BENTONVILLE, Ark. (FNS) -- Wal-Mart here has updated its buying procedures to reflect multistate product distribution, following federal charges that the operator transported hundreds of cartons of Mexican avocados to states not having the federal approval to sell them.
Meanwhile, an internal investigation by the company found that the shipments were part of a short purchase made through a wholesaler.
"There was a short of California avocados and we sourced product through a wholesaler. Unfortunately, product went to states where Mexican avocados should not be," said McCormick.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, has accused the chain of transporting 668 cartons of the imported avocados and selling them in states where it is illegal to do so during late 1997 and early 1998. It is illegal to ship imported Mexican avocados in some states due to the possible spread of plant pests that could jeopardize domestic agriculture. Wal-Mart could be fined up to $1,000 on each of the 156 counts issued, in civil penalties.
At the time of the discovery, Wal-Mart's quality-assurance department worked with government agencies to establish methods to prevent this mistake from happening again. The short supplier was also included in the process, McCormick said.
"Following that process, the USDA said we did a good job with the trace-back program and that we responded appropriately once we understood about the accident," said McCormick. "We now feel confident that we have done everything to ensure that this will not happen again."
Company officials stress that this was not a deliberate action, rather an oversight in distribution due to the complexities of operating more than 2,300 units plus 446 club store units. Many times, because of the chain's aggressive growth, distribution warehouses assigned to supply specific units are reassigned to cover additional stores, which may be located in other states, said officials.
USDA regulations confine distribution of the Mexican crop to 19 states in the Northeast, and the District of Columbia, from November to February. It is believed that the colder climate would prevent the infestation or establishment of any avocado pests.