A Question of Trust, and Safe Practices

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A month ago Natural Selection-Earthbound Farms was a darling of
industry locally, nationally and even internationally.
A month ago Natural Selection-Earthbound Farms was a darling of industry locally, nationally and even internationally.

The “Spring Mix” has become a staple at restaurants and dinner tables. The produce company was so successful in growing large, and yet maintaining a holistic corporate image, that worldwide media outlets such as the Associated Press were compelled to make the drive to San Juan Bautista to do stories on the company.

On an otherwise innocuous Friday that changed for the company, whether warranted on fact or not.

As of Monday, 109 people have been sickened and one has died as a result of E. coli poisoning traced to spinach from this part of California. Natural Selection has removed its spinach from store shelves. The federal government is attempting to discern the exact origin of the poisoned spinach.

Speculation is rampant. Rumors are rampant. The FBI stated that there is no evidence of tampering or terrorism. As of today the FDA said it has not cleared anything.

“(The FDA) continues to recommend consumers avoid eating fresh spinach products,” was the statement released on Monday.

How the fallout will affect Natural Selection and other area growers remains to be seen. Other companies have survived such disasters, including Odwalla.

But how the company fares is a sidelight. Someone has died. The issue that should not be obscured is public safety. Trust. In this case, we are talking about spinach, a food that everyone associates with health. Think Popeye. Think vegan. Think everything associated with healthy living.

For consumers to become distrustful of spinach is some kind of irony. Keep in mind that one estimate has 74 percent of all nationally grown fresh-market spinach coming from California. That’s big business.

And the companies that run growing businesses must see to it that the operations are safe. Experts speculate that contaminated irrigation water could be blamed for this outbreak. Or unclean packing conditions. We’ll see.

What we know for certain is that industry standards must be adhered to stringently. And that this is not the first instance of this type of food poisoning. The FDA reports that since 1995 there have been 19 food-poisoning outbreaks contributed to lettuce or spinach. Clearly, there is a consumer safety problem in the industry.

Sympathy in this tragedy can only go to the family of the person who died or to those sickened. Imagine being the family of someone killed after eating something so healthy.

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