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Tainted Spinach Hurts Producers

posted on September 29, 2006

Senate debate continued on the immigration bill Friday afternoon, when this program was produced, but House Republicans claimed victory on a security measure that authorized expanded fencing along the Mexican border. GOP leaders were trying to win Senate approval of the bill - without amendments - to ensure the president's signature before the November elections. Lawmakers aren't the only ones who will be answering to their customers in the weeks ahead. California produce growers and processors continued to work on "damage control" this week in the wake of a deadly outbreak of E. coli blamed on tainted spinach. The contaminated produce has sickened nearly 200 people across the country, and is blamed for several deaths. While the exact source of the bacteria is yet to be determined, one thing is certain -- the discovery of E. Coli in spinach is devastating sales.

Tainted Spinach Hurts Producers

According to the Perishables Group packaged spinach accounted for $293 million in sales last year. Tainted spinach has meant huge losses for farmers and retailers but Natural Selection Foods appears to be the biggest loser. As pioneers in packaging bagged salads, the company grew over the past 20 years from a roadside stand to a major agribusiness worth $2.5 billion dollars. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control traced the source of spinach contaminated with E. coli to Natural Selection Foods, which packages spinach under many brand names, including Earthbound Farm, a major shipper of organic produce.

The company employs 1,200 people and enjoys roughly 360 million dollars annually in sales. According to Natural Selection Foods, spinach accounts for only 20 percent of its business but total sales were down by 40 percent last week. In addition to lost sales several lawsuits have been filed by people that became ill after eating the tainted spinach.

In a move to get spinach back on grocery shelves and restaurant menus, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration on Tuesday declared spinach produced outside the three California counties of Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Clara safe to eat.



Tags: agriculture bacteria diseases food safety news