Safe and Healthy

I never realized how many products I eat have spinach in them until it was pulled out of the market in September. If you were to ask me, I would probably say that I rarely eat spinach, but this outbreak has shown me how pervasive spinach is.

The evening following the FDA advisory, my wife and I ate out at a quick-casual restaurant. When the food was dropped off at our table, we were notified that the meal usually included spinach, but the restaurant’s supply of spinach had been recalled.

I also noticed empty shelves in the produce section at our local grocery store. All of the salad blends that I was accustomed to eating, which I buy for convenience and taste, were no longer available.

But just two days after the outbreak hit the airwaves, I walked into a restaurant and nonchalantly ordered a slice of spinach and broccoli pizza. My wife ordered a slice, and when we got to our table, she pointed out that we had just ordered the very item implicated in the outbreak.

Now, I’m a reasonable person. I know that the spinach used in the pizza wasn’t fresh. It probably came from a can and had been in there for some time. It was also cooked, probably at a temperature high enough to kill the bacteria. In spite of that, I was still reluctant to dig in. I had seen and heard enough about the effects of E. coli O157:H7 to know that I didn’t want it, but as a writer for the industry, I couldn’t just let my irrational fears stop me, could I?

Of course not. The pizza was delicious.

Looking back at the outbreak, some might say that one small part of the market reflected negatively on the whole spinach and fresh-cut industry. But we can use that same principle to help rebuild the image of a healthful product. My decision to eat that slice of pizza influenced three people with me to eat theirs. I hope you too will take every opportunity to be an example and influence on others to eat healthy and safe produce.

It’s regrettable that almost 200 people were made sick and three people died. However, this only reinforces that processors, industry trade associations and food safety experts need to continually be vigilant to protect the food chain. In this issue of Fresh Cut, you’ll find an overview of the outbreak and an article on how important it is to effectively communicate with media and industry representatives in a crisis situation.

On my most recent trip to the supermarket, it appeared the message that spinach is safe and healthful was getting through. I was pleased to see a full selection of fresh-cut salad mixes and spinach. And I purchased one with confidence, because I know that processors put out safe products, and I hope that my fellow consumers will recognize this as well.


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