Tag Archives: Spinach

FDA releases Report on the 2006 Spinach/E.Coli Outbreak

Well, after all of the people who got sick, the several people who died, the hundreds of thousands spent on investigating the outbreak, and the FDA says that the culprit was…


…they still don’t really know.

Because the contamination occurred before the start of the investigation, and because of the many ways that E.coli O157:H7 can be transferred — including animals, humans, and water — the precise means by which the bacteria spread to the spinach remain unknown.

That’s not to say that they don’t have their suspicions. They were able to identify the environmental risk factors and the areas that were most likely involved in the outbreak. “Contaminated irrigation water, uncomposted manure used as fertilizer, the presence of wildlife and livestock and the hygiene of the workers handling the crops all might have served to transport the bacteria”, they said.

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However – Fresh Express has seemingly come to their own conclusions on the causes and is refusing to buy lettuce and spinach from farmers who don’t stop using compost and recycled water.

This action by Fresh Express is both welcome and needed. At the very least, it will provide an interesting comparison against produce companies who do not have similar requirements.

UPDATE: As Jack alluded to in the comments, compost is actually preferable to using chemical fertilizers in produce use, something that slipped my mind completely. Personally, I believe that the recycled sewage water played the larger role, and was focused more on that than the compost issue.

Spinach/E.Coli update

So the cause of the E.Coli outbreak in September was…wild pigs?

For an area of farmland that has been suspected in no less than twenty outbreaks of the disease over the past ten years or so, it is highly improbable for rampant, wild pigs to be the root cause. Think of the statistical likelihood of a pig being exposed to the disease from a local cattle farm, and then trotting to a nearby spinach farm to lay waste (no pun) to the produce field. Now factor the probablity that this happened, not once, but twenty times.

Sorry…It doesn’t strike me as credible.

Meanwhile, in a move that anyone with a smattering of public relations knowledge could have predicted – Growers respond to E. coli outbreak with mandatory guidelines.

Technorati Tags: Spinach, E.Coli

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/E. Coli update

E. Coli Strain Linked to Cattle Ranch.

All this proves is that two farms within a mile of one another, carried the same E. Coli strain. The next piece of evidence that needs to be uncovered is how the E. Coli arrived at each location. While it’s probable that a cattle farm with the E. Coli is the root cause of the strain found on the Spinach farm, there is yet no evidence to substantiate that theory. How the strain arrived at the Spinach location is the one of the keys to preventing future outbreaks.

Expect more movement on this within a week or so.

IRONY ALERT: Mexico recently banned American imports of lettuce, based off the latest recall (whihc in turn was based off of the latest E. Coli fears).

Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Assn. lobbying firm in Washington was none to pleased, stating “This is an outrageous step that has no basis at all in science or food safety…”

Which, ironically, could easily be said about whatever process that allowed a bacteria from a cow’s intestine to land upon spinach farmland.

Technorati Tags: Spinach, E.Coli

Of Spinach, Lettuce, Water, E.Coli and Probable Cause?

From CBS News:

A popular brand of lettuce grown in California’s Salinas Valley, the region at the center of a nationwide spinach scare, has been recalled over concerns about E. coli contamination.

The lettuce does not appear to have caused any illnesses, according to the Salinas-based Nunes Co. Inc.

Executives ordered the recall Sunday after learning that irrigation water may have been contaminated with E. coli, Tom Nunes said.

And if you are to believe retired soil scientist Frank Pecarich over at California Progress Report, much of it might be related to the fact that Monterey County (the epicenter of the E.Coli outbreak) has been irrigating 12,000 acres of edible food crops with “tertiary treated sewage effluent water” since at least 1998. This project underwhich this process was introduced was called the “Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project” As the Monterey County website admits “The use of highly treated wastewater to irrigate landscaping has been practiced for years, yet for food crops, it is relatively new.” So new, in fact, that it’s only one of two irrigation systems in the world where sewage water is treated and then used for irrigation purposes at produce farms.

As Mr. Pecarich discovered, if one were to wonder what the USDA has learned about this sort of process, one need not look further than their 2005 Report on Groundwater Recharge and Wastewater Irrigation to Protect Crops and Groundwater, item 5:

Microbiological work in the earlier projects included a laboratory study to assess the survival and re-growth potential of bacteria present in tertiary-treated effluent as it passed through a model distribution system. The results demonstrated that population numbers of indicator bacterial organisms increased by three to four orders of magnitude over the 11-day length of the experiment. This research established that although the reclaimed water met EPA standards for irrigation at the treatment plant, there is great potential for bacterial re-growth during transport that could place the water out of compliance at the point of intended use. This work illustrated the critical need to understand the environmental fate of microorganisms and the potential for bacterial re-growth in reclaimed water used for crop irrigation so that future problems of food and groundwater contamination via wastewater irrigation can be prevented.

Let’s be clear here. I’m not saying that this is a cause. But it should at least be considered when talking about an industry that has produced 21 outbreaks of E.Coli over the past decade.

As the FBI gets involed in the case, it indicates that the government is looking beyond civil liability into the realm of criminal liability, and it’s dreadfully important that every avenue is explored in order to determine what went wrong. My fear, with the FBI involvement, is that they’re more interested in finding a scapegoat than they are the root cause.

Technorati Tags: Lettuce, E.Coli

Innocent Spinach Farmers

To me, the discussion over “local versus national distribution” or “organic versus agri-business farming practices” are secondary discussions in the post Spinach/E.Coli outbreak.

The big question on my mind is thus:

Why is it that the FDA felt they had to ban our country’s entire crop of Spinach when it is clear now that the outbreak came from one source (Natural Selection Foods LLC of San Juan Bautista, California)?

Why is it that spinach growers in Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, and any other farm not located in San Juan Bautista have to face an economic hardship in light of this outbreak? The FDA’s response to this outbreak was a direct result of the ignorance foisted upon themselves by their own lack of regulation and oversight.

From the article:

The swiftness with which their spinach businesses were turned upside-down has startled growers. Perry Bowen, who farms about 180 acres of Savoy spinach at River Farm in Virginia’s King George County, was having dinner in Pennsylvania with Verdelli and other growers on the night the spinach warning came down from the FDA.

“We were having a great time,” Bowen said. “We were talking about having a good fall crop. We were bucking each other up.”

Bowen had left his cellphone in his car. When he finished dinner, he walked across the street, got in his car, and saw he had eight voice-mail messages from family members, business associates and friends — asking if he had heard the news.

“You talk about going from the top of the world to the bottom in 100 feet of asphalt,” he said, adding: “I’ve got a house under construction. I bought my neighbor’s farm. My whole world is built around this business, and because of something that happened in California it is all disappearing.”

This story should resonate upon anyone who farms outside of the the mega-agri-businesses. There’s little to no process in place to protect farms that have nothing to do with disease outbreaks.

Technorati Tags: Spinach, E.Coli

Another Spinach Recall

From komo-news:

Pacific Coast Fruit Company is recalling salad and pizza that may have been made with spinach supplied by Natural Selections Foods, and that was distributed in Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

The salad bears a “use-by” date of Sept. 20, and the pizza products have a “use-by” date of Sept. 23, according to the USDA

Odd that Natural Selections Foods name keeps popping up. Okay, maybe not that odd.

Technorati Tags: Spinach, E.Coli