Ph.D., Market Research Manager for Ball Horticulture Company sent on some information about a hydroponic lettuce operation at Cornell University. He then passed onto us a second correspondence between himself and Bob Langhans, another Cornell professor working in this area. Their bottom line: They believe they can commercially produce spinach and other field greens, all: “without the inherent dangers found in field-grown crops.” 10/19/2006

PulseNet Explains Why It Doesn’t Work Weekends details how we’ve been exploring the story both here and here that PulseNet, which is the major mechanism for identifying foodborne illness outbreaks, closes on the weekend. In the spinach crisis, the key report connecting the dots of people getting sick and their consumption of bagged spinach was sent to PulseNet after 5 pm on Friday, when PulseNet was closed for the weekend. It is possible that people got sick, because that important data sat unlooked at until Monday morning. Here we link to the LA Times article that establishes the timeline. Pundit Investigator Mira Slott was able to get a comment from Peter Gerner-Smidt M.D., Ph.D., Acting Chief of Enteric Diseases in the Laboratory Response Branch at the Center for Disease Control & Prevention. 10/18/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators received a note from Joe McGuire, Division Vice President of Ready Pac, Inc. responding to a piece we wrote suggesting that we might need “…a law that requires new home refrigerators to have built-in thermometers and the ability to set the actual temperature as opposed to just a wheel that you can spin to get “colder” or “warmer”. I will never forget Joe, because he is the first person ever to accuse the Pundit of excessive socialism. 10/18/2006

Will Hydroponics Be A Solution To Spinach Woes? found that almost as soon as the spinach/E. coli crisis broke, we raised the issue as to whether the spinach situation might not create an opportunity for greenhouse growing. Clearly, if we are going to implicate animals in these outbreaks, there will be a consumer population willing to pay a premium for product grown in a controlled environment. Lou Cooperhouse, Director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, elaborates on the issue. 10/17/2006

Dangerous E. coli Found On One Ranch shares a statement issued by the United Fresh Produce Association, which we include here, related to the FDA and California Department of Health Services finding, on one ranch that supplied Natural Selection Foods, some cattle feces that match the strain of E. coli 0157:H7 that was implicated in the spinach recall. Although the whole world will leap to the conclusion that this proves the tainted spinach came from that ranch, it does nothing of the sort. 10/13/2006

Fast Testing For Pathogens Necessary examines how the Nunes lettuce recall points out the weakness of testing inputs and then seeing results after product has been shipped. First, it doesn’t guarantee safety because the product could have already been consumed. Second, it doesn’t stop the bad publicity related to recalls. If we could speed up test results, it would be better, so we turned to our friend Lou Cooperhouse, Director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, and asked him about the prospects for faster testing. Lou mentions the sprout industry and when I think sprouts, I think of Bob Sanderson at Jonathan’s Sprouts. I asked him if he thought that the experience of sprout growers might be helpful to spinach and lettuce growers. He was a little skeptical. 10/13/2006

Nunes Tests Negative heard some great news from The Nunes Company. Independent lab tests of product have come back negative and Nunes president Tom Nunes reiterated that “the Company undertook the recall based on tests of irrigation water.” This was a nervous week, so the decision was probably the right one. But the long-term question is this: Does it make sense to recall product because the water supply tests positive for generic E. coli? 10/13/2006

Lobbying For Better Refrigeration feels that sometimes our industry lobbyists can do the trade the best service by working on issues outside the specific purview of our industry. In light of all the publicity that has been tied to the botulism problem on 100% carrot juice and the need on many fresh-cuts and other products to sustain a cold chain, how about lobbying for a law that requires new home refrigerators to have built-in thermometers and the ability to set the actual temperature as opposed to just a wheel that you can spin to get “colder” or “warmer”? Consumers are the last link in the food safety chain. They should have the tools needed to do a good job. 10/13/2006

