business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB took note last week of a Bloomberg report saying that Nestlé is once again distributing its Toll House cookie dough to supermarkets, two months after a recall cased by concerns about E. coli contamination resulted in a voluntary recall of all the product in the US. However, the new packaging will carry a label that says “New Batch,” and also will warn consumers that they should not eat the product raw.

The source of the E. coli contamination remains uncertain. While packaging from a Virginia Toll House plant was found to be tainted with E. coli, it wasn't the same form of the bacteria that made more than 70 people sick.

My comment: Getting my daughter to stop eating raw cookie dough is going to be a little tough…but I’m going to have to lay down the law. Tell you one thing, she’s going to be thrilled when the product is back in the refrigerated section of the store – she’s been asking me when it’ll be back pretty much once a week since the recall.

Got a lot of email on this one…

One MNB user wrote:

It's outrageous that people in this country, and their government, simply accept unclean standards in our food supply. Years ago, people ate raw hamburger with no ill effects, but cannot do so now because the meat industry can't (or won't) run a clean operation. Their answer- blame the victim for not cooking it. Then the vegetable got
contaminated - and the agriculture conglomerate blamed the victim for not washing it sufficiently. Then the eggs got contaminated, and we were all told illness would be our own fault for not cooking them. And on, and on, and on. Now, we have Toll House, which can't (or won't) clean up an operation that supplies cookie dough to children, once again blaming the victim. Toll House executives should get a ruler across the knuckles and a seat in the corner. It's sad, but typical, that your response is that you'll have to lay down the law with your daughter, rather than calling for Nestlé to clean up their act and produce a clean product fit for human consumption. As I said, it's outrageous that people supplying our food are allowed to get away with this.

By the way, shut up about obesity. Everybody's sick of your preaching.

To be fair to Nestlé, that company’s situation seems to be different from that of Peanut Corp. of America, say, where there appears to have been deliberate and likely criminal negligence.

As for your last point, I’m pretty sure not everyone wants me to shut up.

For the record, I’m trying to reason my way through a complex issue, figuring out what is fair and sensible in an environment that doesn’t always encourage either. Sure, I’m going it out loud, which I suppose can get tiresome…but I suspect what I’m trying to do is being done in a lot of places by a lot of people.

Another MNB user wrote:

After a fun night of making the product and enjoying it in all stages of the baking process, we received an automated call from Costco alerting us of the recall on the product. They instructed us to return the unused portion back to the store for a full refund and further explain that eating uncooked cookie dough was not a good practice. In addition, they left a phone number if you should need more information.

With the amount of recalls in the marketplace today, the uneducated consumer continues to make a generalized statement about products coming from China along with other media hyped topics. I hope the FDA takes a stance on regulating the quality of the products with a fine tooth comb to help eliminate these issues. Let’s face it, with the amount of things that a manufacture needs to do and the people involved, mistakes are going to happen. However for Nestlé to default back to not eating uncooked cookie dough since it states it on the package is a long time practice that is standard in most households in the world. How do we think all of these cookie dough products has surfaced in our grocery stores? From Cookie Dough Candy Bars to Ice Cream.

We called the phone number to understand more about the issue and was sent into automated customer service hell in which you are continual routed to various recordings that generally do not answer your question. I guess that is the way the cookie crumbles..

Another MNB user wrote:

Funny you should mention your daughter wanting to eat raw cookie dough... Only so many food memories remain from childhood and one that stands out for me was the pleasure of eating raw cookie dough as a little girl. It was much better than the baked product. I wouldn't dare anymore of course with raw eggs being so unclean now. Yet another lost little joy not to be enjoyed for the new generations along with trick or treating the entire neighborhood well into dark, walking alone anywhere, playing in the front yard, going to the store by yourself with your allowance to buy (eek) "penny candy"! Sigh. On the other hand, we can all now tweet instead of talking or walking or running.

Yikes! This "old days" reminiscence ( just like my parents and granny use to make) hit me like a stone: It is official: I am old.

Joining in on the continuing discussion about plastic bags in supermarkets, one MNB user wrote:

At the FMI Sustainability Summit this week there was a lot of talk about reusable bags. The consensus seems to be that, at least in the current economic environment, “carrots” that encourage consumers to do the right thing are a better approach than “sticks” that penalize consumers for choosing disposable bags. The EcoUnit reusable bag program – that rewards reusable bag users with credits that they can spend on support of local environmental projects – received a lot of attention at the show.

I always prefer carrots to sticks.

Another MNB user wrote:

I work in the supermarket industry, but have a comment from a consumer standpoint. In the past, I was a customer that requested a mix of paper and plastic, as I would use each for trash can liners. Then along came the Cloth bags, and being the good citizen I try to be, I switched to cloth, even though there isn't much incentive ($.05) to do so. But what I found, is that now I have to purchase plastic bags to line my kitchen trash can. From my standpoint, this change cost me money as a consumer, and has not helped the planet and now I buy plastic that I used to get for free. Better for the planet (and me), would have been to keep requesting the paper. Hmmmm.......

Still another MNB user wrote:

On the topic of reusable bags, I think people will be willing to wash them, especially if they are aware of a potential food safety issue. However, if they are not willing to do that, there are still other solution options. I have several different colors of reusable bags and even though I wash them, now I am going to ask my courtesy clerk to put raw meats in the red and purple bags only. The produce can go in the green ones and everything else in the other bags. This is the same thought process as having different color cutting boards for different species of protein and produce to prevent cross contamination. Salmonella does not have to be a fear. Realistically, good food safety practices just take a little thought and common sense. Stores can easily help customers in this by selling bags for individual uses which can serve as a win for both customers and retailers.

We had a story last week about the US Department of Justice indicting three men – a Miami man and two Russian co-conspirators – who are accused of the theft of more than 130 million credit card and debit card numbers between late 2006 and early 2008, a scam that affected the computer systems of retailers that included Hannaford Brothers and c-store chain 7-Eleven, as well as Heartland Payment Systems, a payment processor.

Among my comments: Perhaps the most important lesson from this case comes from how Hannaford dealt with it – the company got a lot of criticism for holding back on informing its customers about the breach of its systems, and creating a situation in which at least some of its affected shoppers found out about the problem with their cards by reading the Boston Globe and other newspapers. That’s never how you want your shoppers to find out.

Now, Hannaford probably has a good defense – that to have told its customers any sooner might have jeopardized the federal investigation into the breach. But this is a tough one, and the company had to worry that its shoppers might feel that among other things, their confidence had been breached. That’s never how you want your shoppers to feel…

One MNB user wrote:

As a Hannaford associate, who is biased (yes, we could have done better), I would note that you failed to point out that many of the retailers mentioned in the identify theft story NEVER even told their customers...which is worse, to understand the situation first and then take steps to correctly inform customers of the true exposure or to never even tell them?

Clearly, not saying anything is inexcusable. No disagreement here.
KC's View: