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Just when the FDA thought it was safe to go back in the water

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the green light on fresh spinach about 10 days ago, that it was OK for consumers to start buying it again, the action reminded me in part of the beginning statement to Jaws II — “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.”

In reference to what is safe, this time the culprits have raised their ugly heads again. The culprits I’m speaking of here are two additional consumer alerts.

With so many warnings and facts to consumers from the FDA about the safety of fresh spinach, why would they issue a statement saying that we can resume eating it?

Some of those warnings and facts are as follows: don’t buy spinach processed by Natural Selections Foods located in San Juan Bautista, Calif., don’t eat it raw, and make sure that it is cooked at 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill all E. coli bacteria. Though they know it came from California, the FDA and scientists still are investigating the source of the E. coli bacteria in spinach.

I am wondering, are we being given these warnings along with the green light? Is it so that we will be the main ones held accountable for our actions? Will our choice to purchase and to eat the spinach after these warnings and facts have been issued make it more difficult for us to bring legal action against the manufacturer, or FDA, if eating the food still causes us to get sick, or worse?

Now, two red flags, or consumer alerts have been raised with green leaf lettuce and some brands of carrot juice.

The lettuce, which is manufactured by Foxy, in Salinas, Calif., has a trace of E. coli, but there have been no illnesses traced to the possibly-tainted crop. According to Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, a branch of the FDA that handles food-borne illnesses, this level of risk won’t be known until tests determine which strain of E. coli was found in the irrigation water.

However, the carrot juice, which is manufactured by one producer in California, Bolthouse Farms, is suspected of causing a Florida woman to become paralyzed and three people from Georgia to develop massive respiratory failure from botulism poisoning. These carrots also are under two labels, Earthbound Farms Organic Carrot Juice and President’s Choice Organic, 100 percent pure carrot juice.

Dr. Jeremy Sobel an investigator for the Centers for Disease Control, who was interviewed on a Hampton Roads TV station, said that these are all labels from the same manufacturing plant and the same production plant in California. To date, the suspected botulism poisoning has only been traced to these brands mentioned.

Symptoms from botulism poisoning usually take place 12 to 48 hours after consuming food contaminated with it. They are paralysis, double vision, trouble swallowing and speaking.

Sobel said that he does not know if the poisoning of the carrots came from the E. coli spinach problem or pasteurization process, but an investigation is ongoing.

The FDA is asking those who have the brands mentioned above to dispose of them immediately, and if you have a brand not mentioned, keep it well-refrigerated for your safety until you are ready to drink it.

From this information, and going back to the subject of the green light on spinach, I have come to the conclusion that eating fresh spinach, raw or cooked, is not worth playing Russian roulette with my health and life.

If we can’t trust “them” to take extra precautions to make sure that our food is completely safe, then who can we trust?

Wall is a former News-Herald reporter and regular contributor to the Town Square page.