Fancy food possibly ain’t safe food: Pennsylvania Whole Foods edition

Sam Wood of writes that shoppers once chose supermarkets for convenience, cost, customer service and quick checkouts.

whole.foodsBut a recent study found 83 percent of consumers pick only retail outlets that look clean to them, according to supermarket guru Phil Lempert. A full third of the people he surveyed have turned around and fled stores that seemed less than pristine.

The Inquirer, as part of its Clean Plates project, examined two years of health department reports for large grocers in Philadelphia and Bucks County.

And though each inspection is said to be only “a snapshot in time,” some chains are more photogenic than others.

At the top of the list for cleanliness were Wegman’s and Aldi, each with near immaculate records and very few violations per inspection.

At the bottom were Shop N Bag, Fresh Grocer, and, perhaps surprisingly given its reputation for high prices, Whole Foods. Each of the chains had at least four times as many infractions (noted per inspection) as Wegman’s.

To determine the rankings, we added up the number of infractions found by the health departments and divided that by the number of inspections.

Wegman’s averaged 1.8 violations per inspection while Shop N Bag topped out at 10.

In general, most violations were corrected on the spot before the inspector left the store and the transgressions were minor, ranging from insufficient hot water to missing thermometers in refrigerated cases. Evidence of mice, both dead and alive, was also a commonly cited problem.

At Whole Foods in the city’s Fairmount section, inspectors in January found mouse droppings throughout the rear storage area. Food samples were being offered without the protection of a sneeze guard covering the food, as required. At the South Street branch last week several food items were found to be improperly refrigerated and a dead mouse was discovered in a trap in a bakery cabinet. Two more expired rodents were found in snap traps there in late November.

Mouse-droppings-in-airing-cupboardA spokeswoman said mice were more likely to be attracted to Whole Foods because the markets carry more prepared foods and fresh perishable items than others. Just as customers are drawn to those specialty items, mice are lured by the increased trash and compost created as a byproduct.

“Whenever issues are discovered, like those in Philadelphia, we take immediate action to fix the situation and provide our customers with the service and quality they expect,” said Whole Foods spokeswoman Robin Rehfield Kelly.

“Making food safe costs money,” said Donald W. Schaffner, food safety expert and a professor of microbiology at Rutgers University. “If you’re an upscale chain, you know your customers demand it. It comes through diligence and staffing.”

Schaffner said he wasn’t surprised that Wegman’s came out on top or that the others didn’t do as well.

Blaine Forkell, senior vice president of Wegman’s Pennsylvania division, said each store has a dedicated food safety coordinator and every employee, including the cashiers, receives at least an hour of food safety training.

“We don’t put profit ahead of food safety and we ask our employees to make it personal,” Marra said. “It’s an everyday way of doing business. It’s an everyday expectation from our stores.”

Microbiologically safe missing in Whole Foods Responsibly Grown system

In what demented universe did Whole Foods become the arbiter of responsibly grown anything?

virtueThere’s no more “Good” “Better” and “Best” in the future of the Whole Foods Market Inc.’s Responsibly Grown rating system.

The Packer reports that in a recent blog post Edmund LaMacchia, global vice president of perishable purchasing for the Austin, Texas-based retailer outlined a five-point plan to simplify and improve the program for consumers and growers.

“We launched Responsibly Grown with the goal of creating a dynamic program that we would continuously evolve with our suppliers to address important agriculture issues affecting human health and the environment. Since we launched the programs in our stores, we’ve had a lot of productive dialogue with all of our stakeholders on how we can continue to enhance the program as we move it forward.”

I care primarily about the things that make people barf, so where’s the details on that, or just more hucksterism to make an extra buck?

Duh files: Whole Foods still sucks, allegedly overcharge

I’ve long maintained that retailer Whole Foods sucs at food safety and wouldn’t shop there.

whole.foodsThey apparently also suck at pricing.

A New York consumer protection agency alleges that New York City Whole Foods supermarkets have repeatedly overcharged customers for prepackaged foods.

An investigation by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) tested 80 different types of prepackaged food from the city’s Whole Foods locations (eight were open at the time of the investigation; a ninth has since opened). The investigation found all categories included products with incorrect weights, which led to overcharges that ranged from 80 cents for a package of pecan panko to $14.84 for coconut shrimp. The investigation, released Wednesday, also examined vegetable platters, nuts, chicken tenders and berries.

Whole Foods denies the allegations. The supermarket chain called the department’s allegations “overreaching.”

Whole Foods, long known as a higher-priced grocery chain, settled a case in California last year and agreed to pay nearly $800,000 in penalties after pricing discrepancies were found in area Whole Foods in 2012. As part of the settlement, Whole Foods agreed to appoint two state coordinators to oversee pricing accuracy in California, designate an employee at every California store responsible for pricing accuracy and conduct random audits of stores four times a year.

