“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, but … there are some longer-term issues that need to be addressed.”
It was with this fuzzy language that Dr. David Acheson, Chief Medical Officer of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, gave the “all clear” — explaining that with the obvious exception of recalled product everyone can eat spinach.
But his melancholy endorsement “as safe as it was before this outbreak” means that there is a lot of work for the industry to do to rebuild consumer confidence.
The trade has put together a plan, which we first referenced here that involves a verifiable four-point program:
- An initial super scrub going above and beyond normal cleaning procedures
- Pre-harvest inspection of all fields
- Review and testing of all soil amendments, water and equipment
- As a fallback, product testing if required
It may help for the short-term but, long-term, bigger changes are needed:
First, news reports keep linking the Salinas Valley area to E. coli, particularly around the river. It seems like we need a major effort to keep that river free of E. coli, even though that river is not used for irrigation. It is just too close for comfort.
Many believe it is beef and dairy farms upriver that are the route of the problem.
Governor Schwarzenegger can help the Salinas Valley and burnish his environmental record by announcing a major cleanup of the local waterways. This may include rules to make sure beef and dairy farms properly dispose of animal waste from their animals.
Second, the industry still has to deal with the issue of manure use in agriculture. Once again, it is the presence of a dangerous substance too close for comfort. We can’t have a whole industry shut down one day because of improper composting.
Third, we need actual product testing. Consumers don’t care that much about input testing. That you test water weekly doesn’t mean anything to them. But that you regularly test the product they are going to eat — that is a selling point.
So, that is the right action plan:
- Clean up the waterways
- Eliminate manure from agriculture
- Test the product regularly.
These three changes will make consumers feel very good about buying spinach, lettuce and other greens from the Salinas Valley.