Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

“Blue Barf,” “Green Goop,” “Purple Puke,” “Red Rubbish,” or “Yellow Yuck”

What if you were the CEO of a multimillion dollar, privately held food manufacturing company and awoke one morning to find that the name of your best selling product (you previously had painstakingly crafted the name to sound so appetizing) was now known to the public as “Blue Barf,” “Green Goop,” “Purple Puke,” “Red Rubbish,” or “Yellow Yuck?”

What if you had come from nothing and had worked your adult life to create a product used widely by consumers only to find that those same consumers (despite all your donations to charity) had turned against you?

Now, instead of consumers happily (perhaps unknowingly) eating millions of pounds of your product yearly in homes, schools and restaurants, many of those consumers are “twittering” and “facebooking” that your product is now pure evil. Thousands of formerly ignorant consumers are now signing petitions asking for the product to be banned or at least labeled. Bloggers (those damn bloggers) are recycling news articles of years past that cited emails from former government employees that raised questions about the chemicals in your product and coined the terms “Blue Barf,” “Green Goop,” “Purple Puke,” “Red Rubbish,” or “Yellow Yuck.” Now the “lame stream” media, “faux” news and the 24-hour news channels are piling on. And, to pour salt into your wounds, the comedians pounce – making your product the butt end of every late night joke.

Consumers have reacted and pressured grocery stores, schools and restaurants to pull your product. For the first time in decades sales have dropped. Your plants are temporarily closed and the specter of unemployed workers weighs heavily on the now isolated CEO.

Sitting in the boardroom (it feels more like a bunker) with family, friends, and a pile of consultants (all of them paid handsomely) the CEO feels more than slightly paranoid, and for good reason. People are actually out to get him. He turns to his circle of family, friends and consultants and asks: “Why is this happening?” “How can we rebuild public trust and sales?”

“Why is this happening?”

Although many food companies and their government minders feel that consumers, like mushrooms, are best left in the dark, today where information, accurate or not, is accessed on smartphones, the old rules simply do not apply.

“Why is this happening?” It is happening because the CEO did not trust consumers with the truth. Pre-the easily accessible Internet, companies and governments simply made decisions and assumed the public did not care or did not need to know what was in their food. That is neither no longer possible nor the case.

Not openly explaining how the food product was made and what all the additives and ingredients are was a foundational mistake for this CEO. Of course, even 10 years ago it was possible to have an idea for a food additive (err, processing aide), to get a college professor hungry for research dollars to give it high marks, and to get a government bureaucrat yearning for a post-public sector job, to approve its quiet introduction into commerce. Those days are done.

It was also a bad idea to ignore dissenting expert opinions that made it into memos and emails. Documents, especially electronic ones, now exist forever, and, if there exists something negative about your product it cannot and should not be ignored.

truth-small.jpg“How can we rebuild public trust and sales?”

First, there are a couple of things not to do.

Do not shoot the messenger. Blaming what is now happening on the media or the moms who are concerned about their kids health never works. Had you not built the foundation of your business in part by deciding the public did not need to know something – even something that you believed was good for them – the explosion of negativism you are now experiencing would have been a passing storm instead of a hurricane.

Do not threaten legal action against anyone. There are too many good lawyers (this one included) who would gladly take up their defense – pro bono.

For goodness sakes, do not play the political card. Sure, you have given hundreds of thousands of dollars (perhaps millions) to politicians (hopefully from both parties – Republicans and Democrats will equally prostitute themselves), but do not make them dance in support of your product as they try to explain that the money you threw at them has no bearing on their willingness to dance. And, please do not make them eat your product or say how safe it is in front of the national media. No one will believe people that you paid to endorse your product. Remember, politicians are considered only slightly more trustworthy than lawyers, however, both are in single digits.

So, how can you rebuild sales when what consumers see and hear are “Blue Barf,” “Green Goop,” “Purple Puke,” “Red Rubbish,” or “Yellow Yuck?”

Simple, just tell the truth.

Why not say it was a mistake to hide from the public all ingredients and additives that are in the product? Tell the consumer what they already know – they have a right to know.

Why not tell the public how the product is made and what is in it? If you are proud of your product, explain in honest and clear terms why you are.

