7/16/2008, 5 p.m.
Panic struck processors and growers of the popular green, leafy vegetable when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that consumption of bagged spinach was associated with E. coli bacteria. The tainted vegetable reportedly killed 82-year old Ruby Trautz two weeks before the announcement.
It did not take long before the devastating outbreak took down five more people, prompting the FDA to initiate a full-blown investigation. Even when the source of this malicious phenomenon was revealed and order was restored, the incident became an unforgettable experience for many and a horrendous episode for the FDA.
This time, the FDA seems to be taking no chances in reliving the two-year-old "Spinach nightmare" again. They have administered several recalls and alerts to the country in the last couple of months ranging from foreign candy to U.S home-grown tomatoes.
A minimal recall, but very significant was the QI CAI BANG Chinese Candy recall (translated means "Happy Easy-Going" candy). Reportedly, .61 levels of lead were found in the parts per-million which are above the recommended .1 per-million. According to the Kentucky Department of Health, lead can be very dangerous to every system in the body, particularly the brain and nervous system. Children affected with high levels of lead poisoning can develop learning disabilities. It also interferes with the production of red blood cells, can cause high blood pressure and hearing loss.
In March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), issued a public health alert to consumers that frozen, stuffed raw chicken may be associated with the Salmonella bacteria. This discovery was made after an investigation conducted by Minnesota department of Health and Minnesota Department of Agriculture linked Salmonella to "Chicken Breast with Rib Meat Chicken Cordon Bleu" and "Chicken Breast with Rib Meat Buffalo Style" produts by Serenade Foods and sold under brand names: "Milford Valley Farms," "Dutch Farms," and "Kirkwood." However, the Pork Crackling Products Alert was short-lived when a Salmonella outbreak occurred in New Mexico and Texas from the consumption of raw red tomatoes. From April 23 through June 1, 2008 there have been 57 reported cases of the Salmonella illness in New Mexico and Texas, and 17 hospitalizations. The FDA swiftly informed the country about the possible danger of eating certain raw tomatoes such as: red plum, red Roma, red round tomatoes and products containing these tomatoes.
Just the utterance from the FDA of that cryptic word "Salmonella" caused bright, red tomatoes to vanish from grocery stores and restaurants everywhere.
Salmonella or salmonellosis can cause serious and in some cases detrimental infections particularly in frail or elderly people, young children and people with weakened immune systems. Even healthy people canl experience symptoms of fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
The FDA believes that there is a single grower or packager associated with the Salmonella tomatoes. However, at this time they have not identified the source. Fortunately consumers can visit their website, www.fda.gov, for a list and location of contaminated products.
Within weeks of the Salmonella frenzy, the FSIS announced a recall for ground beef and later on for beef products in general due to suspicion of E. coli contamination.
The ground beef recall was performed by the Kroger Co. whose products were distributed to Kroger stores in Michigan and Ohio. Kroger's recall was initiated after an investigation conducted by Michigan and Ohio Department of Agriculture and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered a correlation between the 32 reported illnesses in Michigan and Ohio and the ground beef products. Consequently, Kroger abruptly decided to expand their recall to an unsettled amount of their ground beef products including the ones packaged in Styrofoam trays and wrapped in clear cellophane with the various sell-by dates; these products also disgorged concern of a link to the E. coli bacteria.
Further investigation revealed that Nebraska Beef, Ltd was the common beef supplier of many of the Kroger stores. The Omaha, Nebraska establishment and supplier to Kroger announced its own recall to approximately 531,707 pounds of their ground beef components that may have been contaminated with E. coli. However, by June 3, FSIS confirmed that the production practices of Nebraska Beef, Ltd were ineffective to control the contamination of E. coli within their beef products intended for grinding and that their facilities, where the beef products are produced, were unsanitary. Presently, the company has recalled all of their beef products.
The FSIS recommendeds that consumers properly sanitize their hands, cutting boards and utensils before and after handling raw meat. Raw meat, fish and poultry should be kept away from cooked food and separate cutting boards used for raw and cooked food. Ground beef or ground beef patties should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
For more information on recent food recalls visit the website www.recalls.gov.