Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Outbeak and Recall Continue

The Salmonella outbreak and recall associated with the Peanut Corporation of America has had the effect of a tidal wave rippling through the peanut industry. At last count there were 666 individuals who had reported cases of illness linked to the Salmonella Typhimurium, located in 45 states.
Over 2500 items have been recalled and unfortunately Dr. Sundlof with FDA the other day made the comment that the recall could go on for two years. I can only hope he is wrong because if he is right it means the system is broken. I know this comment may draw fire from some but frankly, remember I said if it takes two years to finish a recall of a tainted product the system is not working. We will be injured worse than we already are if this lasts for two years. Consumers are already confused and let that continue for two years and it just gets worse.
For consumers there is some sound advice we can offer. Study the recall list at the FDA website. Just google FDA and it will pop up. If you are in the supermarket you can call 1-800-CDC-INFO. That is a 24/7 hotline which can tell you if something has been recalled. Also, the American Peanut Council has been working with us to provide a list of the products not subject to the recall. That web site is Finally, you can ask the supermarket where you shop if they have a register lock on their cash registers so that when a product goes on the recall list it becomes impossible to scan the item and a recall message comes up on the cash register.
For growers, I sense the frustration and fully understand it. Remember please that I was the first one in the peanut industry notified of this problem and I do mean the first...4 pm on January 9, just a little more than an hour before the Minnesota Department of Health held their press conference. I have pretty much lived with this 15 to 19 hours a day, 6 and 7 days a week since then. I dream about Salmonella every night and that makes sleep hard.
Still our response will show what we are made of in the long run. We can have a short term vision and end up just like PCA. What was apparently greed in the short run put them out of business in the long run.
I have heard comparisons about driving a car. Who of us if we knew the make of car our children drove had a recall for faulty brakes would not be cautious and get things checked out? I heard the comment that there are inspectors...under FDA the factories every hour. That is simply not true. I heard the comment that peanuts are to eat and for the most part they are. I even read where one farmer said Salmonella can't grow on raw peanuts but only grows after the peanuts are roasted. These comments are an emotional response and are not based on any fact.
Here are the facts. Peanuts are a raw commodity and industry protocol discourages the consumption raw and that they are processed before they are eaten. All processing includes roasting at about 350 degrees. That is the kill step in the process. No bacteria survives the roaster if it is roasting properly. If it wasn't the peanuts would not taste good. If there is contamination in a peanut product it comes after the roaster.
For the vast majority of peanut products they are safe but you need to discern the difference and don't buy with no regard to the recall. Consumers have to be responsible in the face of any recall situation. Why would anyone knowingly buy a recalled product and eat it or feed it to family or friends? Still there are a host of peanut products which can be eaten with confidence.
Though there are not FDA inspectors in the factories every hour those companies do their own extensive testing and the peanut industry has a really good track record except for this one bad actor. There is absolutely no way a major brand would risk their business based on a stupid short term greed when they have brands worth more than the product they sell in a year.
Neither should we as growers be irresponsible in the short term. After all without consumers today, tomorrow and in the decades to come, who would we sell our product to? And, if we cause consumers to become irresponsible in the face of the recall because of comments we made we are no better than the folks at PCA that put profit before the consumer.
Think about it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Addressing the Recall

I looked at my schedule for February today and the month is gone. The recall has consumed a lot of time since the 9th of January. I have grower meetings and Wednesday we have our annual research report and Thursday a board meeting that may be quite lengthy. Next week I have meetings witht he State Legislature and then the American Farm Bureau Peanut Committee. The last week is more of hte same with one addition. I will be meeting with my counterparts in Alabama and Florida and we will be re-directing our promotional efforts to fit the needs of our industry caused by the recall.

We have had to spend time to this date working with the media to try to address the issue of a small Georgia manufacturer who seems to have been a bad actor in our industry.

We have also been in discussion with folks in the industry and our elected officials to make every effort from this being able to happen again.

Soon the effort will shift to re-building consumer confidence but this can only be done at a time when the recall is complete and the outbreak has ended.

This will have to be an indsutry wide effort and will need to be done in harmony if we are to get past where we are today. Consumption is off about 25% because of this.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Peanut Recall Up Close and Personal

Last Wednesday night (a week ago) I studied the FDA report on the PCA factory in Blakely, Georgia released that afternoon while I was in route to Waynesboro for a growers meeting. I studied the expanded recall and it became obvious to me that the Peanut Commission with the expanded recall became subject to that portion of the recall. It was on canned peanuts which we last purchased in December of 2007 and which in all likelihood are not even in existence. We still to err on the side of caution have issued a recall.

The actions of what appears to be a bad actor in the peanut industry has been far reaching. I think it was FDA which I saw has classified this the largest food recall in history. It has become the seemingly never ending story.

Today I did an interview with a reporter from National Public Radio and told her what I have repeated time and again to reporters from all across this country. This is not a farmer issue because both roasting and grinding peanut butter reach heats high enough to kill salmonella. Yet my farmers are suffering because we already had carryover from the 2008 crop staring us in the face and now this has made pre-planting contracts virtually non-existent. I also pointed out the fact that our industry has a history of delivering a safe quality product and that there are products all over the supermarket shelves which meet that standard in the face of this confusing issue.

The Peanut Commission along with the American Peanut Council and others in the industry have been very proactive in this situation. After the recall is complete there will be a lot more to be done. We have to re-build consumer confidence in the industry as a whole.

This should demonstrate how fragile our reputation can be and how one bad actor can impact the lives of consumers and thereby the lives of each of us in this industry. I hope that reasonable reform can be made which will not hinder the processing of peanuts but will assure that a bad actor cannot get away with reckless conduct.

We have a lot of work to do.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dealing with a Crisis

This Salmonella recall is a real challenge. It is the largest food recall in the history of our country and by far the most devastating situation our industry has ever dealt with.

A bad actor has created absolute chaos. It is a challenge for all of us.

Sadly it has just complicated the situation for our farmers. It is time to line up operating loans and determine what will be planted and now no contracts means some real uncertainty.