PulseNet Redux ran it yesterday and it so upsets me that I am going to run it again. Did everybody notice that PulseNet, which is supposed to be protecting our food safety and food security, CLOSES ON THE WEEKEND? I think the Centers for Disease Control needs to change this policy, immediately. 10/13/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Population Inured By Recalls shares a note from Richard Kaiser of The Richard Kaiser Company who responds to the Pundit’s take that constant recalls will be bad for the industry. Richard is basically saying that if we have a lot of recalls, people will become used to them and see them as background noise, the way lions in Africa that are raised in game reserves don’t object to the vehicles going by; they see them as part of nature. But open the door and break the profile of the vehicle and you can get eaten pretty easily. 10/13/2006

PulseNet Asleep At The Wheel saw the LA Times did a really interesting piece that traces the origin of the spinach recall. Two things stand out: First, they actually were thinking about the produce industry, and second, the team that runs PulseNet, which we dealt with here and is our nation’s major mechanism for tracking foodborne illness, whether caused by terrorism or error, TAKES OFF FOR THE WEEKEND. It boggles the mind. Talk about irresponsible and stupid — foodborne illness doesn’t just happen on weekdays. 10/12/2006

Carrot Juice Still On Canadian Shelves finds that there is outrage in Canada that even though two people have been paralyzed after they contracted botulism in the Bolthouse carrot juice outbreak, the carrot juice — despite being officially recalled — was still on the shelf in Canada. 10/12/2006

Is Mexico Giving U.S. A Taste Of Its Own Medicine? following up on our piece Lettuce Ban: Is Mexico Protecting Health Or Practicing Protectionism, which you can read here, Pundit Investigator Mira Slott interviewed Lee Frankel, President of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas — an association of Mexican-produce importers and distributors — to get his take on this perplexing situation in which Mexico is banning imports of all U.S. lettuce. 10/12/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — Temperature Monitoring our piece, Food Safety, Good Delivery And Temperature Monitoring, argued that good delivery standards have to change on fresh-cut product to reflect the fact that bacteria may grow even if the product looks good, and it received several replies. First, Tom O’Brien of C&D Fruit & Vegetable had a wry take on the matter and Pat Vache, President of Escort Data Loggers LLC, wrote to us as well. Pat’s letter reminds us our industry is too often guilty of that classic definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting it will produce different results. If we are going to have radical improvements, we need radical changes. 10/12/2006

Lettuce Ban: Is Mexico Protecting Health Or Practicing Protectionism? reports that this morning we were greeted by an announcement that Mexico had banned the import of U.S. lettuce. At least from a public safety standpoint, to ban all U.S. lettuce imports made no sense. We searched for more answers and Pundit Investigator Mira Slott found some in her interview with Erich Kuss, Senior Agricultural Attache, Embassy of the United States, Mexico. 10/11/2006

Culture Of Risk-Aversion Hurts The Poor saw recently that Publix has begun enforcing its policy banning donations of meat, fruit and vegetables because delivering the perishable food in non-refrigerated vehicles violates the company’s food safety standards. Although Publix denies any connection to the E. coli/spinach situation, it strains credulity to believe that all the publicity related to food safety didn’t motivate someone to take a look at enforcing policies that had long been forgotten. If so, we can count the poor of Palm Beach County, Florida, who include many migrant farm workers, as victims of the spinach/E.coli disaster. 10/11/2006

CDC’s Aha! Moment noticed that the Associated Press has come out with an article running in papers across the country that records a kind of “aha! Moment” in the minds of our public authorities. Dr. Robert Tauxe, chief of foodborne diseases at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks: “When you open a bag of spinach, do you wonder how many different plants are in there, and how many different fields it came from?” The truth is that the real problem with fresh-cuts is that the traditional protection people had against consuming bad produce, which is that it typically went rotten before it became dangerous, has been removed since modified atmosphere packaging has allowed extended shelf life. 10/11/2006

Heads Up — Political Posturing On Spinach Begins reveals that California State Senator Dean Florez begins holding hearings October 11, 2006. The first two speakers are a representative of a left wing special interest group and an attorney who represents victims of foodborne illness outbreaks. The state senator will speak, the two advocates will speak and the TV reports and the wire service stories will be filed with news coming out about how horrible the industry is. Some reporters will stick around until later in the day when produce industry representatives will speak, and some will file revised stories or additional stories, but the impact will be gone. Heads up; it is probably the first of many such hearings. 10/11/2006