Whole Foods faces tremendous risk in connection with the death of an 8 year-old from E. coli O157:H7 infection

Whole Foods trumps food porn over food safety.

whole.foodsThe parents of Joshua Kaye, an 8 year-old boy from Braintree, Massachusetts who died on July 7, 2014, after contracting an E. coli O157:H7 infection that turned into hemolytic uremic syndrome, have filed suit against Whole Foods, the retail store from which they allege to have purchased the contaminated meat, and Rain Crow Ranch, a Missouri company that allegedly produced and sold the meat to Whole Foods. Joshua Kaye was one of three Massachusetts residents known to contract E. coli between June 13 and June 25, 2014, prompting an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (“FSIS”), in conjunction with the Center for Disease and Control Prevention (“CDC”) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. FSIS, which began its investigation on June 25, 2014, purportedly initially linked the E. coli contamination to Whole Foods stores in Newton and South Weymouth, Massachusetts, through epidemiological evidence.

FSIS reports that laboratory testing performed on August 13, 2014, presumably Pulsed-field Gel Electrophoresis (“PFGE”), provided a link between the three Massachusetts cases and the Whole Foods markets. On August 15, 2014, Whole Foods initiated the voluntary recall of 368 pounds of ground beef products from its two stores.

Joshua Kaye’s father, Andrew Kaye, told New England Cable News (“NECN”) that DNA samples had linked their son to the E. coli outbreak. Furthermore, Plaintiffs’ Complaint asserts that a stool sample taken from Joshua Kaye resulted in an E. coli 0157:H7 positive culture that “identically matched the Whole Foods Market E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak strain.” Both Whole Foods and Rain Crow Ranch have denied any clear link between the Massachusetts E. coli illnesses and their respective businesses.

Plaintiffs have asserted claims against Whole Foods for: (1) Breach of Implied Warranty of Merchantability; (2) Breach of Warranty in Violation of M.G.L. ch. 93A; (3) Breach of M.G.L. ch. 93A; (4) Negligence; (5) Gross Negligence and Reckless Conduct; (6) Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress; (7) Conscious Pain and Suffering; (8) Wrongful Death; and (9) Punitive Damages.

What Does It Mean for Whole Foods? As a non-manufacturing product seller, Whole Foods appears to have pass-through liability for the sale of contaminated beef. On that basis, we expect Whole Foods to tender the defense and indemnification of their claim to Rain Crow Ranch. Whole Foods’ success in getting their tender accepted, however, will depend upon the terms of their contract with Rain Crow Ranch for the purchase of ground beef, as well as their role, if any, in the production process in advance of sale. For instance, if Whole Foods’ handling or processing of the subject beef caused or contributed to the alleged E. coli contamination, its independent negligence would preclude a common law indemnification claim and potentially impede a claim for contractual indemnity.

Further, Whole Foods’ tender will be complicated, by Plaintiffs’ assertion of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 93A claims (“93A”). 93A provides a cause of action for unfair or deceptive practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce. Entities found to have breached 93A can be subject to double or treble damages. Plaintiffs have asserted two separate 93A claims against Whole Foods: (1) for the sale of contaminated meat in contradiction to its marketing of the product as safe; and (2) for failing to make a reasonable offer of settlement in response to Plaintiffs’ 93A demand letter. The latter 93A claim presumably falls outside the bounds of any indemnification provision contained within a purchase agreement entered into by the defendants relative to the subject beef, because it arises from acts independent of the sale of Rain Crow Ranch’s product.

Couple sue Whole Foods in son’s E. coli death

I’ve said it many times: Whole Foods is too concerned about food porn and not enough about food safety.

AR-141216756According to the Boston Herald a Braintree couple whose 8-year-old son died after allegedly eating ground beef contaminated with a powerful strain of E. coli is suing the grocery chain that sold the meat and the ranch that allegedly produced and processed it.

Melissa and Andrew Kaye yesterday filed suit against Whole Foods Market and Missouri-based Rain Crow Ranch.

“This lawsuit is about bringing awareness to the issue of food safety and forcing change where it needs to be made,” Melissa Kaye told the Herald.

The Kayes bought the grass-fed ground beef that they blame for their son Joshua’s July 7 death at a Whole Foods in South Weymouth, according to the lawsuit that was filed in U.S. District Court in Boston.

Two other people who bought grass-fed beef from a Whole Foods in Newton also got sick in June, a recall announcement and the lawsuit state.

Whole Foods issued an Aug. 15 recall of ground beef products due to possible E. coli contamination after the state Department of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and federal Food Safety and Inspection Service determined the link.

Whole Foods — which said it couldn’t comment on specifics of the litigation — expressed its “heartfelt condolences” to the boy’s family, but added there is no “clear link” to the business.


Where’s the micro? Whole Foods to introduce produce ratings program

It’s just too easy to make fun of the adjective-embracing data devoid Whole Foods Market, Inc.

old school blueThe company is going to introduce a produce ratings program on Oct. 15, said John Mackey, co-chief executive officer of the Austin, Texas-based retailer.

