Sunday, December 26, 2010


2010 has not been the best year for Whole Foods Market. True, the stock price has done very well - up by roughly 66% in 12 months. Now I wish I had bought shares last January after all, and held onto them. So maybe my singling it out is a bit of "sour grapes." But I do want to make a point: even the best and most popular higher-end food retailers, including those which specialize in organic and healthy-lifestyle foods, can be caught out selling dangerous, contaminated food.

In fact, it has been a pretty dangerous year for those who shop at Whole Foods - like dodging a bacterial bullet every time you buy food. In January, Whole Foods had to recall a number of Listeria bacteria-contaminated ready -to-eat products (along with some other large retailers such as Target, Shop-Rite, Wal-Mart) such spreads, cheeses. This bacterium is particularly dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause stillbirths and health-problems in the newborn. In early April of this year, it has to recall frozen yellowfin tuna steaks, because they were found to have elevated levels of histamine - a natural fish toxin which in high levels can cause scromboid poisoning. The fish was sold in its stores in 29 states.

Then in early Sepember, Whole Foods Market’s North Atlantic Region had to do a recall of Morningland Dairy and Ozark Farm's Raw Goat Milk Mild Cheddar Cheese - which carried not one, but two kinds of bad bacteria (Listeria and Staphylococcus aureus) . In November, Whole Foods was again found to be selling about 7 kinds of contaminated Cheddar cheeses in five states, manufactured by Bravo Farms. This time it was the more common Listeria bacteria again. Then, later in November, it found it was selling recalled Dagoba Organic chocolate made by Artesan Confections with a touch of Salmonella. In late November, it had to recall nutmeg sourced from a New Jersey supplier, again because of contamination with Salmonella. Later in December, it had to recall a number of cheeses manufactured by another of its suppliers - Sally Jackson - with yes - that awful E.coli 0157 bacteria this time. Then, just in time for little kids eating them, right on Christmas Eve, Whole Foods had to recall Gingerbread houses produced by Rolf's Bakery from its stores in 23 states.

I am getting rather tired of listing the recalls, so this is not a comprehensive list. But before I sign off - three things. One, Whole Foods Market sold many of these products (such as cheeses, nutmeg and others) under its house label. Secondly, I have noticed that several of these Whole Foods suppliers have sent it contaminated food before - that is, this wasn't the first time. Thirdly, I have noticed that the supplier involved announced its recall several days earlier, before Whole Foods got around to notifying its customers. Delays are dangerous. Maybe "healthy' Whole Foods needs to start being a bit more health conscious in the New Year.

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