Nunes Recall Reveals Testing Dilemma reports The Nunes Company had initiated a recall on certain green leaf lettuce. No illnesses had been reported and, although tests are incomplete, the odds are that the E. coli will not be the E. coli O157:H7 strain identified in the spinach crisis. In fact the recall was a reaction to a water test. The whole situation points to a major dilemma for the trade: This is the real problem with testing all the inputs: If we test everything, we will find a lot of things we would rather not find, such as generic E. coli. But we will not necessarily make anything much safer. 10/10/2006

Beef Recall Smacks Of Incompetence received a notice from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service with a recall stating “Jim’s Market and Locker, Inc., a Harlan, Iowa, firm, is voluntarily recalling approximately 5,226 pounds of ground beef that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.” I confess that this recall seemed very odd because the recall was issued on October 6, well over a month after this product was produced. 10/10/2006

Food Safety, Good Delivery And Temperature Monitoring highlights PMA’s Bryan Silbermann — who I work with each month to write a column called Research Perspectives/Comments & Analysis in PRODUCE BUSINESS — who wrote a column regarding transportation and posed the question of why the industry was still relying on temperature recording devices as opposed to utilizing temperature monitoring. In his piece, Bryan asks this sensible question: Liability for temperature abuse may be critical in assigning responsibility but does nothing to prevent the load from being spoiled. Why not use interactive technology to solve a problem rather than assign blame? 10/10/2006

Bolthouse Botulism Case Hits Canada reports the Bolthouse carrot juice casualties just went international. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency updated its previous advisory not to drink the recalled product and noted that two botulism cases in Toronto are now tied to the Bolthouse product, in addition to four in the United States. Wm. Bolthouse Farms says the problem is due to “temperature abused” 100% carrot juice. 10/10/2006

The Botulism And E. coli Connection observes how the issue of botulism and Bolthouse carrot juice causing foodborne illness hasn’t gotten the same attention the spinach/E. coli has. Partly because it is a smaller business, affected only one company, nobody has died and the numbers affected are fewer. Still many of the issues raised are the same. Botulism, E. coli… it is all very similar. Once again, we turn to Lou Cooperhouse, Director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center who has supplied us with this nifty little graph illustrating some facts about the growth and death phases of bacteria. Lou confirms the enormous importance of minimizing bacterial counts at the earliest possible stages. But every stage is important, and every stage can increase bacterial count and thus risk if the cold chain is not properly maintained. 10/6/2006

PulseNet Ups Ante In Food Safety Battle writes that the reason the industry is going to have to get much better at food safety is because unless we do, publicly reported outbreaks are going to become more frequent and more severe. This is not because things will be less safe; it is because the states are getting better at the use of PulseNet. Although PulseNet was conceived over 10 years ago, the states have become much more adept at its use in the last several years. We can expect the technology to speed up and the skill level with which PulseNet is used to improve. This has two consequences for the perishable food trade. 10/6/2006

A Look At The Faces explains that, other than linking to the FDA web site, we have not written about the casualties of the outbreak. This was intentional. Still, understanding the context and after so many words discussing the business implications of the crisis, it seems to me that it is important for us, as members of the trade, to look at the faces of those who have died in this horrible outbreak. Every sick person is a daughter or a son, a mother or a father, a brother or a sister, and every loss, within the context of that family, is of infinite value. 10/6/2006

U.S. Spinach Still Banned in Canada identifies an area that has shown severe weakness is the relationship between the FDA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. As an American, it is easy to blast the CFIA, but other countries are not obligated to parrot whatever the FDA says and, if anything, the CFIA is guilty of taking what the FDA says more seriously than the FDA does. One day the FDA is saying that nobody should eat spinach from anywhere — a week later everything is safe, although nothing has changed. How does the CFIA know that the FDA didn’t bow to political pressure and there isn’t still danger? To understand better the exact situation in Canada, Mira Slott, our ace reporter and Special Projects Editor here at the Pundit, interviewed Danny Dempster, President of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA), and Heather Holland, CPMA’s Senior Technical Manager, Food Safety and Government Relations. 10/5/2006

