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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 t