I find the whole Spinach/E.Coli event telling and yet at the same time, utterly frustrating. In my opinion, the series of events surrounding the outbreak are a perfect microcosm of the larger food industry.
You have a crop coming from an industry which has been suspected in 20 outbreaks over the last decade. For whatever reason, there’s little to no national press coverage surrounding these outbreaks – most likely because the number of people affected is not statistically significant. As a result of these 20 outbreaks, the FDA shows concerns and offers suggestions, and little else.
When the most recent outbreak get national attention, there’s little traceability in place to determine where (and how) the outbreak occurred. The end result is that the FDA doesn’t just shut down the culpable farms, but shuts down the entire Spinach industry.
One of two basic scenarios that are going to play out in the coming weeks. Either:
1) The FDA and other State officials will find one farm or processing facility the root cause of this outbreak.
2) The FDA and other State officials will find several farms and/or processing facilities as distributors of this outbreak.
Neither result should leave us feeling comfortable. If it’s the first option, then we have a food safety process in place that requires the shut down of an entire industry in order to prevent roughly 200 people (out of a population 296,000,000) from getting sick and/or dying.
If it’s the second option, then the some members of the leafy-vegetable agribusiness farming considers the twice yearly E.Coli outbreaks as “acceptable risks”.
About a dozen or so years ago, there was a commercial where a mechanic looked at the camera and said “You can pay me now.” At this point he would pause and turn to a garbage heap of a car that had been towed into his garage, and then turned solemnly back towards the camera and finished his point by saying “- or you can pay me later”. The message was clear. Invest a little money now, and you’ll save yourself a larger bill later on down the road.
Someone, somewhere, didn’t make the proper investment in safety. I can promise you, that investment is a fraction of the cost that’s being paid today.