Popeye would not be pleased. Fresh Express has pulled 9 oz. packages of spinach bearing product code S299B25 and a Nov. 7 use-by date from the shelves in 18 states due to a risk of Salmonella contamination. This spinach recall follows one by Wegmans last week. The Wegmans recall involved five-ounce and 11-ounce bags of Organic Spinach and Spring Mix potentially contaminated by E. coli, UPI reported. Sixteen spinach eaters in New York were sickened in that outbreak.
The Fresh Express and Wegmans recalls are the latest in a chain of spinach recalls this year. In September, Kroger pulled its 10-ounce bagged Fresh Selections Tender Spinach over Listeria concerns, CNN said. In May, it was Taylor Farms Retail recalling organic baby spinach over fears of Salmonella contamination.
If you, like Popeye, are asking, "Why my spinach?," the short answer is leafy veggies carry higher contamination risks than other produce. A World Health Organization report from 2008 pointed out natural epiphytic flora in leafy vegetables makes them susceptible to contamination in the field and during harvest. Salmonella was found in 8 percent of samples in one earlier study WHO looked at, while researchers identified Listeria in 22.7 percent of the samples studied. A 2003 study on ready-to-eat vegetables conducted in the United Kingdom showed lower contamination rates, the WHO report said.
Growing leafy vegetables in proximity to farm animals can increase contamination risks. But even when farm animals aren't present, wildlife may contaminate the greens.
Spinach and other leafy vegetables are often cored or have outer leaves removed during the packing process. This is another opportunity for contamination, the WHO notes. Leafy greens are handled more -- whether by humans or machines -- and come into contact with more surfaces during packaging than other veggies. Each added contact is a new opportunity for contamination.
In 2006 to 2007, E. coli outbreaks associated with spinach put the scare in consumers. The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota, said consumers at the time were fearful the use of manure on organic farms was contributing to the incidence of contamination. MISA said accidental contamination was equally likely with organic and non-organic vegetables, noting yet another characteristic of leafy greens that makes them susceptible to contamination -- their leaves coming into direct contact with soil. Safe manure-handling practices are essential, MISA noted, both on organic and conventional farms. But, it said, organic farms must follow regulations for manure-handling not applicable to conventional farms. These rules minimize E. coli contamination risk.
Carol Bengle Gilbert writes about consumer issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
- Public Health