The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Contaminated spinach:
Absolutely no excuse

Oct 2, 2006

The Food and Drug Administration says it is now safe to eat fresh spinach, following an outbreak of E. coli contamination that killed at least one person and sickened 188 others. They say they have traced the source of the outbreak to just one spinach processor in California – Natural Selection Foods.

Does anyone believe it? Spinach might be safe to eat, but that’s what the FDA said before the outbreak! The outbreak was widespread, affecting people in 26 states. It also apparently involved bagged spinach packaged under different names.

The means to prevent E. coli contamination are well-established. For example, the company believed to be the source of the outbreak says it will test all the raw produce it processes – now! That’s what every company should do every day in every plant.

Unfortunately, at a time when science knows a great deal about how to prevent such epidemics, the government is doing the opposite. The fact that it took so long to isolate the source of the contamination shows how infrequently the government carries out inspections of produce processing plants and fields and how little it insists on companies meeting any standards. The FDA, which is responsible for regulating the safety of produce, visits processing plants only once every few years. It doesn’t inspect farms unless there’s an outbreak.

In addition, 97% of the water used to irrigate the farms in the area of California where the outbreak supposedly started comes from private wells. The rest comes from recycled sewage water. There is no law requiring private wells to be tested.

With as much as science knows about preventing disease, there’s no reason for deadly outbreaks like this to come from contaminated food. But the science has to be applied – and that takes money, money that might otherwise go as tax breaks and subsidies to the corporations. And requiring the corporations to keep their premises sanitary costs them money. From the population’s standpoint, that would be money well-spent.

Our interests are not the same as those of the big corporations.