Pundit Interviews

Pundit Letters

Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
Boca Raton FL 33481

Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610



Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Salmonella Saintpaul


Tomato Farmers Rejected 'Takings' Claim Denied Hope For Compensation Dashed when the Salmonella St. Paul crisis struck, some of the tomato growers that took huge losses as a result of the government’s actions sued to recover damages, promulgating the idea that the government’s actions constitute a “Taking” of property in contravention of the constitutional prohibition. The United States Court of Federal Claims rejected the tomato farmer’s argument and the comeuppance, as Business Week headlined the story: “Rotten Tomatoes: Farmers Pay the Price for a False Food-Safety Warning.” 10/16/2014

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

Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak
Insights and Analysis

Salmonella And Tomatoes Linked In New Mexico reported that an Alert had been issued by the New Mexico Department of Health announcing an outbreak of Salmonella was 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

Outbreak Alert: FDA Clears Some States And Countries But Not Others announced that the FDA identified a dozen areas where tainted tomatoes did not originate from. This move was 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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

As Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak
Expands, Government Agencies
Require More Scrutiny

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

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’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

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

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

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

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

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 — 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 — 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 — 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

Source List Narrows
But Some Regions Ruined

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Report IV:
Salmonella/Tomato Crisis
Creates Collateral Damage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 — 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 — 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 — 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

Salmonella/Tomato Crisis Continues
For Most Of Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salmonella/Tomato Outbreak Info
From FDA Becomes More Bizarre

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

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

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

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

CDC’s Map Of Ill Persons Could Use Some Improvement experiments 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 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

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

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

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

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

Salmonella/Tomato Outbreak —
Frank Talk And Analysis

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

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

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

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

Special Edition VIII —
Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak
Takes Another Bizarre Turn

FDA And CDC Create 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. 6/28/08

CDC Backpeddles 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. 6/28/08

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. 6/28/08

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. 6/28/08

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.” 6/28/08

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. 6/28/08

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. 6/28/08

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. 6/28/08

Special Edition IX —
Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak… Concerns About FDA/CDC

Bob Backovich, Industry Giant, Passes Away Bob was a giant in the industry, Chairman of PMA, a leader in promoting nutrition education and, for the last 20 years, he never failed to write us at PRODUCE BUSINESS whenever we wrote about the need for quality product. 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

‘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

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

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

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’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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch Your Orders:
Product May Be Held At Border

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

Special Edition X —
Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak…
FDA’s Contempt For Industry
Causes Pain And Suffering

Lukewarm Indictment of Jalapenos: Solving Outbreak Requires Thinking Outside the Box addressed this suspicion of jalapenos 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

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

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

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

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

Consumer Watchdogs Ignore Current Outbreak In Pursuit of Predetermined Agenda

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

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

Perishable Thoughts points out the basic argument of public health authorities is that they are allowed to destroy industries and bankrupt the innocent in order to protect public health. Perhaps as industry anger over the progress of the investigation of Salmonella Saintpaul boils over, all of us need to remember another perspective through words that Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a book entitled, The Strenuous Life. 7/10/2008

Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak…
Steps Taken to Stop FDA’s Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perishable Thoughts reports the FDA and CDC are in control right now. With letters from the Florida Tomato Exchange and especially the one from Senator Tom Harkin, the message is going forth that this industry shall be heard. It reminds us of the first speech Benjamin Disraeli made in the House of Commons, from which we share this issue’s Perishable Thought. Perhaps the powers that be at FDA and CDC need to understand that this time the produce industry will be heard from… that this wanton and pointless destruction of whole industries will be stopped… that as Disraeli promised: “…the time will come when you will hear me.” 7/17/2008

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

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

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

Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak…
Let The Hearings Begin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perishable Thoughts as attention turns to Capitol Hill and these hearings while simultaneously, in this election season, we rely on our congressional representatives to solve the many problems illustrated in the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, we ought to remember some comic lines from Aristophanes. At a time of outbreak it seems worthwhile to add resources to solve food safety problems, in the calm days of budget planning, it is recognized that so few get seriously injured from consuming fresh produce that budget allocations to deal with the “problem” are abandoned each time. 7/30/2008

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

Perishable Thoughts 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. 8/7/2008

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

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

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

Tomato Farmers Get A Little Help communicated that, although CDC won’t exonerate tomatoes as a possible cause of the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak and the chances for compensation aren’t very good, it does seem as if one segment of the federal government is trying to help. Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is purchasing up to 3.6 million pounds of fresh tomatoes with currently available Farm Bill funds. 9/18/2008

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, Consultant with Sueno 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

Is Produce Traceability Initiative Worth The Investment? reprints a copy of a letter that a Midwestern firm sent to United Fresh Produce Association, critiquing the Produce Traceability Initiative. In it he explains: “Since we’re a tomato repacker, our system got a major test this past summer during the Salmonella debacle. We were able to provide a major customer who requested traceback information on all lots received during the whole month of May and first week of June with the information in about 2 hours. I am very confident in the effectiveness of our system — our ability to comply with the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requiring traceback of “one up, one back.” The traceback system that we have in place now at Produce Packaging is simple, cost-effective, and compliant with the law.” As any businessman should, he asks what evidence there is that investment in this traceability initiative is the best use of scarce resources. 1/29/2009

Looking For Clarity On Immigration Policy writes that E-Verify has put the industry between a rock and hard place. Requiring that all employees be vetted through the E-verify system would leave the trade without sufficient workers to get the crop harvested and would impact sales. Yet the industry can’t very well become an advocate of illegal activity and thus can’t very well oppose E-verify. So the official position is that mandatory E-Verify is fine, provided that a guest worker program simultaneously is put into place to provide a legal avenue for the trade’s labor needs. The macro issue is what is our immigration policy actually attempting to achieve? Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA, recently tried to rethink the intent of American immigration policy in a post he titled, “Immigration and the Future of the United States,” and we explore the immigration debate the points made in the piece here. 10/4/2011

© 2022 Perishable Pundit | Subscribe | Print | Search | Archives | Feedback | Info | Sponsorship | About Jim | Request Speaking Engagement | Contact Us