Saturday, September 30, 2006

Long-Term Fallout Of E. Coli Spinach Scare

With the dust settling from the E. coli outbreak, will you be buying spinach?

Okay, it's all clear now. There's no need to panic any longer. The outbreak has been contained and spinach is now okay to be consumed.

That's the message in this Reuters story about the recent E. coli spinach scare that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wanted to communicate on Friday.

You will recall the nationwide uproar that hit in mid-September when E. coli was discovered in spinach in eight states with 50 people sick and one dead. In the two weeks since, the number of states involved has increased to 26 with 97 hospitalized and three total presumed dead because of the outbreak.

If you have tried to purchase spinach over the past couple of weeks, you probably couldn't because there was a total recall of all fresh spinach products in grocery stores and restaurants all across this country. But with the FDA declaring spinach to be safe for consumption again, spinach is expected to return to shelves and on salad bars at your favorite restaurants again within a week or so.

I went shopping at my local grocery store earlier today and the bagged greens section looked pretty skimpy still. Then we went out to dinner at a restaurant tonight and I overheard a server tell a customer that they would not be able to have a certain menu item because it's got spinach in it and they're not serving spinach right now.

Since this was first announced, I've personally avoided eating spinach (obviously!) and even salad greens for the most part until this outbreak with E. coli passed. It was a decision I could most certainly live with and don't regret one bit.

But what now? What will be the long-term fallout from this E. coli spinach scare? Will people feel comfortable eating spinach again despite the assurances from the FDA that everything is fine? Maybe, but the concern may not be over just yet.

The FDA said they are still very worried about a rash of food poisonings resulting from fresh greens like spinach and even lettuce which have all come from California-based farms. That is why stronger regulations are being proposed by the FDA. Nevertheless, they still say so confidently that it's okay to eat spinach again.

Doesn't this remind you of the constant message Americans heard in the days and weeks following the September 11, 2001 attacks when our government leaders said, "Just go about your normal daily lives as if nothing has happened?" While an E. coli outbreak is not the same as a terrorist attack, I think it's safe to say life will not be the same again in either case.

FDA Food Safety spokesman Dr. David Acheson said the spinach that will be available to consumers by early October will "be as safe as it was before this outbreak."

Is that supposed to be reassuring, Dr. Acheson? If it was so safe BEFORE the outbreak, then why did this happen in the first place? Even scarier are the lingering doubts about whether spinach is really safe to eat or not.

"There are some longer-term issues that need to be addressed," he said.

Yes, go ahead and get that spinach Mr. and Mrs. Consumer because we HOPE it's gonna be okay. Argh! Talk about your proverbial rock and a hard place! They're still investigating Natural Selection Foods in San Juan Bautista, California regarding their role in this E. coli outbreak which showed up under the name brand Dole.

What gets me is the fact that Dr. Acheson is still so adamant they have "serious concerns" that need to be addressed regarding leafy greens and even lettuce, but he also says it's okay to eat the spinach again.

"The FDA and the state of California have previously expressed serious concerns with continuing outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with the consumption of fresh and fresh-cut lettuce and other leafy greens," Dr. Acheson said.

Which is it, Dr. Acheson? Is it safe or not? Why all this talk out of both sides of your mouth? He's even discussing what they NEED TO BE DOING to prevent this from happening again and spreading to other leafy veggies.

"And as part of our longer term strategy, FDA and the state of California expect industry to develop a plan to minimize the risk of a further outbreak of E. coli 0157 not just in spinach but in all leafy greens including lettuce," he explained.

EEEEEK! With 20 E. coli outbreaks since 1996, most of which have originated from California, Dr. Acheson said farming practices need to be reviewed to make sure the cattle that caused the outbreak are kept far enough away from the crop fields as possible. Physical barriers may even need to be constructed to keep the animals from endangering the crop again.

"Having cattle that may or may not be carrying 0157 that are uphill and upstream of a field that is growing a fresh product that is going to be consumed without cooking obviously raises concerns and questions," Dr. Acheson concluded.

How does this make you feel if you are used to eating spinach and other green leafy vegetables as part of your healthy lifestyle? Will you be changing your diet to avoid these products now because of the E. coli scare? Or will you go back to eating spinach leaves as you did before?

Before I started livin' la vida low-carb, I didn't even know there was fresh spinach leaves. To me, spinach was a disgustingly slimy glob of green stuff that came in a can with water in it and it make Popeye the Sailor Man grow muscles when he ate it. That's the perception that a 400+ pound man has about anything that is HEALTHY for him.

That was then and this is now.

