The Checkout

Spinach Tales

So it's Day Four of the Spinach Alert.

(If you're just joining us, and wondering why you can't find fresh spinach at the grocery store, on Friday the FDA notified the public that a deadly E. coli outbreak has been traced back to fresh spinach.)

Over the weekend, my editor Kathy tried ordering a sandwich that normally had spinach in it. Rather than make the sandwich without spinach, the restaurant refused to make it at all.

Also: Despite Giant's claim that it was pulling spinach from its stores, Kathy found spinach in the salad bar and in salad mixes at her local Giant in Baltimore.

We're wondering if anyone else has had similar experiences. If so, share your spinach stories here.

By Annys Shin |  September 18, 2006; 1:24 PM ET Consumer News
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I had some delicious spinach last night, with no fear of contamination. That's because I got it from a local farmer through a CSA (Community-Sponsored Agriculture).

Episodes like this make me thank the small local farmers, and worry about the vulnerability of our mass-market food-supply channels.

Posted by: Ms L | September 18, 2006 1:59 PM

I tried to get an eggs florentine sandwich at Starbucks this morning and was told that particular sandwich is no longer available due to the spinach recall...

Posted by: Eric | September 18, 2006 2:21 PM

I just had a salad from Amazon cafe. I never noticed that there was spinach in the salad, but after a few bites, I saw maybe 3-4 spinach leaves. Oh well. Hopefully I survive.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 18, 2006 3:07 PM

Ever heard of the waiter spitting in your soup? This is what you get for talking tough on immigration.

Posted by: Mehiko | September 18, 2006 3:30 PM

We went to Costco in Gaithersburg Saturday to get some mixed organic greens that included spinach. Nada. All of it was pulled, presumably nationwide.

We had a partially consumed box that went to the trash. We felt a one in a hundred million is about the odds of winning powerful (which we have never ever considered playing). With the penalty of significant illness, we opted out. We got romaine hearts instead.

Is there a lab or public health contact that can culture suspected material that the public can use?

Posted by: duke | September 18, 2006 4:37 PM

At the Wedge Community Co-op in Minneapolis
on Saturday, there was a sign at the deli
counter that there would be no fresh spinach on the shelves in the produce section because of the FDA's warnings.

Unfortunately, there was fresh spinach in
the produce section - Earthbound clamshell
spring mix (includes spinach), bulk baby
spinach from Avalanche (a local MN or WI
grower), and bagged spinach from Avalanche
also. Given the fact that many people from
WI have become ill, with one death reported
it seem curious that the local grower would
not be considered the source of the problem.

Earthbound Farms operates a very clean,
high tech processing facility in CA -- the
FDA has also stated that they are looking
at other possible sources of the e-coli
strain from this outbreak. Also, it has been noted that mostly women have become ill.

The FDA seems to be creeping along on this
one -- if thousands of people reported
becoming ill frome eating fresh spinach,
would they be dragging this investigation

We may find out that it was not spinach at
all, perhaps a salad dressing or toppings
like mushrooms, carrots, croutons!

This has been devastating to the fresh
produce industry! Makes you wonder
what some of the growers around the country
are using for fertilizers! Raw manure,
human sludge (yes, they do).

Posted by: L Kelly | September 18, 2006 4:54 PM

I understand that if you cook spinach above 160F, you kill E.coli. I would love to have fresh spinach to cook. We usually have it once a week.

Posted by: Foggy Bottom | September 18, 2006 5:26 PM

Unfortunately, spinach will be a very long time recovering, no matter what they eventually find. Remember the Tylenol poisonings? It's a wonder Tylenol survived.

Posted by: Pat | September 18, 2006 6:21 PM

I wholeheartedly endorse the posting about CSAs. We also subscribe in my house. We know our farmer, visit his farm at least once a year, and know how our food is raised--and fertilized. Hopefully this sad affair will alert more consumers to the whys and wherefores of what they put into their mouths every day. Just because it's 'organic' doesn't mean it can't be contaminated--and as we learned from an article about mild recently, 'organic' is term that can be bent by agri-business.

One other note: any menu item with 'florentine' in the name will have to be pulled since the term implies use of spinach in the recipe--it's definitional!

Posted by: Selden | September 18, 2006 7:20 PM

Wow, with 111 sick and 1 fatality, it's a pandemic!

Good old fashioned media hyped up paranoia. Just what this country needs more of.

How many people are sickened or die every year from cigarettes? Nobody's pulling those off the shelves.

Posted by: Matt | September 18, 2006 8:02 PM

"How many people are sickened or die every year from cigarettes? Nobody's pulling those off the shelves."

Yeah, but when you smoke, you should expect illness. Not necessarily so with your food.

Posted by: Karen | September 18, 2006 11:33 PM

Yes, and no one buys strawberries anymore or has them in school lunches because ten years ago (maybe more, now), there was an e coli outbreak and KIDS DIED. (and I don't think it killed the Mexican strawberry industry.)

Posted by: MB | September 19, 2006 10:52 AM

"Good old fashioned media hyped up paranoia. Just what this country needs more of."

What, would you rather no one told you if spinach killed people? Imagine how much worse it could be if there hadn't been any news stories:

1. More people would've eaten the spinach and died. Arguably, still not that many people compared to other public health disasters, but I'd still be mad if it was my mom and no one had told me about the danger.

2. Doctors wouldn't have known to move E. coli up in the list of diagnoses they consider. Guess what - doctors read the paper, too.

3. Local public health officials wouldn't have been keeping as close track. Yep, they read the paper, too. Also, I bet they watch TV.

