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At Trader Joe’s, “S” is for Salmonella (and Stupid)

February 24, 2010

March 4 Update:  The FDA has announced a spate of food recalls due to salmonella contamination of  hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), an ingredient used in thousands of foods.  A Trader Joe’s salad dressing is one of the recalled products, leading some to ask if the company intends to fully inform its consumers about the nature of the potential health issue involved.

Say your young child is sick, very sick. Earlier in the day, you noticed a sign at the grocery store about a food recall of a product your child eats. The recall notice said the product could cause a serious food-borne illness. You rush your child to the doctor, and the doctor asks you what illness was specified on the sign.

And you tell the doctor, the sign didn’t say.

As a result, proper treatment for your sick child will be delayed, simply because the store failed to adequately inform you about the nature of the problem. This could mean more suffering, or worse, for your child.

Let’s hope this is only a hypothetical situation. But sadly, today at Trader Joe’s, signs at the store inform shoppers of the risk of “a serious food-borne illness” linked to the company’s house-brand Chocolate Chip Chewy Coated Granola Bars. But the store signs fail to inform people that salmonella, which can cause hospitalization and even death, is the culprit.

(Take Action)

Yesterday, I exchanged a series of emails and had a phone conversation about this with Matt Sloan, a VP of Marketing at Trader Joe’s. I implored him to simply add the word “salmonella” before the phrase “a serious food-borne illness” in their store signs. I stressed that the most important information a doctor can have is the specific illness a patient may be suffering. I noted that this simple change could alleviate suffering if a child was sickened by the product.

He replied that Trader Joe’s has found that too much complicated information would only confuse shoppers.

In other words, Trader Joe’s thinks its customers are too stupid to understand the word “salmonella.”

Now, I don’t think that’s true, but if you do, please send Matt a note to say “thanks” for treating you like a dim-wit who can’t handle the full information that your doctor may need to properly treat an illness.

But if you’re like me, and you’re shocked that Trader Joe’s refused to make this simple change to their store signs (a process which would cost them nothing and likely take less than 30 minutes of staff time to accomplish), please urge them to reconsider by emailing Trader Joe’s CEO Dan Bane and VP Matt Sloan. Click here for email addresses for Dan Bane and Matt and a suggested sample email to them (that you can cut and paste, and/or edit as you like).

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2010 9:55 am

    It doesn’t really surprise me. I have a lot of issues with Trader Joe’s. They are an amazing marketing and branding machine. They’ve done an incredible job of associating their brand with “cheap AND healthy.” But the fact of the matter is, a lot of their food is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Anyone who pays attention to ingredients…who reads a label…knows that Trader’s Joe’s produces and carries a lot of crap. Perhaps, the ingredients list is a tad shorter and a tiny bit less toxic than you’re average ShopRite brand packaged food, but it’s a far cry from whole, healthful food.

  2. February 24, 2010 1:09 pm

    Ridiculous, but not surprising. The laws about what stores and companies have to tell consumers are way too lax. I’d like to think this is an argument against processed foods, but with salmonella all over produce I guess it isn’t.

  3. Brett permalink
    February 24, 2010 2:21 pm

    The story is sad, but it made me smile. Consumers would be confused if you gave them to much information. Heck yes! So much so that they wouldn’t buy any of that junk. Wouldn’t that be a shame.

  4. November 27, 2011 1:49 pm

    Here it is 27 Nov 2011; and as far as I know, nothing more has been written about this. Did Trader Joe’s get enough flack that they finally included the word “salmonella” in their warning, or do they still have the same old attitude? A follow-up story would be nice. Is there still a danger of getting salmonella from Trader Joe’s products, or has the danger passed?

    As for my attitude toward Trader Joe’s view that their customers are primarily those with reading or learning disorders, I have never bought any of Trader Joe’s products; and now that I know how that company regards its customers, I never will.

    • cmargulis permalink*
      November 27, 2011 3:03 pm

      no, the store has not changed its policy; a friend just last month told me of another recall of a Trader Joe’s product with an announcement that failed to disclose the cause.

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