A guest post from long-time contributor Jay Martini, account manager with the Chicago office of RPE Inc., headquartered in Bancroft, Wis.

From Jay:

The education started in a most unsanitary manner. Nearly fifty years ago, 5:00 AM on the old Chicago Produce Terminal, in the days when rail efficiency was king and produce by truck an afterthought.

My dad & I had climbed up inside a rail car full of tomatoes fresh in from California, he the inspector for temperature & condition before it was authorized to ship to markets in Boston or Philly or New York. Me? When I wasn't coughing out the ethylene, I was attempting to throw the discards Dad had pulped out the sliding door. But unlike Elvis Costello, at five years old my aim wasn't always true & occasionally I'd wind up like Juan Marichal & hit the inside of the door, missing the strike zone & splattering both us and the car with tomato entrails.

Dad wasn't particularly happy about that, and I'm sure the consignee at the Eastern destination couldn't have been thrilled either. But the point illustrated is that in the early 1960's, food safety wasn't even a gleam in some microbiologist's eye. It just was not part of the conversation. Fast forward a few years later to myself as an undergrad intellectual-to-be stevedore for the summer on South Water Market.

All I remember were early Friday mornings after late Thursday night softball games & the bars afterwards. After about two hours of sleep, walking down the market to work and almost losing my lunch at the smell of pallets of leaking, decaying onions out on the walk in the sun was an aroma that is permanently hardwired into my brain. Not a good thing, kind of like not being able to even smell Canadian Club whisky any more. But that's another story.

I'm sure every fifty-something market man has stories that could rival or surpass these. There is something about the word 'perishable' that reminds us every waking day that we don't sell widgets. The USDA inspections faxed to me serve that purpose as well.

So it's in that spirit that I approved when President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law on January 4. It was the first update of its kind since 1932, when South Water Market was seven years old and rickety trucks were just beginning to supplant horses as the purveyor's choice mode of transportation. Horses!! Wonder what 'equine clauses' the FDA and CDC would have interjected there--mandatory horsey Imodium?

Speaking of, I get the expanded FDA role here, just as I understand the new HACCP guidelines. Politically, I'm as against big government intrusion as anybody but there's no doubt the framework is a necessity. My major concern is in the implementation over the next five to ten years.

Quality assurance certification has been a must-do line item for any link in the foodservice & large retail chain, but how about in the urban areas, the small ethnic marketplace stores that purchase daily from the terminal market? To them, FDA edicts translate into added costs to a bottom line that has been skinny for a long time now.

Here's hoping the government exercises some restraint & flexibility for the little guy.

Later,

Jay