Tell the consumer what the real benefit of the product is. Does it taste good? Is it healthful? Does it save on energy? Is it sustainable? Does it create good jobs? Is it good for the environment?

Is the product itself, what is added to it, and the process to make it, safe? What have been and are your lab test results? Why not post them online? If you are proud of the safety of your product, prove it.

Invite the public, not politicians, to your plant for a tour and a taste test.

Bottom line: If you have nothing to hide then hide nothing.

Humans have a great capacity to forgive when they are told the facts. Perhaps someday “Blue Barf,” “Green Goop,” “Purple Puke,” “Red Rubbish,” or “Yellow Yuck” will be forgotten and the name you so painstakingly crafted to sound so appetizing will be remembered – Dude.

  • Jim Manning

    Good advice as far as it goes. But in the end, after you tell the truth and make amends, the customer just simply may not want what you’re selling once they see it for the “blue barf” that it is. In the end, in this brave new world, you just might have to give it up. The customer, after all, is always right.

  • Chris

    You are correct, this mom has had it up to here!! I lost my health (and have recovered it) due to processed/GMO foods/gov’t suggested eating patterns(carbo loading- I was an athlete in the 90s).. and to find out we have been lied to is extremely frustrating- but I vote with my wallet, and the sting should already be felt.. we have stopped purchasing 90% of the processed items we previously used to get.. Costco gets most of our business now, you can get organics there for fairly cheap.
    My husband was the holdout for eating this way, but over the last two years he has watched some frightening exposes on big business and the food industry (we work in the restaurant business) and has come full circle to where now he refuses to buy the cheap conventional crap. We eat zero fast food unless you count Chipotle’s and once in a while 5 Guys..(neither of which has a drive thru window.) And our grrls are supremely healthy and fit which shows me we are doing it right. I’ve lost 97 lbs and put my fibromyalgia into remission; my hubby had a heart attack a year+ ago (bad habits earlier in life bit him-he used to smoke) and is fine now mainly due to our diet. If the manufacturing companies want our business, they have some pr catching up to do.. making different versions of their product for the European market is not okay.

  • Larry Andrew

    Bill…..great post. It seems clear to me that the reason the additive was not listed in the first place was that those who make it were afraid to list it because they thought the public might not buy it if they knew how it was made and what it contained.

    Guess they were right!

  • Mark

    If all the comments of “horror” I have read in the past week regarding “Colored Crap” were true, we who consumed the same would all be dead. Bill, I am sure if you approached the owners of the plant without your “guns drawn and blazing” you could have the tour and it would neither cost you a dime nor make you a dime (and I am talking bribe money) . If gathering the facts and doing the research don’t inspire you perhaps you need to change professions. I haven’t taken the tour nor will I, I actually know people who work and have worked in the “Colored Crap” plant, they haven’t jumped on the conspiracy bandwagon nor do they understand the frenzy. When some popular and public figure decides to do a demonstration based on assumption, uses elusive wording that no one calls him on and uses props that have nothing to do with the process, panic will ensue, people are either too busy, too lazy or too gullible to check things out for themselves. Personally I am yet to have a problem with “Natural Colored Product” but I do research on this every day and should the day come I find I am wrong I will so admit, share that information as I do now and adjust my position as the facts dictate. Thanks for listening!

  • http://www.marlerclark.com/wmarler.htm Bill Marler

    Mark, I have been in many, many food processing plants – most with “guns NOT blazing.” As for gathering facts, you should check yours first. I have been in the BPI plant, spent time with Eldon and his family and had a great steak at “Eldon’s.” This was in 2009. I paid for the trip and the meal and gave $10,000 to the Roth’s favorite charity. I also gave them all the advise I posted above. Since it was free, I guess they got what they paid for.

  • Ruby

    Have to disagree. Poisoning is poisoning and miscreants have to be identified and corrected. What is the difference if we are poisoned by food or by misinformation? Still warrants litigation to keep everyone responsible for their reckless behaviors. Sue malicious “pink slime” fearmongers the same as you sue indifferent cantaloupe farmers. Injustice is injustice; justice should be justice, after all.

