Monday, September 25, 2006

Food Safety

Spinach is getting a bad name, and with good reason. The outbreak of E. coli contamination in fresh, prepackaged spinach has U.S. consumers concerned about the food supply. As federal investigators try to pinpoint the origin of the contamination on California farms, citizens, not surprisingly, are refusing to eat canned or frozen spinach, too.
The E. coli outbreak that has killed at least one person and sickened more than 100 others is a setback to attempts to convince the public to eat healthier meals. And although there is no indication that eating frozen or canned spinach could be harmful, it isn't surprising that nobody wants to eat the stuff these days.
There were outbreaks in August, but health officials didn't connect the dots until this month. As soon as the Food and Drug Administration knew, it promptly issued a warning, telling consumers not to eat fresh, prepackaged spinach.
Then, some food supply firms sensibly issued a recall, and restaurants and grocery stores stopped offering spinach that's not even suspected of contamination.
Guidelines describe how to wash spinach and lettuce to eliminate the deadly bacteria. But most consumers won't even try to do that until this is long over, figuring it's better to be safe than sorry.
Nearly lost in the panic is the appalling truth that almost a year ago federal health officials warned California farmers to shore up produce safety. And this isn't a freak accident either. This is the 20th time since 1995 that a food poisoning outbreak has been linked to spinach or lettuce. Experts suspect this is because big farms cut and bag spinach in the field, and that raises the chances for contamination.
Americans are unhappy about this, and rightly so. Lawsuits are not the answer to everything, but the growing stream of those now being filed should send farmers and food manufacturers the message that changes are%

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