Friday, September 15, 2006

They can't do this TO US

E. Coli Outbreak Traced to Spinach -- just when I was considering what was the good side of grocery stores. Will the culprit turn out to be organic bagged spinach? Why not -- e.coli are organic. And what will it be next?

I suppose the argument that all food should be slow, local, hand-produced, and small-scale is relevant: then a food poisoning outbreak would not occur in 8 states at a time. It would be small-scale and local. People could die and we would never know that anything was wrong.

Addendum September 19
Of course I was amazed that indeed, the problem seems to be industrial-organic agriculture, the exact problems outlined in The Omnivore's Dilemma. Particluarly, an AP story today pointed out that safety practices among very large-scale California vegetable grower-packers has been under scrutiny:
"Leafy vegetables are the second leading source of E. coli infections in the United States, behind ground beef, but the government relies primarily on voluntary safety steps by farmers and packagers to prevent outbreaks.

"The cleanliness of fresh produce is drawing new attention amid reports that tainted spinach has been found recently in 21 states, killing at least one person and sickening more than 100 others. A second death was under investigation.

"Some consumer groups believe the government should do more to regulate farming and packaging, including the quality of water used for irrigation, the application of manure and sanitary facilities used by workers." -- AP story: "Tainted spinach sparks calls for more food safety oversight." Posted on CNN: 12:10 p.m. EDT, September 19, 2006

Also, yesterday I read an important explanation of how this could happen, reported in the New York Times. I have been wondering how spinach bags could be contaminated. Here is the crucial statement attributed to an expert in the field:

"The cause of the outbreak is still not clear. It could be irrigation water ... or it could be a processing problem in a factory. In the humid environment of a sealed bag of spinach or salad mix, E. coli can multiply rapidly if the bag is allowed to get too warm... . Some processors expose spinach to chlorine to kill E. coli, which can kill the bacteria on the leaf surface. But if the bacteria are in irrigation water they can enter the plant, and the chlorine will not reach them... ." from Agency Says It Can't Order Spinach Recall by MATTHEW L. WALD and MARIA NEWMAN

One more Addendum, Sept. 20
Here is one more word from the same expert, Dr. David Acheson, in today's New York Times. Evidently, slow and local is getting some recognition:

"Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the F.D.A., said the agency “wants to maintain a simple consumer message’’ and not confuse people by saying which circumstances are appropriate for eating uncooked spinach. But in a telephone conversation he acknowledged that it is less risky to eat locally grown spinach.

"'Clearly the risk is significantly reduced if you know the farmer and know his farm,' he said, 'particularly if you are on the East Coast,’ far from the suspected source of the contamination." -- From the brief article "A Stopgap for the Spinach Lover"

WOW, here in the midwest we aren't far enough from California to be safe from the scourge. Those E.coli must really be powerful.

No comments: