FDA seeks opinions on communication of spinach recall

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, Food and drug administration

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hopes to improve
communication with consumers by seeking comments on its handling of
2006's spinach recall.

The incident in questions resulted from an outbreak of E. coli across 19 states in America, relating to the consumption of bagged spinach, which was later traced to a farm in San Benito County, California and orginating from water contaminated with animal feces. In a follow-up report, the FDA concluded the probable source of the outbreak was an Angus cattle ranch that had leased land to the spinach grower. The FDA said it will now conduct a consumer survey to assess reactions to the incident and "evaluate the effects of emotions and cognition"​ on current spinach consumption. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) research service's publication, Amber Waves, the incident had a significant economic impact on the spinach industry. Retail sales were slow for months after the recall, with consumer confidence in the product being blamed. The FDA will now collect data from 1,000 people selected randomly using a web-based questionnaire. E.coli outbreak ​In September 2006, an outbreak of E.coli across 19 US states killed at least three people and sickened about 200. It was at first linked to bagged fresh spinach sold nationwide, and the FDA issued a warning of the seriousness of the outbreak, advising consumers not to eat bagged spinach. This was followed two days later by expanding the advice to include "fresh spinach or fresh spinach-containing products until further notice".​ Finally, the following week, the FDA released a statement saying that spinach grown outside the limited geographical area where the outbreak had been traced to could be consumed. This report said: "The public can be confident that spinach grown in the non-implicated areas can be consumed. Other produce grown in these counties is not implicated in this outbreak. Processed spinach (e.g., frozen and canned spinach) is also not implicated in this outbreak." ​A study conducted by researchers from Rutgers University's Food Policy Institute last year found that federal warnings had been effective in getting the message out to consumers, but many others were left confused about what they could eat. The results showed that the FDA's main message to consumers warning that bagged fresh spinach had been contaminated and should not be eaten was heard by 87 per cent of Americans. Reassessing safety ​The FDA has reconsidered safety measures and the prevalence of E.coli in response to the outbreak The incident, coupled with other similar contamination problems experienced in the US and safety concerns, led to criticisms that these failures resulted from the FDA experiencing years of under-funding and a lack of trained staff. The FDA has requested a budget increase of $42.4m for food safety initiatives in the 2009 fiscal year to prevent similar outbreaks, but food industry and consumer groups say this will still leave administration under resourced in this area. This article has been updated from the original which linked spinach to an outbreak of salmonella. The outbreak was of E.coli. FoodNavigator-USA.com apologizes for the confusion.

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