Last year, contaminated spinach killed three and sickened 200 people. The FDA warned consumers away from the product. Restaurants offered alternatives to their spinach salads, and we stopped – stopped buying, eating, looking and thinking about spinach. It was on the shunned list. Gradually, the leafy green worked its way back into our meals. We hesitatingly, and then confidently, grabbed pre-packaged bags of spinach as we zipped through the produce aisle. We felt safe about our lettuce consumption and proud about our healthy choices. Then, the end of August 2007 appeared. Once again, spinach was being recalled, this time for salmonella. No one actually got sick from the salmonella spinach, and we thought it was over. Then Dole recalled it’s salads for E. coli, again. The recurrence of contaminated greens inspired investigations, investigations that didn’t boost confidence.
Despite the 2006 E. coli outbreak and the recent salmonella/E. coli scares, little has been done to enforce safety regulations on leafy-green producers. In fact, since last year, only 29 farms have been inspected by federal officials. And while voluntary guidelines have been created, contaminated lettuce is being packaged and shipped off to grocery stores, where, all totaled, consumers buy an average of five million bags a day. In the face of the government’s failings, how do we ensure that the lettuce in our salads isn’t going to send us to the hospital?
We could try avoiding all California lettuce, buying only local produce – produce that we can ensure is clean. However, that could be difficult. Most areas of North America don’t have the climates to grow greens year round. Imagine trying to find a meal-worthy leaf come fall or winter in Maine or Montreal. You’re more likely to get frostbite. So, we have to rely on California if we want vegetables, which we do. Therefore, the only way to avoid or lessen the risk of contamination is to wash. Wash your lettuce, wash your vegetables, wash your fruit. If you’re unsure of the best methods, there are plenty of online resources that will give you guidance, but what you primarily want to remember is to use cold water, not to soak lettuce, to use a brush on rough-skinned produce and that EVERYTHING, including items you plan to peel, has to be cleaned. You can’t wash away E. coli, but you can reduce your risk as well as your anxiety.