  • Mark

    Bill … Thanks for your answer and I do apologize for my generality. Now that you are mentioning names I do believe I saw an interview with you on one of the many sites, don’t recall the entire content, but certainly one of the more rational. As far as your relationship with the Roth’s, that’s certainly not a problem with me, those who have worked for him say he’s one of the kindest people they know and donations you make to charity are your business and none of mine. You need not post this, I just wanted you to know I wasn’t trying to be offensive nor trying to slander your profession,I use three lawyers in business and have high regard for all. I am curious as I have not seen anything about this, if you know, what is the increase of ammonia content from pre to post processing? Thanks!

  • Amy (@KyFarmersMatter)

    Best. Post. Yet! Dear TeamBPI: Stop with the sugary coated mumbo jumbo bs. Give the facts. All of them, not just the one’s that are convenient for your case. It is what it is.
    I’m still amazed that the processing aid request was granted, given the level of pH tweaking & residual ammonia levels at the target pH, at the time of the request. That’s “case by case” regulation for you.

  • http://edibleintelligence.blogspot.com/ Sam Vance (@samvance)

    Am I missing something, Bill? Where were they dishonest to begin with? The story as I got it, was that the public was disgusted at a horrid process that they didn’t understand and that ABC news didn’t do a very good job explaining. I never heard anything about a cover-up or deception from BPI, but maybe I’m missing something. I thought the whole story perfectly illustrated the disconnect that people have from food, agriculture and science in general.
    I’m sure BPI can drop one safe, approved process to retrieve the lean beef from the trim and replace it with another(like High Pressure Processing or irradiation), but the likely alternatives will be much more expensive. The worst part is that all a news reporter has to do, is act disgusted and shocked at whatever the process is and the largely science illiterate public will become outraged all over again.

  • Paul F Schwarz

    I personally don’t want to play russian roulette any longer, but I feel that this decision has already been made for me in the past by way too many companies in the food business. The bottom line is tell me what is in what you are trying to sell me and let me decide if I want to buy the product! Since my Father passed in December I am wary of the food industry! Dad was one of the many that perished from the Jensen Farms listeria outbreak.
    Section 51 Row 1 Grave 3 Ft Leavenworth/Leavenworth National Cemetery

  • Mark

    I think the real problem is not one of safety. The public thought they were getting a chunk of meat that was processed by putting it through a grinder. (This is how it used to be done.)

    Instead, the public found out that they were getting a product made from scraps. Doesn’t surprise me that they are upset.

    I have known about this product for a few years now. When I go into fast food restaurant kitchens and see those frozen patties that are the color of the pink erasers I used to use in school, I know it isn’t my father’s ground beef.

  • Frank H.

    BPI never did anything wrong here. The product was safe, properly identified and well accepted in the industry for nearly 2 decades. Then along come an angry mommy blogger and a clutch of opportunist anti-corporate activists and “presto, chango” BPI is brought down, shot in the back. So far BPI hasn’t screwed up and I sincerely hope they don’t mismanage the aftermath of their wholly unjust crucifixion. If they fail to seek recompense of damages they will be screwing up in a big way for the first time. They owe it to their out-of-work employees, they owe it to themselves and if there should be social accountability by corporations (as the corp-haters scream) BPI owes it to American consumers of food and information. Permitting this tragedy of deliberate misinformation and fulmination of mob hysteria to go untried in court would be one huge social consciousness cop-out on the part of BPI and the food industry. Evil is where you find it, and that’s not always where the professional fearmongers tell you it lurks.

  • Julia

    It appears there’s an opinion this situation with this company is something new. The number of people world wide that are demanding their right to know what it is they are spending hard earned cash on is rising daily. The consumer is becoming educated and there are a lot of us that just are not interested in inferior food sources and suspicious manufacturing and government practices. We ask questions because we want our health first, and to support responsible food suppliers second. A doctor I had while I was overcoming systemic lupus was very intentional in informing me about the pharmacuticals he was recommending. I made better choices for my life (by saying no thank you) because I was given facts. It’s really that simple for a lot of us when we are buying our food.