There's no denying the tremendous health benefits of eating green leafy vegetables. These foods are so full of vitamins and nutrients that do your body a lot of good. I have personally missed having as many spinach greens as I was used to eating over these past couple of weeks. They have helped me tremendously in my nearly 200-pound weight loss and I regularly ate about 1-2 cups of spinach leaves daily prior to the outbreak.

What's gonna happen from here? To tell you the truth, I'm still not fully convinced they have this spinach problem under control, so I will continue to avoid it for the time being. I hate this because I don't want to see companies like Dole that sell this product have to suffer from the lack of sales from customers who used to buy their product. I literally bought 6 bags at a time of spinach leaves to stock up for my healthy low-carb lifestyle. But now...

The spinach and green leafy vegetable industry will be fighting an uphill public relations battle in the coming months. They need to somehow reassure consumers that it really is safe to begin eating their products again. A national marketing campaign on television and radio may be needed to get people to begin purchasing these products again. It's a shame that something like this would deter people from eating healthy, but it has happened and nothing can change that now. The damage has been done.

So what vegetables am I eating instead of spinach right now? I just stocked up on some cauliflower (to make this recipe) as well as French cut green beans today. Mmmm, yummy! I will enjoy these excellent vegetables, although I hope to feel confident enough in the safety of spinach leaves again soon to eat my salads that I cherish so much. Right now, I'm just not so sure it's a wise decision.

How about you? Are you gung ho to start eating spinach leaves again when they begin hitting grocery store shelves next weekend? Tell us about it by clicking on the comments link below and let us know your thoughts.

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Blogger Jenna said...

Jimmy, I was just thinking about the same thing!

I remember seeing an Oprah show where this little girl got some dreaded disease (was it E. coli?) from bagged salad. After months in the hospital, the little girl was finally on the mend.

Her mother's life, however, was changed for good. She only bought "triple washed" bagged salad, then washed it again herself for good measure. People teased her about the obsessive salad washing, but after months with a child in the hospital, wouldn't you?

Anyway, I'm going to wait a couple of weeks to see if there are any reports of people sick (or dead) from eating salad, then like the lady on Oprah, I'm going to wash my bagged salad again from here on out.

9/30/2006 10:37 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

*nods* I was thinking along the same lines as Jenna. I'd like to see more companies, like Lysol, come out with specialized produce washes. There are many products now for disinfecting surfaces after handling raw chicken so the market can clearly respond properly. If there's a way to kill E. coli I'd certainly pay a few extra bucks for it and take the time to rewash bagged produce.

I can't cite my source because I spend so much time clicking around Google News (heh, how I found your blog!) but almost all of the produce outbreaks in recent years have been linked specifically to bagged veggies from CA. So I think I'll be sticking to frozen or un-bagged. But I'm also cheap so I usually only spring for the prewashed stuff when I'm really in a rush.

9/30/2006 11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will continue to use pre-washed spinach and other bagged salad greens. Lots of things "could" happen every day to end my life and I refuse to live like that. I have a higher power looking after me, and though I will not purpously do things that are dangerous, I will live my life in a normal, reasonably safe manner and refuse to be afraid. I figure every time I eat in a restaurant I put myself at risk of e-coli (most restaurant bathrooms aren't all that clean and I've come across quite a few that are out of soap/have poorwater pressure in the sink etc.)and I'm not going to stop eating out. I guess I'm saying I will live in the world I'm in and pray that my Lord keeps me and my family safe.

10/01/2006 11:13 AM  
Blogger Tracy said...

There are fruit and vegetable washes out there in the produce section (at least around here), that you can buy. I don't know how good they are or if they kill e-coli, because I have never used one. Like many of you, I use bagged greens that are supposed to be triple washed, and that includes spinach. I am not sure what I will be doing just yet, but for now I will be focusing on finding ways to prepare broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, etc. Real veggies with enormous nutritional impact that we don't eat alot because I am too lazy to cook :)

Still, the biggest concern I have is Dr. Acheson's comments seeming to come from both sides of his mouth. It is either one way or the other. And if you have watched the news over the last few years, you know the FDA is not doing its job. Think about all those medications it has approved, and have now been recalled with massive lawsuits. Drugs that were "approved" by the FDA are killing people. I have to wonder if this spinach deal will end up in a similar situation. Obviously, there was something wrong with the FDA's oversite in this case.

10/01/2006 12:14 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Spinach contains oxalid acid, which is basically a toxic blood poison. Also the vitamins and minerals are poorly absorbed in general by the body so there's no health benefits at all to eating it. It also contains salicylates which are allergens and irratate your skin.

The Zero Carb Daily

10/02/2006 10:36 AM  

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