Botulism III follows up on an article we published yesterday, where we pointed out that there is a dispute as to what the proper temperature should be to keep carrot juice and similar products safe. We also pointed out that many retail cases as well as home refrigerators are not maintained at the proper temperature to safeguard this product. As a follow-up I asked Lou Cooperhouse, Director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, to express the margin of error. Specifically I asked, “If a consumer does refrigerate properly but has the juice in a hot car trunk for 20 minutes, is this enough to create a danger?” Here we publish Lou’s response. 10/5/2006

Bailando Juntos (Dancing Together) presents a new name brought into the spinach fiasco by the execution of the search warrants in Salinas is Growers Express. Pundit Investigator Mira Slott spoke with Woody Johnson, VP Sales and Marketing for Growers Express, who was kind enough to share his take with the industry. One of the Growers Express technical programs is called “Bailando Juntos”, which translates into “Dancing Together”, and they define the program as “Sharing expertise to drive excellence.” With news reports still coming out every day, the industry will be dancing together for some time. 10/5/2006

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… reports that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California issued a statement saying it along with the FBI and FDA, executed two search warrants today on Growers Express in Salinas, CA, and Natural Selection Foods in San Juan Batista, CA, in connection with the September 2006 outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 that the FDA has traced to spinach grown in the Salinas area. What could the case be? 10/5/2006

Bolthouse And Juice Refrigeration announces that, as if Earthbound Farms wasn’t in the news enough lately, its brand is included in the voluntary recall announced by Wm. Bolthouse Farms of Bakersfield, CA. The press release is interesting because it basically claims that there is nothing wrong with the juice that is being recalled. The problem is consumers who don’t follow refrigeration instructions. But there is some disagreement among experts as to what “proper refrigeration” is on carrot juice. 10/4/2006

Everyone Needs To Do A Little Bit feels that now we are over the hump, but certainly not anywhere near healed from this spinach situation. It is going to take a lot to get everything together again. PMA is doing its part by offering two special workshops at its upcoming convention on the next steps for the industry. The Perishable Pundit and its sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, would like to do our bit to help as well. We are going to offer, absolutely free, an advertising program for any marketer of spinach who sells nationally or in a substantial region. 10/4/2006

Primary And Secondary Suppliers shows that one of the lessons of the spinach/E. coli situation is that buyers need to dig a lot deeper in selecting primary and secondary suppliers. Most buyers of size don’t want to be 100% in the pocket of any one supplier. Reasons are many, but include making sure that the buyer has an established business relationship to turn to for product if one supplier gets hit with a food safety scare or its production is otherwise interrupted. 10/4/2006

Notes On Natural Selection: It Could Happen To You finds that among the many growers in Salinas who have been hurt by the whole spinach/E. coli situation, there is more than a little bitterness toward Natural Selection Foods. There is an overall assumption that this could have been prevented. Perhaps. Everyone, however, should pay attention to two things that Natural Selection Foods is doing. First, it has announced its desire to help people pay their out-of-pocket expenses that might have been caused by this crisis: Second, Natural Selection Foods has committed to a food safety protocol above and beyond what is being proposed for the industry as a whole. 10/4/2006

In Defense Of Salinas sees that since the recommendation not to eat spinach has been lifted, the mood in the Salinas Valley is turning from fear to outrage. Talk with John R. Baillie of the Jack T. Baillie Co., Baillie Family Farms and Tri-County Packing, and you can hear in the cadence of his voice the fierce pride of a third-generation farmer in the valley. John, who sits on the Monterey County Reservoir Operations Committee, is furious about all the news reports tying together the Salinas River and E. coli. And, consequently, impugning the safety of what the valley produces. He has five points, all of which are good ones. 10/4/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag - Another Despicable Marketing Attempt mentions we’ve already started a “Despicable Marketing Program” department in the Pundit with our article on how Fit, a produce wash, immediately started sending press releases the instant the spinach crisis broke implying the wash could do something about the problem at hand. Now we have an example of marketing that is both despicable and dangerous. Park Seed Co. decided to take advantage of the industry’s current vulnerability by urging consumers to: Grow Spinach Safely in Your Own Garden! 10/2/2006

