Tag Archives: E. Coli

E.Coli Scallions Farm located

They’ve come from a farm in Southern California that supplies produce to Ready Pac (which I nodded at slightly yesterday).

The scallions suspected in the E. coli outbreak linked to Taco Bell came from a southern California grower, an official with the company that washed, chopped and packed them for the restaurant chain said yesterday.

Ready Pac Produce, the sole supplier of green onions to Taco Bell restaurants in the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia areas, stopped all production of scallions at its Florence, N.J., plant, which federal food inspectors visited Wednesday.

Technorati Tags: E.Coli, Taco+Bell

Michael Pollan on the Spinach/E.Coli debacle

From the New York Time Magazine:

But there’s nothing sentimental about local food — indeed, the reasons to support local food economies could not be any more hardheaded or pragmatic. Our highly centralized food economy is a dangerously precarious system, vulnerable to accidental — and deliberate — contamination. This is something the government understands better than most of us eaters. When Tommy Thompson retired from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2004, he said something chilling at his farewell news conference: “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.ˮ The reason it is so easy to do was laid out in a 2003 G.A.O. report to Congress on bioterrorism. “The high concentration of our livestock industry and the centralized nature of our food-processing industryˮ make them “vulnerable to terrorist attack.ˮ Today 80 percent of America’s beef is slaughtered by four companies, 75 percent of the precut salads are processed by two and 30 percent of the milk by just one company. Keeping local food economies healthy — and at the moment they are thriving — is a matter not of sentiment but of critical importance to the national security and the public health, as well as to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

I could easily have printed any paragraph out of the article, as there is much information there to be digested. The entire article is worth your read.

I choose the above paragraph as I wanted statistics to illustrate the lack of diversity and competition within the food industry. It is this lack of competition that puts the American Conusmers at risk, it is this lack of competition which was grossly on display with the Spinach /E Coli outbreak. It’s also only one variable of a list of about a half-dozen or so which allowed this to happen.

From the top of my head, here are other issues that allowed the E.Coli outbreak – Feedlot Cattle; Cattle CAFFA’s in close proximity to produce farms; questionable water source and water practices; no checks or balances to catch ‘dirty’ product; questionable washing processes;an underfunded FDA to adequately an follow up on outbreaks in a quick manner. Every one of these issues added to the outbreak. As the cliche goes “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”. Any argument that states that the aforemention issues helped rather than hindered the food safety issue surrounding the spinach outbreak better be ready to support such claims.

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As a side note, I do not think it’s hyperbole to equate Mr. Pollan with Rachel Carson, nor to compare The Ominvore’s Dillema with Silent Spring. I don’t make this statement lightly. If you haven’t read The Ominvore’s Dillema, you really should.

Technorati Tags: Spinach, E.Coli, Michael Pollan

Latest Spinach Update

Another bag of spinach found contaminated with E. Coli, this time in Utah. It too was a bag of Dole Baby Spinach, which also had been processed at a Natural Selection plant. It had a use-by date of Aug. 30.

Meanwhile, the FDA has changed the stance on their ban, rewording it to state:

Consumers are advised not to purchase or consume fresh spinach if they cannot verify that it was grown in areas other than the three California counties (Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara) implicated in the outbreak. Other produce grown in these counties is not implicated in this outbreak. Processed spinach (e.g., frozen and canned spinach) is also not implicated in this outbreak

And if you can determine the counties in which your spinach was grown, you’re doing better than a great majority of American consumers.

Technorati Tags: Spinach, E.Coli

How E.Coli Spinach was tracked

Here’s an informative news article on how spinach was found to be the culprit in the outbreak:

…on Sept. 8, Wisconsin officials signed on to a password-protected federal database called PulseNet and filed reports of what they had.

Coordinated by the CDC, PulseNet is a network that was created following a 1993 E. coli outbreak. It includes a database now stocked with some 32,000 images of E. coli samples. An Internet chat room enables officials to share observations.