“Organic is not enough,” he said Oct. 1 during the GE Capital Corporate Finance Food & Beverage Summit. “Consumers want total information, total transparency. Some people want it all.”

Yes, I want it all. Especially microbial food safety.

Instead consumers will be offered a buffett of “good,” “better,” and “best” labels that will be displayed throughout the retailer’s produce department. The labeling system is based on an index to measure the performance of products relevant to such sustainable topics as pest management, farmworker welfare, pollinator protection, water conservation and protection, soil health, ecosystems, biodiversity, waste, recycling and packaging, energy and climate – good, better and best.

market.natural“People have a hunger for more transparency,” Mr. Mackey said Oct. 1. “We have the technology to make that transparency come alive. Every product we sell has a story attached to it. People want it and we try to give it to them.”

Bring that technology alive for microbial food safety – the stuff that makes people barf.

Snake oil: Whole Foods Market still peddling hucksterism

There is no definition for natural foods in the U.S. Yet, Whole Foods applies the label to so many products, it is close to meaningless. 60-60168_MECHAlan McHughen, a botanist at the University of California, Riverside, told The Economist that the whole industry is “99% marketing and public perception,” reeling people in through a fabricated concept of a time when food, and life in general, was simple and wholesome. They used to be called snake oil sale thingies. Why not brag about excellent microbial food safety standards instead, you know, the things that make 48 million Americans sick every year, rather than pseudoscience?

Whole Foods still sucks at food; penalized for overcharging buyers

Whole Foods will pay about $800,000 in penalties and fees after an investigation found the grocery retailer was overcharging customers in California. State and local inspectors discovered that the chain overcharged customers, didn’t subtract the weight of whole.foodscontainers and sold prepared foods by the item rather than by the pound. Whole Foods must pay penalties to various government entities and appoint pricing accuracy managers, and each of the 74 Whole Foods stores in California will face random audits.

The case was brought by the city attorneys from Santa Monica, Los Angeles and San Diego. Whole Foods said in a statement that it cooperated with the investigation and found that prices were accurate 98 percent of the time. The grocery retailer said it would improve internal procedures to reduce human error.

Whole Foods still sucks at food safety; maggots found in meat case

Whole Foods claims to be “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store,” and that they, “maintain the strictest quality standards in the industry.” Such claims might start to be questioned, however, after a disgusting discovery at one of their San Francisco locations on Monday, April 21. Last week, KRON 4 News exclusively reported that maggots were found in a meat case. Now, KRON 4 News is reporting that the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) claims Whole Foods hasn’t worked quickly enough to fix the problem.

Whole foods bans biosolids – but does it matter for food safety?

Ashley Chaifetz, a PhD student studying public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill writes,

Whole Foods announced recently that they are banning produce grown with biosolids (also  known as its less-friendly moniker, sewage sludge), which sounds pretty awesome. But it’s hard to know if the new rule makes their products safer. Biosolids are a fertilizer that comes from municipal waste. Treated human poop. Like composted animal manure, it’s seen as a way to enrich the soil.  According to the U.S. IMG_4169Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sludge is used on less than 1% of agricultural land and promotes the growth of agricultural crops, gardens and parks.

Sewage is full of whatever it is that people consume or flush and can sometimes include pharmaceuticals and heavy metals. But the abundant fertilizer mix is treated, through what EPA says are physical, chemical and biological processes to remove contaminants and solids. The sewage is then treated with lime to lessen the smell and it is all sanitized to control pathogens.

The EPA has 2 tiers of standards regarding sludge. The National Academy of Sciences has looked at the outputs and states “the use of these materials in the production of crops for human consumption when practiced in accordance with existing federal guidelines and regulations, presents negligible risk to the consumer, to crop production and to the environment.”

According to NPR’s The Salt, even Whole Foods doesn’t think the ban changes much.

Whole Foods spokeswoman Lindsay Robison tells The Salt that biosolids were banned in the name of transparency and being consistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, which doesn’t allow the material on fields where any certified organic product is grown. But, she adds, the company’s new biosolids ban won’t actually impact any of the company’s growers because, as far as the company knows, none of them use the material.

Some soil folks have weighed in on the ban, suggesting that Whole Food’s approach here is more about marketing and business decisions than food safety.

This is a resource that’s really undervalued,” says Sally Brown, a soil scientist at the University of Washington who has been studying biosolids for over a decade. “If you do the carbon accounting, you see that biosolids actually capture carbon, unlike synthetic fertilizer, which is what farmers would otherwise be using.”

The opposition to biosolids comes from the fact that people are still uncomfortable with any material made from human waste, even if it’s been heavily processed and treated, Brown notes.

“People have been taught that poop is dangerous and it makes you sick, and so they’re suspicious of it,” she says. “And municipalities have done a terrible job of communicating what they do and what wastewater treatment really is.”

So where does the Whole Foods ban come in?

“Whole Foods,” says Brown, “made a business decision rather than a sustainability or environmentally based decision.”