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry we previously ran a Pundit’s Retail Pulse in which we featured a guest panel consisting of Robert DiPiazza and Jerry Hull of Sam’s Club, Bob Harding of Westborn Markets, Don Harris of Wild Oats, Jeff Lyons of Costco, and Mike O’Brien of Schnuck Markets, and we explored their reaction at retail to the initial recall. We’ve now turned to Bob Edgell of Balls Foods and Ron McCormick of Wal-Mart to give us additional feedback on how the initial reintroduction of spinach to the stores is being perceived at retail. These interviews were both conducted before Salinas spinach was allowed back on the market. 10/2/2006

How Committed Is The Produce Industry To Broad/National Food Safety Programs? asks does the produce industry actually believe there is a lesson to be learned from the spinach E. coli outbreak? My sense is that the answer is no. The industry is committing to do this “Fresh Start” program — referenced in an earlier pundit — because this is the price the FDA demanded to reopen the market. The program was not created because the industry feels it revealed a real problem that needs to be remedied. The test is going to be whether the new food safety regimen is going to be applied to lettuce and other greens, in addition to spinach. 10/2/2006

Questions For Western Growers points out that Tom Nassif, President and CEO of Western Growers Association, is a tireless and effective defender of the interests of his constituency. Tom raised the issue of what the Federal government was going to do to make sure foreign growers meet the same requirements for enhanced food safety protocols that are now being imposed on his membership. It is a fair question. Food safety is expensive, and you can’t have a “level playing field” if only some players have to follow certain expensive protocols. But it is a difficult issue for the government to do much about for two reasons. 10/2/2006

Collateral Damage vs. Assumption Of The Risk understands the frustration on the growing and packing side is that, even now, with the current situation fresh in everyone’s mind, it isn’t obvious that the industry has been doing a bad job. Nationally, including the current outbreak, we know of 20 Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreaks in the last ten years on these products. Obviously, we would all like to see zero outbreaks, but minimizing such outbreaks deserves an incredibly high priority. The problem is that the word “safe” has no defined meaning in this context. 10/2/2006

Action Plan To Regain Consumer Confidence assesses the fuzzy language that Dr. David Acheson, Chief Medical Officer of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, used to give the “all clear” — explaining that with the obvious exception of recalled product, everyone can eat spinach. But his melancholy endorsement “as safe as it was before this outbreak” means that there is a lot of work for the industry to do to rebuild consumer confidence. 10/2/2006

Deconstructing FDA finds that it began with a bang, a shocking, unprecedented request that nobody eat fresh spinach, but it is ending with a muddled whimper. FDA issued a press release stating: “FDA is announcing today that all spinach implicated in the current outbreak has traced back to Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista, California.” Let us deconstruct some of it here. 10/2/2006

Needless Recalls explains that since Pacific Coast Fruit Company initiated its voluntary recall on September 22, 2006, we have been able to count up to five separate companies that did voluntary recalls. If it is correct, as the actual testing seems to be indicating, that the bad spinach was a batch packed under the Dole brand, then virtually all of these recalls were unnecessary. Still, one weakness in the industry systems that this outbreak revealed was a weakness in the traceback program. Addressing this shortfall in our systems will be crucial in some future food safety outbreak. 10/2/2006

The FDA Needs To Reexamine Its Methodology discusses how, as the FDA has so far explained it, this whole outbreak has never made much sense. As we asked in a previous article, how was it possible for so many brands to be implicated? These things typically come in the form of a “bad batch,” so the notion that all these wildly divergent brands packed on different days — some organic, some conventional — were contaminated strains credulity. 10/2/2006

Oh No! Another Outbreak received a release in which the: “FDA Warns Consumers Not To Drink Bolthouse Farms Carrot Juice Due to Botulism Concerns.” I am as tough as they come when it comes to the need for consumers to take responsibility for food safety. But one wonders if the margin of safety on some of these products isn’t too close. The Pundit has enjoyed the Bolthouse product but wants to know, more exactly, how big a mistake on refrigeration is needed to cause a danger. 10/2/2006

Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics our piece exploring the subject, Is Salinas Getting a Bum Rap On Food Safety, raised the question of whether the math and methodology used to study foodborne illness outbreaks biases the results against larger producers — such as the Salinas Valley. We got a lot of feedback on that, including several requests that we lay out the math more exactly. So here it goes. The key is the FDA’s explanation in its letter to California Lettuce Growers. 9/29/2006

Pundit Mailbag: Frustration On The Buy Side wondered recently what the buy side thinks about the E. coli/spinach situation and after reaching out to a lot of buyers, this important and knowledgeable buyer expressed the consensus, frustration. 9/28/2006

Call For Stronger FDA announces that the Food Products Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association joined together to announce with other founders the formation of a new organization, the Coalition for a Stronger FDA. The new organization is backed by an eclectic group and it draws its strength from a perception that a weakening of the FDA may be contributing to food safety outbreaks and a concurrent loss of confidence in the food system. 9/28/2006

Putting Things In Perspective read a consumer article from Sally Squires, who writes the “Lean Plate Club” column for WashingtonPost.com, in which she points out: “the odds of getting sick from tainted food ‘are overall about a third less than they were in 1998’ and that ‘76 million people is what the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate suffer upset stomachs, gut-wrenching diarrhea, vomiting and other symptoms annually from various food-borne illness. Up to 5,000 deaths are also blamed on tainted food and drink each year.’” So, in the US, 76 million people get foodborne illness and 5,000 die each year. The food supply is getting safer but still is not perfect. Seems like this a perspective in which it is useful to view the spinach/E. coli outbreak. 9/27/2006

Is Salinas Getting A Bum Rap On Food Safety? saw that the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition of the FDA sent a “Letter to California Firms that Grow, Pack, Process, or Ship Fresh and Fresh-cut Lettuce”, which basically “encouraged” the California industry to work on issues such as eliminating the environmental reservoirs for E. coli 0157:H7, to follow “Good Agricultural Practices” and “Good Manufacturing Practices” and to fully implement the FDA’s 2004 Produce Safety Action Plan — all to reduce the frequency and severity of food safety outbreaks. Why send a specific letter to California lettuce growers? Why not just establish good procedures for all lettuce growers? The justification is in the letter. 9/27/2006

Pundit Mailbag: Causes Of E. coli received a note from Jim Wells of Oregon Wild Edibles, in response to our piece on the implications for organic produce in the spinach/E. coli situation. Jim asks why we chose the “manure in compost” angle as opposed to the “animal run-off angle.” It is always a judgment call. In general, we try to focus on things that the industry can deal with. For example, the produce industry has no power and only limited influence in the sphere of changing laws regarding what cattle can be fed. On the other hand, any buyer or seller in the produce industry can decide to stop using manure tomorrow. And if we want to change the National Organic Standards, the produce industry has a lot of influence in that regard when it comes to changes relevant to fresh produce. 9/26/2006

Recall Remuneration because the FDA hadn’t imposed a mandatory recall, many insurance policies haven’t been triggered. However, some shrewd lawyers should be able to make a case that the FDA imposed a “constructive recall”, so the Pundit advises those who have insurance to talk to their lawyers about this issue. But insurance or not, someone has to pay for all that product in the system that got thrown out. Those who recalled product have to take it back and refund the money. But what about those packers, such as Fresh Express, that did not do a recall? 9/26/2006

More Recalls Trickle In reveals that the FDA announced that two additional companies initiated voluntary recalls. All the recalls announced to date are either of products packed by Natural Selection Foods or from people who bought bulk product from Natural Selection Foods. But the slow pace in which these recalls are dribbling in indicates major problems with the trade’s traceability systems. 9/26/2006

The California Dept. Of Health Services Owes People An Explanation finds one issue that is bubbling under the surface of the spinach crisis is the arbitrary nature of government power. The industry concern is not just with the way the FDA has exercised its powers but also the California Department of Health Services. They warned Natural Selection Foods that they better do a voluntary recall or else the CDHS was going to do it for them. Dole followed with its own recall. What is curious, though, is that the standard used in the investigation was that those brands brought up more than three times in the investigation were deemed “implicated” in the investigation. Yet CDHS did not put everyone implicated in the same position. Why? 9/26/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag thanks the many industry members who’ve called or written over the past week giving information in confidence, and also the regular readers of the Pundit who’ve been enjoying the benefit of this input since the spinach crisis broke. We wanted to deal here with two specific letters, first from John Pandol, partner at Pandol Bros. in Delano, California, who asks an interesting question concerning loyalty cards and what value they might have in tracing implicated product, and another from Tom Marrolli, Outside Sales Executive/Mid-Atlantic at State Garden who answers the Pundit when we asked: “How is it possible for so many brands to be implicated?” 9/25/2006

