Coming from a farming family, I can sympathize with the California greens' growers. Spinach, one of the main crops grown in California's imperial Valley that includes Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara counties, was implicated in the outbreak of E.coli that, according to federal regulators, killed at least one person and sickened 187 others a few weeks ago in the United States and Canada. It's been more than a month since the investigation began and still there is no proof where the bacterial contamination originated. The California Valley fertile farm region produces three-quarters of the United States spinach supply. Organic spinach appears to be a bumper crop but won't be ready to harvest until November.
However, because of the investigation and the call to remove all loose spinach and packaged mixed greens from store shelves with a use-by dates of Aug. 17 to Oct. 1, the industry may never recover.
Dave Kranz, a spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation in Sacramento, said, counting this outbreak, the largest ever in the United States involving fresh produce, the sometimes-lethal bacterium E.coli 0157:H7 has contaminated lettuce and spinach 20 times in the past decade but was quickly under control.
According to a published report, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted the three-county warning but has ordered the California produce industry to develop a comprehensive set of guide lines to ensure that contamination does not occur again. So, in the meantime, enjoy Popeye's favorite food cooked or in a salad.
Meanwhile, closer to home, when you purchase produce from local farm stands be sure to look it over closely. A white or grayish powder is sometimes found around the stems of fruit and on the stems and leaves of cabbage, cauliflower, celery and lettuce. This powder indicates spray residues of chemicals used by growers and are not usually dangerous; however, some may be. All fruits and vegetables must be washed before eaten raw or cooked. Cooking alone will not destroy spray chemicals.
When visiting your favorite waterfront community or fish market to purchase some fish or shellfish for dinner, look for these sure signs of spoilage: if there is an off-odor, fish gills are gray or green, eyes are sunken, flesh is easily pulled away from the bones, a mark of fingernail indentation remains in the flesh and the fish is not rigid. All shellfish, clams and mussels, etc., should be tightly closed and under the New York State Sanitary Code, all fresh or frozen shellfish or shucked shellfish (clams, mussels and oysters) must be properly tagged. Tags on containers of shellfish must be pre-printed or stamped with the names, addresses and state permit number of shippers. Containers of shellfish (shellfish in the shell) must be marked to include the area of harvest. Shrimp may be spoiled if a color appears on the upper fins and near to the tail, and, if there is an off-odor similar to ammonia.
Meats are usually spoiled if there is an off-odor and slimy to the touch. Beef usually spoils first on the surface. Pork spoils first at the meeting point of the bone, flesh and inner portions.
The Nassau County Department of Health grants temporary food service permits for brief durations to each vendor who sells hot or cold foods at carnivals, feasts, bazaars, flea markets, street fairs, organizations' festivals, circuses etc., and the permit must be posted at each food stand. Roadside hot dog and sausage stands are also required by the Nassau County Department of health law to file for a food handler permit and display it properly. And, all vendors handling or cooking the food to be sold must wear disposable gloves and a clean apron to cover street clothing, including your favorite pizza cook.
According to David M. Ackman, MD, MPH, commissioner, if you witness a food vendor not complying with the policy and procedure mandated by the Nassau County Department of Health, you should call 571-3410.
John H. Meyer