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Are Spinach and Lettuce Safe?

From and earlier AP story:

Washington: Fresh spinach is safe to eat in the United States because all E coli-tainted spinach has been recalled, the US Food and Drug Administration said on Friday.

California’s food industry needs to address the issue and tougher regulations may be needed, said the FDA’s Dr David Acheson. However, consumers can safely eat fresh spinach again, he said.

"The spinach that is going to come on to the market next week or whenever is going to be as safe as it was before this outbreak," Acheson said adding, "But there are some longer-term issues that need to be addressed."

Acheson said food growers and processors would have to change some of their practices, although it is not yet clear which ones.

Interview with Jim Rushing, a Clemson University professor who works in food safety:

Q. With the recent E. coli outbreaks in fresh vegetables, what kind of questions have consumers and food sellers been asking?

A. I think the biggest question for everyone is how to prevent such an outbreak from happening in the future and what we can do differently in the future to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.

Q. The recent E. coli contaminations of spinach and lettuce have consumers worried. What extra steps can consumers take to disinfect their vegetables?

A. Not very much really. Once contamination has occurred on a leafy product, it’s very, very difficult to wash it off, so we really have to rely on the industry to do its part. There’s almost nothing you can do at home that will make a significant difference.

Q. Should consumers stop eating fresh vegetables in favor of canned produce?

A. No, there’s no reason to do that. The outbreak is over. … There’s no reason to stop eating fresh vegetables. The health benefits far outweigh any risks. There are close to 2 million packages of leafy greens packaged every day. Of course 200 people got sick, and that’s too many, but if you calculate the risk, it’s really low. Also, you have to consider the FDA responded faster to this outbreak than any other in history.

Q. How can shoppers make sure the produce they’re eating is safe?

A. They can’t. You can’t look at produce, or you can’t look at red meat, or fish, or chicken, or anything and know if there’s microbiological contamination, so all you can really do in those situations is depend on the food industry to do the right thing.

Q. What effect will the E. coli scares have on the produce market in the long term?

A. Very little. When people again feel safe, they will return to eating those vegetables.

So, is it safe to go back in the water?

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