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Spinach is Back on the Menu

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As everyone knows, an out-break of e-coli contamination has caused spinach to be taken off menus around the country. Grocery stores removed all spinach-containing products from their shelves. Restaurants were compelled to find alternatives for their customers.

At least 183 people in 26 states have become ill during the outbreak. One woman in Wisconsin died and officials are looking at two other deaths, a 2-year-old in Idaho and an elderly Maryland woman, that also may be linked to consumption of spinach contaminated with E. coli.

While school children everywhere may be rejoicing over meals free from spinach, adults are struggling to properly balance the nutritional needs of the family against the risk of ingesting fresh spinach . Businesses have also modified their offerings to limit their potential liability.

Spinach lovers got the green light Tuesday to start eating the leafy vegetable again as long as it is not from certain California fields. In statements Monday and Tuesday, the FDA announced that it traced spinach tainted with E. coli bacteria to three California counties and reassured consumers that spinach grown elsewhere is safe.

Providers of spinach-containing products are fearful of lawsuits if a consumer is injured. Consumers are concerned about their health. Growers and suppliers of spinach are concerned about their economic well-being and survival.

At least one suit has been filed, and others are sure to follow. The parents of a Bowling Green, Ohio-area toddler who became critically ill after eating fresh spinach filed a lawsuit yesterday in U.S. District Court in Toledo against a California grower that has been linked to the nationwide E. coli outbreak.

Losses could total $50 million to $100 million, which includes destroying spinach already on the market and plowing under unharvested fields, in addition to the negative financial impact on farm workers, truckers, restaurants, and grocery stores. Growers from Colorado to Texas to Florida could also be affected, but California, which supplies 75 percent of the US market, will be hit the hardest. At the same time, several factors are mitigating such losses. Spinach is a fast-growing crop – about 28 days from plant to harvest on average – so many farmers can plant something besides spinach. By contrast, many other crops, such as some fruit, take at least nine months to grow. Thus, the recovery from one lost spinach crop could take less time.