  • Gertie

    In the articles and angry comments I’ve read on this topic over the last few weeks, the ones defending BPI are acting as if we’re angry over being fed beef trimmings. I’m not. I think raw meat looks yucky whether it’s organic yummy cuts or guts mashed through a food processor, but when we cook it, it tastes good. I’m avoiding these products because they are sprayed with poison, and nobody can say for sure that those ingredients can’t hurt us. Whether or not BPI’s intention was to protect us from bacteria is not the point, for me. But I stopped eating meat from places that sold pink slime or couldn’t tell me if they did. I don’t expect a $1 slime burger to cost the same as an organic, quality cut of meat. I don’t think that I am too fancy to eat what an animal eats. My family grew up farming and ate the whole animal, not just the best parts. I just don’t want it sprayed with stuff. Saying ammonium hydroxide is safe because it comes from nature and breaks down into natural substances that are already in our bodies is like saying it’s safe to eat our own poop. Or that it’s ok to dip an apple in a jar of ammonia and then eat it. Certain bacteria and chemicals from our bodies exist in certain organs and tissues where they have a job to do, not routing through our digestive tract beginning with our mouths and bellies. A lot of the bacteria that make people sick are things that live in our gut from where they are not supposed to escape and are supposed to stay in balance with their neighbor bacteria. I saw this article here: http://beefisbeef.com/2012/03/15/top-7-myths-of-pink-slime/ and didn’t feel satisfied by it at all because it doesn’t address anything I’m actually concerned about. Anyway, thanks for this article, Bill, for a breath of common sense.

  • Lance

    Bill, excellent article!

    Frank H, What do you mean “properly identified”? Until now I have never heard of a single sign or label ever having the simple words “contains LFTB” on it. And to justify its existence by saying it’s been around for 2 decades is just plain silly! Look at the increase in rates of obesity, sickness, cancers and general health decline of the US people over the last 2 decades.

    Since when has BPI, Food Chains, Restaurants, School Food Suppliers, Supermarkets, etc., ever bothered to label properly anything they sell and/or cook, even if it was a simple “Contains LFTB”. No industry organization, FDA, Manufacturer, Etc. has done their job right when it comes to; “Consumers have a right to be informed!” Unsafe or not, why is it not being mandated that LFTB has to be on the label. This is not a “safe or not safe” issue it’s a “be honest with the consumer” issue. Bill hit the nail right on the head!

    The FDA doesn’t have a clue. They are currently being lobbied by the food industry to remove information on labels as apparently we the consumers don’t need to know. And as the food industry pays their wages and/or have a bigger legal budget and give the executives high paying jobs when the leave, they will probably do what they are told.

    I don’t know what effect the Ammonia has on the end product. I don’t know what nutritional value is affected when you pull meat apart and put it back together. I don’t know what the nutritional value variance there is between scraps of meat ground into burger and whole cuts of beef ground into burger? You can’t believe the media hype, the manufacturers and meat industry spin doctors and scientists. Who is the “independent” “trustworthy” organization that should be giving us this information and getting it onto labels?

  • Patrick Demetri

    I grew up in a family that wasn’t rich or poor. It seem to me that this “colored Gunk” is just another way of efficiency. When my grandmother cooked a piece of meat (beef or chicken) the “scraps” were used to make soup, or casserole, or something. These could be considered ” lean trimmings ” or “scraps”. Rarely was any part of the food wasted. If you camp, or do any adventuring, you are taught to use bleach, or iodine or halizone to purify your water. Adding chemical compounds to our food or water has been around for a long time. Can you imagine what our water supply would be without chlorine? Those of you who think ammonia isn’t safe should read the information. You all go on enjoying eating food that isn’t made safe, I on the other hand am waiting for cloned beef so we won’t destroy what’s left of our world. You have a better chance of food poisoning from “organic” protein than from “Blue Crud(sic)”.

  • Wally B.

    Labels.
    The duct tape of anti-agriculture fearmongering foodies. Practically any defective set of scattered angry insipid dictates can successfully be held together if we apply enough sticky labels.
    Of course, our intrepid crusaders disingenuously assume everyone reads labels.

  • Reggie

    Bill, why do you warn BPI away from seeking justice? Certainly they have sustained significant damage from a deliberate smear campaign directed against them. Can you fill us in on your reasoning (more than simply to threaten you will volunteer to oppose them)? BPI is screwed anyway, what remains for them to lose?
    I think BPI should definitely pursue restitution from culpable parties. In fact, BPI should begin by gathering the low-hanging fruit. For example, Marion Nestle is still defiantly hurling the “pink slime” word bomb as she gleefully chortles over BPI’s demise. Marion’s boss, NYU, has deep, deep pockets and they will promptly settle out of court without much of a fight, if any. Sure, ABC News will be barricaded behind formidable legal walls but there are guilty and vulnerable players out there for the taking. If the slanderers had hurled listeria-tainted cantaloupes at BPI you would hustle to take that out of a Colorado farmer’s hide, would you not?

  • http://www.OrganicAuthority.com Laura Klein

    This is a fantastic article. Well done Bill. America is waking up and getting educated on the vague labels that big ag and huge companies hide behind and the ingredients that are making America sick and are an underlying cause of our health care epidemic. It would behoove companies to wake up, clean up their products and labels and start telling the truth to the public.The public would in turn respect, reward and support them by buying their products.

  • SteveJ

    First time on your blog. I like your style and will be back. But, in terms of BPI, the USDA, or the beef industry, trust is gone forever. This distrust will be passed down for generations as my kids are old enough to understand what is happening. I was buying lean ground for years, and being charged more for tainted meat, thinking I was purchasing wisely for my family. I never dreamed when a label states “Minimally Processed” it could have been adulterated. The net result for me is, I will never again by ground beef and probably not beef for that matter. Upon looking into how the industry works, I found there are very few small cattle farmers left. They have all be replaced with large scale, industrialized cow factories. In these factories, they feed the cows an unnatural diet that raises the saturated fat content by a factor of up to 3… And that, I found, is the harmful fat that can clog arteries.

    So, I would like to thank BPI for making me take a deeper peek behind the curtain. What I found, has changed the way my family eats and has given me quite an education.

  • http://facebook.com/veganforlife Janet Weeks

    I still say the CEO of this “multimillion dollar, privately held food manufacturing company” should start any speech to the public with a big, fat, genuine, and humble apology, and THEN say “it was a mistake to hide from the public all ingredients and additives [don't dare call them 'processing aides'] that are in the product.” The CEO should say “I am most humbly and sincerely sorry for what I did, I beg forgiveness of the American people, and I will not commit product fraud and deception ever again.” The lack of an honest apology–to date–is what’s hurting them the most.

  • Janice

    This is only the pink tip of a multicolored iceberg. The industrialization of the American food supply has been accompanied by a great deal of secrecy and deceit. The goal is to deceive consumers into believing that what they are being sold is still genuine food. The consumer is beginning to understand that today’s beef bears little resemblance to the beef that was once raised, sold and consumed – 100% genuine meat from healthy cows raised on green grass. The same goes for the rest of our meat, dairy, produce and processed imitation food – at best, it has been genetically modified, sprayed, and processed until it has few, if any, remaining health-giving nutrients.
    Take your own specialty. If you dig deep enough you will find that the relatively new and dangerous E.coli O157 is a result of an overuse of antibiotics in cattle. All it takes is a little common sense, and asking basic questions like “Why has food that was once safely consumed become dangerous?” to reveal that the problem lies with the shortcuts the food industry has taken to increase their profits. Millions of people once consumed milk fresh from the cow, beef slaughtered in their dirty barn and chickens plucked and prepared by mom – mostly without the deadly results we see too often today.
    More consumers are beginning to make the connection. Rather than relying on the food industry and their government whores to assure them that using all of these toxic chemicals are safe and necessary, and just don’t ask any questions, they are demanding to know “What is in this ‘stuff’?”, and “Is it even really food? “.
    The same questions need to be asked, and are being asked of the medical/pharmaceutical establishment, for it is becoming increasingly obvious that we have traded supposed safety from dread diseases for chronic disease and ill health.
    I encourage you to continue to hold accountable those who harm and kill innocent, trusting consumers in pursuit of profit. You should consider branching out into the world of Big Pharma – you could really make a killing.

  • Mark

    I would like to respond to Janet Weeks comment. Janet, as you are a vegan I can see why you are making this post, but I am still not sure how BPI was hiding anything. I am assuming you have seen Food, Inc. The founder of the BPI brought cameras into the plant and explained the ammonia process. Hiding?