State and federal investigators have narrowed their hunt for the source of e. coli to nine farms in three California counties and to one packing day, Aug. 15, at Natural Selection Foods’ San Juan Bautista, Calif. packing plant.
However, most of the major packers are not optimistic that the exact source or sources of the e.coli that has sickened at least 175 people nationwide and linked to possible three deaths will be pinpointed. They are more concerned with damage control to keep the spinach fiasco from spilling over into other pre-packaged fresh vegetables.
Fields of fresh spinach have been disked and workers have been laid off in the wake of the nationwide recall and ban on fresh Spinach grown in California’s coastal valleys. Apparently much of it was grown and or packed by Natural Selection and sold under its own Earthbound Farm label or 32 private labels or labels of major packers.
Earthbound Farms claims to be the largest certified organic produce grower in the U.S. with 26,000 acres. The mass media has been trying to down play the organic angle of the e.coli outbreak, pointing out that Earthbound also produces conventional produce. Its website says Earthbound farms only 2,900 acres of non-organic produce and that acreage is classified as in transition to organic certification.
Packer and shippers scrambled to modify bagged salad mixes, getting spinach out. According to the International Fresh Cut Product Association, packaged salads are the second fastest selling item in the U.S. grocery story with $2.6 billion in sales.
The federal government lifted the total ban on all fresh spinach, telling consumers it is safe to buy spinach produced outside of the Salinas area. This should defuse the crisis as the majority of the U.S. fresh vegetable production moves from California coastal areas to the desert winter vegetable areas of Southern California and Southwestern Arizona.