/*PenDragn: E Coli Collected from Bag of Spinach*/

9.21.2006

E Coli Collected from Bag of Spinach

Okay so it is the spinach.

USA Today says the bar code on the Dole baby spinach (which an AP report identifies specifically as "not organic") points the finger at one of nine farms in 3 counties in the Salinas valley. The counties, Monterey, Santa Clara, and San Benito grow 3/4s the California summer, fall crop of spinach. Growing would be done up there by mid October anyway and the western growing will shift to the desert fields of Arizona and Southern California.

The FDA says they will start on a system to identify spinach from areas, other than the Salinas Valley possibly starting today and people could soon see Spinach back in the markets with stickers identifying their origins.

An article at the San Fransisco Chronicle notes that Spinach farmers had been warned before about the possibility of contamination.

CBS mentions the unmentionable "f" word. Farmworkers defecating in fields. Each farm area is supposed to have restroom facilities, but notes that workers may not be able to use them.

Farm workers also must keep their equipment clean, use bathrooms and wash their hands with soap and water. California agricultural regulations require that toilet and handwashing facilities for farmworkers be located within one-quarter mile or a five-minute walk from the work site, with one toilet per 20 employees of each gender.

But pressure from farmers may keep workers from using those facilities, said Marc Grossman, spokesman for the United Farm Workers union.


The article describes conditions where farmers push workers to finish ever more amounts of work, leading to reduced time for 'breaks'.

I'm thinking a worker with an E Coli infection themselves is less likely to be able to make it a quarter of a mile to a restroom, and considering the poor state of public restrooms even in popular discount department stores, one can imagine the status of the restrooms that the workers are offered. If they do have constant hot water, fresh towels, and clean facilities then farmworkers are doing better than most shoppers. But I doubt that. Mostly farmworkers are used for ultra cheap piece work at a low enough rate that keeps many working until they cannot stand any longer. They are like slaves that don't even have to be purchased or cared for. When the crop is done the workers are dropped to make their way to 'houses' that resemble little more than enlarged versions of those John Steinbeck's characters used. See Summer of the Death of Hilario Guzman For what life is really like for immigrants. Usenet copy of last linked article

In an LA Times article mistitled "E. Coli Pervades Harvest Area" the papers notes that the natural streams and rivers of the area are all contaminated with E. Coli except for one stream that runs through a national park. It then notes that the dangerous version, E. coli 0157:H7, is found in many as well, but the article notes that this water is not used for farm irrigation.

Unfortunately, one can imagine how a traveling group of immigrants might use such water though.

Deep well water is used for irrigating the fields of Salinas and FDA recommendations are for drip watering on leafy greens instead of spray according to the CBS report.

You might think that summer storms can flood the fields, something the FDA wants you to think, but California is known for dry summers or at least less than 'flooding' rains which is why our farmers rely on irrigation. Winter and Spring floods are likely but the problem wouldn't be first showing up in August from a product that takes 35 days from seed to harvest.

The CBS article also exposes the lie that the chlorine wash given fresh vegetables will actually kill any bacteria on the product.

THE FACTORY: After harvesting, spinach goes to a packing plant, where it is washed and bagged.

The water used to clean the spinach should contain chlorine or a similar disinfectant, Means said, but those chemicals are not designed to kill bacteria already on the leaves. Instead, she said, the chlorine merely keeps water that touches a contaminated plant from passing bacteria on to other plants.

Studies have shown that the structure of spinach leaves make them especially hard to rid of germs, even when washed with treated water.

"It has a lot of places for them to hide," said Trevor Suslow, a food safety researcher at the University of California, Davis.


I know I'm fixated on this, but fresh spinach is particular favorite in our household. It is sad to see this happen.