August 2010 is quickly turning out to be quite a month for consumer safety concerns regarding the overall safety and quality of U.S. food-related supply chains. Governmental agencies are under the gun to step-up inspection and enforcement and are seeking more jurisdictional power as a litany of urgent alerts permeates news and social media sites.

A lot of attention and commentary have been directed at the massive recall of eggs that was announced on August 13, and now that incident involves over 380 million recalled eggs.  The U.S. FDA reports an ongoing four-fold increase in the occurrence of Salmonella Entertidus that led-up to this recall incident. In our commentary on Supply Chain Matters we questioned why an egg enterprise or agri-business with such a wide distribution of product and private brand volume could experience this type of occurrence without a rigorous quality and inspection program. Former U.S. secretary of labor and University of California Professor Robert Reich penned a scathing litany featured on both The Huffington Post and his own web site, concerning the history of violations involving Jack DeCoster, owner of various nationwide egg farms including the involved Iowa farms.

Adding more to consumer concerns, this week, consumers were alerted to an FDA Class 1 recall involving 380,000 pounds of deli meat products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenesZemco Industries of Buffalo New York is voluntarily recalling product which was distributed to nationwide Wal-Mart stores, as well as delicatessens, where they were processed into sandwiches. The products in question were produced on various dates from June 18 to July 2, 2010.  The problem was discovered in a retail sample collected by the State of Georgia that tested positive for a strain of listeria. To date, the USDA has received no reports of human illnesses.  According to a Wal-Mart press release, upon learning of the recall by Zemco, all Wal-Mart stores were instructed to remove select Marketside Grab and Go deli sandwiches from store shelves.

The FDA also issued an urgent nationwide recall of frozen mamey fruit pulp sold under the La Nuestra and Goya Foods brands because of an epidemiologic link between an ongoing outbreak of Salmonella Typhi infections and these products. The U.S. CDC reports that at least 9 people in California and Nevada are ill with typhoid fever caused by Salmonella Typhi.  Consumers who have these products in their homes are being urged to discard them immediately and further inquire as to what brand of mamey products are being used in drinks processed at juice stands and retail stores.

A select batch of pistachios and pistachio kernel products that were distributed by California Delights Inc. have been voluntarily recalled due to fears of salmonella contamination.  The products were shipped to two other distributors, Austinuts Wholesale Inc. and Glory Bee Foods, Inc. , and were re-packaged and sold to stores and bakeries within the states of Oregon, Texas and Washington.  Austinuts received two shipments of suspected product that were re-packaged as pistachio kernals, deluxe nut mix, and gourmet nut mix.  GloryBee Foods recalled its Patty brand 5 pound bags of whole raw pistachios, and 25 pound boxes of Special Commodities brand whole raw pistachio kernals.  Keep in mind that a previous nationwide recall of pistachios over a year ago impacted over 80 products and multiple brand names.

August may well turn out to be a watershed month in triggering concerns about the breakdown in quality processes involving global based food supply.  Many have noted and recognized, including the current head of the FDA, that the U.S. government has limited resources to monitor and inspect global-related flows of food products.  My belief is that the overall zeal of supply chain cost reduction efforts across many industries, including those dealing with most sensitive of products, is taking a visible toll in the breakdown of quality and conformance. I’ll be commenting more on this trend in upcoming writings.

In the meantime, the consumer goods and food industry has to self-police itself or risk more daunting regulation and control, as consumers reel from a litany of disturbing events.

Bob Ferrari