Sunday, September 17, 2006

FDA warns about ALL fresh spinach

The Food and Drug Administration [FDA] expanded its warning from bagged to all fresh spinach after it learned some retailers and restaurants regularly take large bags of spinach and display it loose.

One would think the FDA would be on top of the custom and practice in the spinach industry before a problem arises.

Also, isn't there some way to identify "which" spinach is involved [DNA analysis]? The whole industry is suffering for what may be a problem of one shipper.

The Chicago Tribune notes-- "It can be absolutely catastrophic because it just stopped consumption of spinach, which is a tragedy because in fact as far as we know it's only one shipper involved," said Roger Mills, 71, who with his brother, Basil, 76, has been selling and growing produce here since 1958. Speaking generally about the valley, Mills said that by his rough estimate, "at least $700,000 to $800,000 a day is being lost. There are several millions of dollars in inventory that is being thrown away that somebody is going to have pay for."

Of the Wisconsin connection, the Tribune reported: Christine Pearson of the Center for Disease Control [CDC] said the activation of the CDC team is part of the agency's regular response mission to help local and state officials cope with health emergencies. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, who formally requested the federal aid late Friday, said in a statement that the state and federal governments would work swiftly "to assess the causes as well as the magnitude of the outbreak."
Wisconsin was the first state to discover the E. coli outbreak involving packaged spinach on Aug. 2. In all, 32 people in the state, from age 9 to 84, were stricken with E. coli-related illness, including 18 people hospitalized, according to the state health department. Of the 32 victims, 26 were female and 6 were male, the department said.

The Christian Scientist Monitor reported on 18 Sept. on how the E. Coli might have come in contact with the spinach:

Scientists say E. coli bacteria live in the intestines of cattle and other animals and are passed to plants through contact with fecal matter. Produce could become contaminated several ways: manure used for fertilizer, fecal runoff into streams that are used for farm irrigation, or even droppings from birds that had swallowed manure. As a result, stricter FDA oversight is needed at sites where produce is grown, many observers say. Currently, FDA enforcement authority begins in the packaging facilities where produce is washed and packaged for transport.

The exposure "could come from literally dozens of sources, and it may be awhile before they identify them," says Ron Gaskill, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. In any case, rules and practices expanded in recent years should allow the investigation to go faster than in previous years.

Mr. Gaskill and several others say US standards known as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system will allow officials to pinpoint the source of the tainted spinach. The laws require each handler in the food chain - from picker to processor, washer, packager, and transporter - to log who they received the food from and who they gave it to.


from the Chicago Tribune on 18 Sept:

"One thing we know about E. coli is that it's a resident of the intestinal tract of cattle, and when the cattle manure gets into water systems, it can certainly spread and contaminate anything that the water comes into contact with," the FDA's Acheson said.

When investigators inspect a farm, they look at the water supply, farming and processing practices, topography, animal and bird activity, and the hygiene of individuals working the crop, officials said.

But so far, "we've found no smoking gun," said Jeff Farrar of the California Department of Health Services.

The Chicago Sun Times reported on a lawsuit coming out of the E. Coli / spinach matter.

G&G Restaurant Corp., owner of Hamilton's Restaurant in Glenview, filed the suit in Cook County Circuit Court on Sept. 18. Unlike other actions filed in the latest outbreak, the lawsuit does not allege physical harm but seeks only compensation for money spent on spinach that had to be discarded.

"We want to ensure that this will not happen again. We're a restaurant, and we're well-known for our fresh products," said George Gregousis, who owns Hamilton's.

The suit's defendant is Natural Selection Foods, a San Juan Bautista, Calif.,-based company that sells prepackaged spinach under the Earthbound Farm brand. Federal authorities have identified Natural Selection as a possible source of the E. coli outbreak.

IPBiz wonders: hypothetically, if the FDA said "discard all fresh spinach," but in any particular case, there is no proof of E. Coli, who assumes the responsibility for loss? On an IP theme, when one is selling a commodity, and one vendor of the commodity creates a problem that impacts all, what happens to the tradename/trademark of the vendor that maintained its standards? Is there an IP cause of action here?

[IPBiz post 1985}


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