Do buyers 'care enough' about food safety? - The Packer

Do buyers 'care enough' about food safety?

08/19/2012 08:03:00 PM
Tom Karst

National Editor Tom KarstThe Packer's coverage of the recent foodborne illness linked to southwest Indiana cantaloupe had some interesting follow-on comments from the trade. Check the CDC for the latest on the outbreak.


The reader comment that caught my eye was one submitted by "vendor" from Los Angeles:

come on retailers... your Vice Presidents tell us we have to be Primus, Harvestmark, PTI, etc etc etc to be a vendor... We spend the money and do it right... but when the market is in an oversupply situation and some broker offers you $1 off a case, buyers ditch us for more margin over food safety... if your VPs are going to talk the talk, buyers need to walk the walk... This should not be happening...


Another, from "Anon," said this:

I agree... in addition, I think it's noteworthy that a lot of retailers completely lose the ability to trace product once it hits their warehouse and goes out to stores. Regardless of whether or not a vendor can trace to the pallet or to the case, or what stickers w/ info are used on the fruit, if the retailers don't do their part as well as growers, we're not doing our best as an industry to be able to act in these circumstances.


Leaping to a particular conclusion, the comments are presupposing that the farm where the tainted melons came from did not meet the same food safety standards that other farms did. The comments also assume that the buyers chose these melons over others because of price, and in the process gave short shrift to food safety considerations.

Based on the incomplete knowledge we have about the particulars of this case, it is unfair to make those assumptions. Still, the comments play on a stereotype that is no doubt grounded in some experience.

Do retail "vice presidents" have a differing view of the importance of food safety audits than do buyers? Is it possible for buyers to treat all suppliers the same when it comes to food safety expectations? What do readers think? Is there a disconnect between chain store brass and their buyers when it comes to food safety expectations relative to market price?

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california  |  August, 20, 2012 at 11:46 AM

Excellent question Tom and I think the issue has multiple layers. Do buyers do enough? Probably not, but at this point, they haven't been asked to do anything other than buy the product for the best price. My question is whether food safety is important enough to retailers, distributors and food service providers to buy ONLY from trusted suppliers who have achieved certain food safety requirements? Often these requirements are mandated by VP's or food safety managers and it is merely a check-off for the buyer. In my opinion, there is a disconnect between what corporate requires and buyers are asked to do. Is that an internal issue or "go between" issue? Internally, many buyers have supplier relationships, but some of those suppliers are brokers. Buyers rely upon brokers for spot quotes and filling orders that otherwise fall short. Not that brokers are necessarily to blame, but they are looking to make their margins too and food safety may not fall in first priority. Another issue is the "local buy" phenomenon. Although it may appeal to the requests of consumers, what is local is not always safest. Many local or regional suppliers are producing products for only days or weeks and may do so on lines used for processing other commodities. Each of the recent cantaloupe food safety events (Jensen, Burch and now Indiana) occured in regional areas that may have other risk factors to consider in cantaloupe food safety. Finally, freight advantages and its impact in our marketplace cannot be disregarded. We now ship products that return less than the cost of the freight. This is scary! In sum, buyers should do more, but it is up to the entire chain as well. Education is key and better understanding is paramount.

Tom K    
Lenexa  |  August, 20, 2012 at 02:35 PM

Garrett, excellent comments, covering the various responsibilities and duties of the supply chain. Also put together a poll on a related issue in the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group.

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