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry wonders what has it been like on the front lines during this spinach/E. coli crisis. The Pundit asked Mira Slott, ace Special Projects Editor to reach out and capture the pulse of the industry at retail. We thus present the first in a new series in which we collect opinions and insights from different industry sectors on different subjects. Our Pundit Panel of the day includes: Robert DiPiazza, Senior Vice President and General Merchandising Manager for Fresh, and Jerry Hull, Senior Produce Buyer, Sam’s Club; Bob Harding, Produce Buyer, Westborn Markets; Don Harris, Vice President Produce/Floral, Wild Oats; Jeff Lyons, Senior Vice President of Fresh Foods, Costco; and Mike O’Brien, Vice President of Produce, with Schnuck Markets. 9/25/2006

Reassuring Consumers explains that, regardless of what the FDA does, there cannot be a successful outcome to this disaster if consumers don’t feel reassured as to the safety of spinach and all produce products. Certainly if Good Agricultural Practices need to be revised; they should be revised. But that is very subtle and not likely to move consumer perceptions. There are two things that can and should be done. 9/25/2006

The Role Of Retailers feels that retailers are key to the ability of the industry to recover from the spinach/E. coli crisis. In the short term, the question is to what degree retailers will feel comfortable stocking and displaying spinach? Extensive studies after the Alar event of 1989 showed that a large portion of the sales decline for apples occurred not simply because retailers refused to buy the apples, but because retailers elected not to promote apples. This is a cautionary note to trade leaders. You need buy-in by key retailers or all the messaging and promotion to consumers will have a tough row to hoe. 9/25/2006

Another Oddity In Spinach Crisis points out that though they have not published the information, FDA officials have been privately telling industry leaders they have determined that both organic and conventional product are implicated in the E. coli spinach situation. If this information is true, then this already odd food safety crisis gets odder still. Organic and conventional product would be grown in separate fields and processed on separate machines in different parts of the plant. For the E. coli to be on both at the same time there would have to be a coincidence of mind-boggling proportions. Unless… what if all the product is actually organic? 9/25/2006

Though Not ‘All-Clear’, Consumers Can Eat Spinach Again explains things are still moving fast and furious in the spinach/E. coli crisis, although there is now some light at the end of the tunnel. Here is the Pundit’s fourth 10-point analysis of the constantly changing situation. You can read the three previous 10-point reviews here, here and here. 9/25/2006

Wal-Mart Deli/Bakery Has Crisis Of Its Own admits the goal to eliminate all foodborne illness is laudable but probably unobtainable. Here we give two lessons on foodborne illness; anyone who handles perishable foods needs to be concerned and there is vulnerability at every step in the supply chain. 9/21/2006

Is FDA Causing Long-term Damage? reveals that, like an ongoing melodrama, the FDA has announced that it first narrowed the source of the outbreak to California, now to three counties in California. The FDA defends this total ban on spinach as a necessary public health measure, but I think they are doing long-term damage to public health. Why? 9/21/2006

Spinach Recall Begs For Solutions finds that long after all the contaminated spinach is off the shelves, the spinach crisis goes on. We have already discussed the impact of this crisis on fresh-cuts here, on organics here, given an initial take on ten points raised by this outbreak here and pointed out that the FDA is now acting beyond any reasonable concern about public health here. Today brings additional issues to the fore. 9/20/2006

Peculiarities About The E. coli Outbreak reports that there are certain odd things about what the FDA is saying happened in this e. coli outbreak that really don’t make sense. 9/20/2006

