FOR THE WEEK OF OCT. 02, 2006
Spinach scare draws attention to food safety
Food safety alerts are an example of newspaper reports with immediate, practical impact. Ask students what other types of “news you can use” they recall about consumer products, entertainment choices, upcoming events and other coverage they may have clipped or mentioned to friends.
Spinach warnings and follow-up coverage show how science and medical news hits home. Invite students to flip through or click through recent issues to spot other reports about research, technology or medicine that could affect them or their families.
Science and health coverage doesn’t always make the front page. Most papers present articles on fitness, computers and consumer electronics in designated sections or pages. Organize a "treasure hunt" to see which class member or groups come up with the most examples from a week’s worth of issues.
If parents nag you to “eat your spinach” these days, they probably mean the frozen or canned kind. A federal agency recently warned shoppers about E. coli bacteria contamination in bagged spinach, which cleared that leafy item out of stores and kitchens. By late last week, the government said all affected brands had been recalled and grocers began restocking the greens.
The contamination, which sickened more than 180 people across the country and led to at least one death, was traced to a produce-growing area in Monterey County, Calif. Spinach may have become tainted from overflowing drainage ditches alongside fields or from animal droppings, investigators believe. Bacteria may have become embedded in the plant tissues when stalks or leaves broke, so washing the leaves wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the health risk.
Food safety specialists blame these outbreaks on the way many fruit and vegetable distributors cut costs by processing ready-to-eat produce at the fields, rather than in the cleaner setting of a factory.
Scientist says: “The problem is, they are working out in the dirt. There are so many different ways that E. coli can get into the food this way." – Michael Doyle, University of Georgia director of food safety
Industry says: Processing “is happening in a enclosed facility, not in the field. No one is putting produce in bags out there.” – Kathy Means, Produce Marketing Association
What’s ahead? The federal Food and Drug Administration is expected to tighten rules for processing fresh spinach and perhaps other crops. The greens will be safer to eat, most experts agree. “We can't say (don't eat spinach) forever. It goes against what your mother always told you.” -- Dr. Judy Martin, infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh
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