Spinach-gate 2006


It might seem that I’ve been a bit mum on the latest food scare that broke out last week, but the truth is that I’ve been trying to absorb all of what’s been going on with this. E. coli and other bacterial infections are no laughing matter, and food safety issues are something that I hold pretty highly now that I’m getting a bit older and my digestive system seems to be getting more sensitive to things. I often think that people underestimate how improper handling of food items can make one very, very ill or even kill them.

I’ve lived through a few of these and have learned to take a step back to see what facts emerge before jumping to conclusions, waiting for the hype to subside.
Remember “The Great Egg Scare” of 1988? For those who don’t recall, this was kicked off by then UK Junior Minister of Health Edwina Currie. In talking last night to someone who works in the restaurant industry, he said he still knows people who don’t eat Caesar salad because of the fear of salmonella in the dressing (a true Caesar uses raw or coddled egg yolks). For a little bit, it was enough to put me off of poached eggs, as well, but that soon passed.
Despite the prevalence of information to the contrary and tips on how to avoid poisoning oneself, I can see how folks would steer clear of anything but cooked eggs after the mis-statement that “a majority of British eggs were infected with salmonella.” Pity, because a really fresh, soft-boiled egg is a great way to start of the day (with buttered toast soldiers, of course). I wonder if the same thing will happen with spinach.
This particular scare hits particularly close to home, as recently I was diagnosed with slight anemia. It was concerning enough to my GP (yes, the same one who doesn’t know about the BBLT), that she wanted me to start taking iron supplements. Not being a big pill fan, I am also trying to get more nutrients via my diet in the hopes that I will not be taking these pills (which can have some downsides) for too long.
Truthfully, it’s taken me many years to actually enjoy eating spinach and one easy way to do that is to eat it raw in salads. Bingo, there goes that iron-supply treatment. That’s where the problem arises given the current situation. The company cafeteria at work pulled all of it (not even serving spanakopita as advertised on the luncheon menu today), and it also disappeared from the mesclun salad mix they normally serve. The managers had put a very helpful sign next to the salad bar explaining to us that due to FDA recalls, it was no longer being served.
Interested to see the impact of this movement on other food places, I took my camera and scoped out a few stores in my neighborhood. The small, mini-chain more high-end greengrocers didn’t have any on the shelves.
But look what I found in their loose, mixed salad bin….(in their defense, the original recall was for specific brands of bagged salad so maybe that didn’t qualify).
Then, I visited a larger chain of stores, one that’s quite prevalent in Manhattan. They had pulled all the fresh and bagged spinach off of the shelves. I couldn’t even find a bag of mixed greens that might have it included.
Lastly, because by that time I was really hungry, it having already been a long day at work, I decided to check out a local restaurant that features a great dish of grilled calamari and grilled, sliced potatoes served on a bed of sautéed spinach. I was curious to see what they would do.
They had a side of mesclun which was devoid of the same baby spinach as our company cafeteria’s. Nothing was lost on the meal by this change. It turns out that the chef (to whom I spoke later) said that he’d originally served it that way and had switched to spinach when preparing it in the winter.
This was akin to the day the Mad Cow news broke when I was living in Italy several years ago. Before I could make it to the butcher’s shop after work, all the beef and beef products had been pulled from the shelves. In a twist of supply-and-demand, all the non-beef items were prominently on display with new, higher prices. I’ll also be curious to see what the economic after-effects will be following on from this food scare. Are we going to be eating more iceberg this winter?
Buon appetito!
Many food websites and blogs have carried stories about what is going on with the spinach recall. I scanned quite a few of them and was a bit surprised that the food/dining sections of some of the larger ones didn’t have more extensive coverage of the issue and its implications for factory and organic farms. I had wondered if this would be used as a launch pad for a larger food safety discussion by the community of experts.
For a farmer’s point of view, check out Chez Pim. Marian Burros (whom some might remember from her Consumer Reporter days on Washington, D.C.’s WRC-TV) wrote very briefly about it in her column in the New York Times this week, and Nina Planck of Real Food wrote an Op Ed that was published today. Kim O’Donnell covered it more extensively in the Washington Post. I’ve been checking into CNN and the CDC site which are more up to the minute in my eyes, even if they are more factual than exploratory.

1 Comment

  1. jax

    just be allergic to spinach…then you don’t miss anything! :)