Communication is key for truckers, others in food recalls

| 9/5/2007

A grower’s spokesman says good communication with the truckers was key in the containment of more than 90 percent of his company’s 8,118 cases of bagged spinach that were recently recalled because of possible salmonella contamination, but he isn’t sure exactly what that communication was.

“Well, I was not involved in those specific communications so I couldn’t tell you exactly what was told to each individual, but apparently the communications went very smoothly and word was passed down through the chain very effectively,” Metz Fresh spokesman Greg Larsen told Land Line on Wednesday, Sept. 5.

And while Larsen said Metz Fresh officials understand truck drivers play a critical role in the food supply chain, he said he isn’t aware of any written procedures in place for produce haulers to follow when a recall is issued when they are in transit with potentially contaminated product.

Written communication is key, especially when truckers are responsible for making sure contaminated product doesn’t make it into the marketplace, according to Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA regulatory affairs specialist.

“This would be extremely helpful for truck drivers to have detailed instructions on what to do and where to go during a recall such as this one when a problem is found and the product is already in transit,” Rajkovacz said.

Larsen said word was passed down through the company’s direct customers, who in turn, contacted their truck drivers. Metz Fresh Managing Principal John Cumming, who was personally answering phones last week at the company’s headquarters in King City, CA, agreed.

“Generally, as soon as we knew there was an issue, we contacted customers, who in turn, contacted their truckers,” Cumming told Land Line Thursday, Aug. 30.

“It’s very important – if the trucker knows that when he or she has to be very careful as to what they unload to make sure they flag certain lots that we have clearly marked – that’s where the trucker is vital in a voluntary recall.”

While Larsen said more than 90 percent of the product was held and the company continues to collect information, he said he isn’t sure exactly how many bags made it to retailers.

“I do not know at this point. One of the reasons you don’t want to be speculative in regards to ‘Oh, we got them all,’ is because we still want people to be looking,” he said. “Our goal remains to clearly find every last bag. Now, will we ever actually achieve that goal – it’s hard to say, but that definitely remains our goal.”

After last year’s E.coli outbreak in bagged spinach left many truckers “holding the bag” with recalled product on their trailers and no answers as to what to do with the tainted product, many truckers and OOIDA members called Land Line to ask the questions, “What do we do now?”

OOIDA and Land Line have been on an almost year-long quest to make sure the produce industry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration understand the importance of including truckers in any meaningful discussions about food safety from “farm to fork.”

Rajkovacz has even testified before the FDA on the issues produce haulers face every day out on the road and the lack of procedures for truck drivers to follow when a problem is found with a load on their trailer.

“We are trying to get the message out there that truckers should not be the dumping ground for contaminated product that has been put on their trailers,” he said. “Small-business truckers need to be included in meaningful discussions regarding the safety and security of the nation’s food distribution supply chain,” he said

After more than 200 people were sickened and three died after last year’s E.coli outbreak traced back to Natural Selections’ bagged spinach, the produce industry developed the Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement to improve sanitation and testing procedures of leafy greens and also to improve consumers’ confidence in eating leafy greens again. Metz Fresh is a signatory on the agreement and is also on the Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement Board.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer