When food turns deadly, old-fashioned detective work, modern technology and an appropriate sense of urgency are the best weapons to fight back. All have been employed in an outbreak of E. coli bacteria, which has sickened 146 people in 23 states and caused the death of one since August 2nd.
Detection and warning are what the government does best in these cases. Preventing outbreaks is a more complex task, much of which properly falls on the produce industry. Surely, it has every incentive to do better. While suspicion has centered on packaged spinach sold by one company, the entire industry has taken a huge financial hit. Federal officials are investigating farms in California’s Salinas Valley, nicknamed America’s Salad Bowl, looking for the elusive source of the bacteria. Since 1995, 19 outbreaks of E. coli sickness have come from fresh-cut lettuce or spinach — three of them linked to the Salinas Valley just since 2002 says USA Today.
But primary responsibility for safety lies with the produce industry. It might look to almond producers for cues.
If spinach is to regain its reputation as a health food, consumers ought to be able to eat it with confidence and without the need for government inspectors to turn over each new leaf.