New Spinach Safety Rules May be on The Way

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is planning on running public meetings concerning a <"">food safety proposal that is surrounded with some controversy, said the Associated Press (AP). Proponents of the proposal say it will help keep contaminated spinach and lettuce from hitting store shelves, but some consumer groups disagree, saying it could hurt small growers, pushing some out of business, said the AP.

The proposal intends to enforce production, handling, and inspection standards for leafy greens in the United States through voluntary guidelines, said the AP. The public hearings are being conducted, added the AP, so that the USDA can measure consumer reaction.

The AP said the proposed guidelines follow the massive E. coli outbreak in 2006 that was linked to spinach, killed three people, sickened 200, and resulted in $80 million in lost sales.

In a separate report, the AP noted that Jane Majeska, 85, has filed a lawsuit against the “growers, packers, distributors, and sellers” involved in the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to tainted spinach. Although Majeska nearly died after consuming Dole spinach in 2006, she almost survived, said the AP, but suffered from a number of serious adverse reactions including kidney failure, a collapsed lung and a pulmonary embolism, and a stroke. The lawsuit does not ask for a specific amount, but notes that Majeska’s medical bills ran about a-half million dollars, said the AP. Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. and Natural Selection Foods are among those named.

An indicator of fecal contamination, E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that may cause fatal blood poisoning (septicemia), urinary bladder inflammation (cystitis), kidney failure, and death. Infection symptoms include stomach cramps and watery diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days.

E. coli generally taints meat through improper butchering and processing practices and, once released in the body, produces the shiga-producing toxins that have been linked to kidney damage in young children. While most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, young children and the elderly are at highest risk for developing Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a serious complication that can lead to serious kidney damage and even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), E. coli 0157:H7 alone, is responsible for sickening 73,000 people every year, and of those, 60 will die from the disease.

Meanwhile, in late January, food safety legislation passed the House under a rule that only required a minority vote. The originally proposed food safety bill failed earlier over fears its passage would overwhelm America’s small farmers.

In addition to the 2006 E. coli fiasco, the country has been hammered with dangerous, and often deadly, food pathogen contamination outbreaks such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. Food safety concerns were particularly heightened again following the massive salmonella outbreak that was linked to horrendous conditions at the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). The scandals revealed during that outbreak highlighted myriad problems with current food safety processes and prompted attention from President Barack Obama.

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