(Oct. 30) SAN DIEGO — The latest casualty of the nationwide E. coli outbreak involving spinach appears to be the relationship between Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., Salinas, and San Juan Bautista-based Natural Selection Foods.

“We’ve notified all of our customers that we’re bringing our tender-leaf production back in-house,” Eric Schwartz, division president of Dole Fresh Vegetables, said of the decision to sever ties with the company that investigators linked to the outbreak.

“They’ve done a good job for us over the years, and this is a very unfortunate incident, but it’s time for us to have direct control,” Schwartz said.

He said Dole uses production facilities in Soledad, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz.

“We’re going to bring our tender-leaf production for the East and West coasts through our new Charlotte, N.C., plant, which is scheduled to open in December,” he said. “It’s 285,000 square feet.”

CONFIRMATION

Samantha Cabaluna, spokeswoman for Natural Selection Foods, said, “Until all the facts are on the table, and all the cases, we can’t comment about the litigation.”

She confirmed that Dole and Natural Selection Foods were parting.

“We have met with them and have worked out a schedule for that to happen,” she said. “They will be doing all of their own spinach by April next year, and the spring-mix products that we do for them will wind down over a three-year period.”

She also said that 164 of the company’s 1,012 employees had been laid off.

“One hundred sixteen of those were seasonal people who we would have laid off anyway,” she said. She said the other 48 were full-time production and sales employees who were let go because of a 70% drop in spinach sales.

“Discounting spinach, though, all of our Earthbound Farm products sales are at normal levels,” she said.

Dole Fresh Vegetables ends Natural Selection deal
Eric Schwartz, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables, oversees his company’s booth at Fresh Summit 2006 in San Diego. He says it’s time for his company to control its own tender-leaf production.