“A message goes out, alerting others to this uptick, so there is heightened attention,” CDC spokeswoman Jennifer Morcone explained Wednesday.

This is a little “behind the scenes” look at how they’re tracking this outbreak, using initial circumstansial evidence, until they are able to compare “fingerprints” of the any sampled bacterial DNA.

Side note: If there’s anyone who should get a kudos in all of this, it’s Melissa Plantenga, a special-studies coordinator with the Oregon Department of Human Services, who figured out something was going on on September 12th.

That’s a state agency, by the way, not a federal one. How’s that National Uniformity for Food Act looking now?

Technorati Tags: Food Safety, Spinach, E.Coli

Spinach Thoughts

I find the whole Spinach/E.Coli event telling and yet at the same time, utterly frustrating. In my opinion, the series of events surrounding the outbreak are a perfect microcosm of the larger food industry.

You have a crop coming from an industry which has been suspected in 20 outbreaks over the last decade. For whatever reason, there’s little to no national press coverage surrounding these outbreaks – most likely because the number of people affected is not statistically significant. As a result of these 20 outbreaks, the FDA shows concerns and offers suggestions, and little else.

When the most recent outbreak get national attention, there’s little traceability in place to determine where (and how) the outbreak occurred. The end result is that the FDA doesn’t just shut down the culpable farms, but shuts down the entire Spinach industry.

One of two basic scenarios that are going to play out in the coming weeks. Either:

1) The FDA and other State officials will find one farm or processing facility the root cause of this outbreak.


2) The FDA and other State officials will find several farms and/or processing facilities as distributors of this outbreak.

Neither result should leave us feeling comfortable. If it’s the first option, then we have a food safety process in place that requires the shut down of an entire industry in order to prevent roughly 200 people (out of a population 296,000,000) from getting sick and/or dying.

If it’s the second option, then the some members of the leafy-vegetable agribusiness farming considers the twice yearly E.Coli outbreaks as “acceptable risks”.

About a dozen or so years ago, Midas Mufflers had the a commercial where a mechanic looked at the camera and said “You can pay me now.” At this point he would pause and turn to a garbage heap of a car that had been towed into his garage, and then turned solemnly back towards the camera and finished his point by saying “- or you can pay me later”. The message was clear. Invest a little money now, and you’ll save yourself a larger bill later on down the road.

Someone, somewhere, didn’t make the proper investment in safety. I can promise you, that investment is a fraction of the cost that’s being paid today.

Technorati Tags: Food Safety, Spinach, E.Coli

Tainted Spinach Located

From ABC News:

Spinach found in the refrigerator of a person sickened by E. coli was contaminated with the bacteria, providing a break Wednesday for investigators seeking the origin of the outbreak.

Federal and state investigators, meanwhile, narrowed their hunt to to three California counties in the greater Salinas Valley Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara, said Dr. David Acheson of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

For the record, it was a bag of Dole Baby Spinach.

Technorati Tags: Food, Spinach, E.Coli

Spinach Growers were warned of risks in 2005

This is the kind of information that makes me upset on so many levels. From the San Fran Chronicle:

In November 2005, the FDA sent a letter to growers, packers, processors and shippers warning them to improve produce safety.

“In view of continuing outbreaks,” the agency wrote, “we encourage firms to consider modifying their operations accordingly to ensure that they are taking the appropriate measures to provide a safe product to the consumer.”

This makes me angry for two distinct reasons:

  1. Had the warning been heeded, it could have prevented people getting ill (not to mention prevented the economic losses).
  2. It shows how little authority the FDA has in regard to food safety. When confronted with Foodborne illnesses, the best they can do is offer suggestions. Talk about your toothless agencies. What a joke.

We’re on day 6 of this mess, and I think it’s safe to say that it’s been mishandled every step of the way, from the farm(s) responsible for the outbreak to government’s response.

Thanks to Marc

Technorati Tags: Spinach, E.Coli