4. There wouldn't be any public pressure on farmers/processors/whoever to clean up (as it were) their practices. Yeah, we don't know yet what practices went wrong. Think it's a little more likely they'll become publicly known if the media reports on it? 'Cause I do.

Posted by: h3 | September 19, 2006 1:30 PM

Do you know what I think about organic now a days? I know it's suppossedly better for you and all but I just can't get the thought of how it is grown with organic fertilizer! Cow poop that hasn't even been processed. No wonder people are getting sick. Organic equals grown in poop. We know what e.coli is don't you? Poop!
Thank goodness for the conventional, cheaper and affordable brand. FDA approved too. Organics are a big stinker. What is supplier of produce. Stinky!

Posted by: Kendra | September 19, 2006 1:43 PM

Gee, if I had to choose between poop exposure, something that may harbor bacteria a healthy well maintained body can fend off or handle, and pesticide/hormone/unnatural substance exposure, which causes a host of cumulative effects the human body is not designed to endure...I'd pick poop any day. So what's a bellyache or bout of diarrhea or two (for healthy people) compared to cellular damage, mutations, and cancerous growths from man-made concoctions? I suppose it doesn't matter. The chemicals and hormones have so invaded the land sea and air that I'm going to die from their repurcussions anyways. More hormone-laced milk please!

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | September 19, 2006 1:51 PM

When's the last time we got a scare from conventionally grown produce? The media is calling this a national outbreak that's killed one person and sickened at least 113. I think it shows the naturally caused bacteria can be even more harmful that the chemicals that we've produced. IF it wasn't for chemicals, you wouldn't even be typing on a computer and downplaying the benefits of technology! You're probably scared that you'll get cancer out of the computer emissions. Jeesh, our bodies are dynamic forces and adapts and changes with the environment. Hormones/vaccines are good for you! Without them you'd probably have died from some naturally caused air borne virus!
Think about it!

Posted by: Erika | September 19, 2006 2:20 PM

It was noteworthy to me that this columnist wrote that Giant had not pulled all salad mixes from their shelves that contain spinach. I live in a small town in Va. that only has two grocery stores, one of them is Martin's which is a Giant food store. I noticed that the produce dept. was still selling bags of mixed salad this past weekend that contained spinach. I complained about it both on Saturday and Sunday, to no avail. I spoke personally to two managers who stated that they had removed all that they had been instructed to remove from their shelves, and nothing more was going to be done. I am very disappointed in my favorite grocery store, and wish I had somewhere else to shop.

Posted by: Wanda, Front Royal, VA | September 19, 2006 9:38 PM

Bacteria work on short time tables. Chemicals are insidious and work over years of accumulation, even generations. The people are basically getting a tummy ache and the runs from this, and only ONE has been killed. Stack that up against the cancer epidemic that has emerged since man-made chemical use skyrocketed. Cancer morality rates vs. e. coli mortality rates...hmmm.

Ironically, I don't give a rat's patoot about how my computer is killing me, since its immediate usefulness outweighs the long term risks. I'm not afraid of anything. I know many the risks I confront, and I know that there are many I do not know I confront. I make educated decisions accordingly, just as everyone would be advised to do. I just appreciate both sides of the debate being laid out, thank you.

The point of the post was to note it's silly to pidgeonhole organic produce when we are surrounded by constant dangers to our long-term survival, some of which we can change and some over which we have no control.

I disagree with you that additional hormone exposure is good for us, Erika. Women are especially prone to accumulate environmental poisons in our fatty tissues, and there are many studies connecting the dots between what's changed in our external environment (and what hormone mimicing substances we are exposed to) and the increase in breast, ovarian, and other cancers.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | September 19, 2006 9:50 PM

makes you wonder about the people who harvest our spinach -- do they wash their hands? do they live in substandard housing? do they care at all for food safety?

have you ever been to a local eatery and watched how some of the food handlers while WEARING those protective plastic gloves make change, toss garbage, and then grab your morning bagel WITH THOSE SAME GLOVES ON??

Who cares, huh??!!

Posted by: Ace | September 20, 2006 11:31 AM

Turns out that the spinach wasn't organic anyway - it was conventional produce. Of course, you would have known that if you actually understood anything at all about orrganic farming...but why ruin a perfectly good rant with a little research and knowledge! No, the don't put poop on organic plants. They put compost on plants, and only organic compost at that.

The most likely scenario for the recent e coli scare is the attempt by multinational corporations to scare people away from eating healthier organic foods. Healthy people are a direct threat to the profits from processed foods that make up the SAD diet (Standard American Diet), as well as the drugs that people then take to overcome illnesses resulting from eating like that. You are far less likely to get sick from e coli than getting hit by lightning or falling down stairs. Certainly, even a handful of people getting sick is a tragedy. But the SAD diet is killing people every day!

Conventional food recalls significantly outweigh organic food recalls. One single incidence of ground beef contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 in 2002 dwarfs all organic food safety recalls in history combined.

E coli is a natural bacteria in all mammals including people. The one dangerous form usually only comes from cows kept in large commercial feed lots, where they have to inject cows with tons of antibiotics just to keep them alive. Organic farms do not use manure from non-organic sources, especially feed lots. And even organic manure must be composted, and is never applied directly to plants.

Eating more raw organic foods is in fact the best way to secure your health. Most people are slowly starving on foods designed to build corporate profits, not your health. Organic foods, on the other hand, are 80% - 300% more nutritious on average than conventional produce. But whatever you do, don't eat organic foods. You might actually get healthy, and we can't have that now. Can we?

Posted by: RawFoodGuy | September 23, 2006 10:44 AM

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