Is FDA’s Concern Now An Obsession? observes how the spinach recall continues to rock the industry. We need to change tactics right now, and we need to change laws for the future. Yesterday I participated in a press teleconference with David Acheson, MD, who is leading this investigation at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and he seems knowledgeable and well-meaning, but Dr. Acheson is not Ahab, and the E. coli outbreak is not a great white whale. This banning of consumption is rapidly tumbling from a legitimate concern for public health into obsession. 9/19/2006

Pundit’s Mailbag — United Responds recalls an earlier piece we wrote about the launch of the new United Fresh Produce Association here, and then the industry almost immediately became engulfed in the spinach E. coli outbreak. Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of the new United, stole a few minutes to send the Pundit a note. One thing is for sure, the industry response to this problem or any other problem depends crucially on volunteer leadership. Emanuel Lazopoulos, Senior Vice President, North America Sales, Marketing and Product Management at Del Monte Fresh and the incoming Chairman of the United Fresh Produce Association, also reflects on the passion that leadership requires. 9/18/2006

Fit To Be Tied feels some people just have no sense of decency. The industry is being flattened by recalls and public concerns about the safety of its products. Everyone is working day and night to keep things together, and these guys from “Fit” have the nerve to send a release implying that their wash will somehow do something related to public concern over E. coli and spinach. 9/18/2006

Organic Dodges A Bullet reports that Natural Selection Foods issued another statement regarding the E. coli outbreak in bagged spinach confirming none of their product has been linked. Assuming this holds up, the organic industry dodged quite a bullet. Things are still murky but issues remain. It seems inevitable, regardless of the specific product involved in this outbreak, that the involvement of Natural Selection Foods will lead to a double-check on the food safety aspect of organic farming and that this whole cloud arising around organics will cause a rethinking on the very nature of organic agriculture. 9/18/2006

Ramifications And Reflections On The Spinach Recall reports that some of the worst news the industry could hope to have has come from the statement by the FDA that, although the FDA had not identified the bacteria in any of the products it traced, patient reports led it to announce that the outbreak had been tracked down to Natural Selection Foods. This follows the initial report which we dealt with here. Natural Selection Foods is the biggest organic shipper. Although, so far at least, the link is solely to non-organic product, it is impossible to think that its link to this crisis won’t affect future attitudes toward organic foods. 9/18/2006

Spinach Recall Reveals Serious Industry Problems reports that in a true nightmare scenario for the industry, bagged spinach is believed to be the cause of an outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 that is known to have caused one death, 8 cases of kidney failure and illnesses in 50 people. Alan Siger of Consumers Produce Co. of Pittsburgh is one of the most consistently insightful people in the industry. He wrote the Pundit with what is perhaps the key insight into the seriousness of the situation. 9/15/2006

Safety Measure Opposed By Know-Nothings the FDA’s recent announcement that “It is our intent to seek approval for additional food safety products effective against E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella in the next 12 months.” is arousing all the usual suspects who oppose the use of viruses as food additives in ready-to-eat meat and poultry to protect against Listeria because, well, as best as I can determine because “viruses” are bad, sort of like “irradiation” is bad, so we shouldn’t use irradiation. 8/24/2006

Mysteries Of Food Storage saw a national survey sponsored by the American Plastics Council that shows what a difficult time America’s young people have in the kitchen. The Council surveyed 539 young Americans between the ages of 18-34 years old, and found some interesting things. The good news is young adults demonstrated that they understand a few cardinal rules of food safety, storage and heating. 8/15/2006

Kudos To Costco And U.S. Beef finds that despite surveys indicating significant concern regarding the safety of U.S. beef following its reintroduction to Japan, Japanese consumers snapped up the five metric tons of U.S. beef sold at three Costco stores. The United States Meat Export Federation has been working on the re-introduction of U.S. beef to Japan, basically since the day it was banned, and the planning showed. 8/10/2006

U.S. Beef, Food Safety And Freedom thinks that it is good news for America’s beef producers that the market in Japan is now open. However, there are plenty of indications of skepticism in Japan about the safety of U.S. beef and thus real doubts about how quickly demand in Japan will ramp up to pre-embargo level. Japan was the largest importer of U.S. beef, buying almost $1.5 billion in 2003. 8/7/2006














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