Tom Stenzel, president & CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, issued the following statement.
"We understand tonight that the Food and Drug Administration has reported a confirmed positive sample of E coli 0157:H7 in an open bag of spinach from a consumer who became ill in this outbreak.
"This is an important development in narrowing the source of contaminated product, confirming that this product was manufactured by Natural Selection Foods, LLC, the manufacturer that first issued a voluntary recall of spinach on September 15. It is extremely helpful that investigators now have a clear focus on product that came from a specific manufacturing facility, on a specific date. FDA will now continue to examine both that manufacturing facility and specific farms that may have been supplying raw product to the plant at that time.
"We are pleased that FDA has eliminated any concern about spinach grown anywhere but three counties in California. As reported by FDA Chief Medical Officer David Acheson, it is an important step in the investigation to narrow the source from a national search, to California, and now to a maximum of three counties. Now, the investigators must drive down to a specific source so that other producers and processors in these three counties can be cleared of concern.
"Our industry is committed to determining the specific source of this contamination, and working to make sure it does not happen again. The industry is committed to best agricultural practices in the field, and the strongest possible HACCP programs in manufacturing facilities. We know well the major risk factors for contamination, and constantly address these factors in the production of more than 17,000 acres of spinach in this growing region in California. But, something went terribly wrong in this case, and we are committed to isolating the problem to the source. This was a tragedy, and our industry must do whatever it takes to reassure the public of the safety of our products.
"It is also now important that producers and distributors of safe and healthy spinach from other areas now cleared in this outbreak are given a clear signal by FDA that this perishable commodity is acceptable to be marketed. Our entire industry has followed FDA's public health advice and shut down spinach movement from all sectors of the country. Consumers need to know that any tainted spinach has been fully removed from the marketplace, that the source of this outbreak has been narrowed greatly, and that safe and healthy spinach is once again becoming available in the marketplace.
"Finally, it is important for the public that FDA continues to emphasize that there is no concern about any other leafy greens other than spinach in this outbreak. Many fresh salads without spinach are already available at retail and foodservice, and fresh salad manufacturers have reformulated other salad blends without spinach during this situation. These are safe, healthy, convenient and great-tasting salads to help consumers meet their health goals to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
"We commend the FDA and industry for working together to first protect public health, and then isolate the cause of the outbreak in order to help restore confidence in the overall spinach industry as quickly as possible."
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) applauds Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for his ongoing attention to and interest in the safety of our nation's food supply.
In remarks from the Senate floor in Washington, D.C., Monday, Sen. Durbin responded to the national E. coli outbreak, and the first diagnosed case in Illinois, by saying that greater attention needs to be paid to food safety in the United States.
"This mish-mash, piecemeal approach to food safety could spell disaster if we don't act decisively and wisely," Sen. Durbin said.
Sen. Durbin's insightful remarks echo what the AVMA has been saying for some time: That America's food supply is being jeopardized by a lack of attention to the needs of the food safety system.
"Veterinarians play a vital role in protecting public health by providing services throughout the food chain," said Dr. Lyle Vogel, director of the AVMA's Animal Welfare Division. "In addition, veterinarians inspect food products to ensure their quality and safety. The AVMA and its member veterinarians stress that the broader scope of food safety -- both in animal products and produce -- is a universal concern that will continue to grow in importance as more food-borne and zoonotic diseases affect public health."
As food safety concerns grow, food animal veterinarians will play an even larger role in ensuring the public's safety. But projected shortages in the profession, as documented in a comprehensive study published in three articles in the June and July issues of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), threaten the safety record of America's livestock and meat industries.
Sen. Durbin, aware of the important role food animal veterinarians play, has cosponsored a bill that would expand the workforce of veterinarians engaged in public health practice. Known as the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act, the bill would provide $1.5 billion over 10 years to expand the size of veterinary schools and increase the number of veterinarians in the food animal and public health fields, and biomedical research. The bill, introduced last year, remains in a Senate committee.