As this issue of Food Engineeringgoes on the press, our industry is facing some very serious food safety challenges. The E. coli contamination of spinach has most likely caused at least one consumer to pay the ultimate price: loss of life.
While this wrong cannot be undone, the industry must work very hard to resolve issues such as loss of faith in the safety of our food supply.
I have total faith in the quality of our food supply. And to be quite honest, I continued to purchase and consume bagged salads that contained spinach up until September 17. As the numbers of affected consumers grew and the number of states with outbreaks expanded, I put the breaks on my purchasing habits.
As consumers steer clear of those popular and convenient bagged salad products, let's hope that America will not lose ground in the battle of the bulge. Restaurants, food service operators and consumers alike are turning to alternate vegetables to replace spinach. But American consumers' penchant for convenience may cause some to go down the path of least resistance whether it is low calorie, healthy, or not.
Loss of farm income, farm jobs and food industry revenue are just a few of the other casualties resulting from the outbreak. According to national news reports, each day the FDA warning is in place costs areas such as the Salinas Valley an estimated $1 million in lost sales.
But from these losses there will inevitably be gains. Hopefully better detection of pathogens and improved agricultural, sanitation and packing practices will be realized.
Of course, the source of the outbreak may never be found. Despite the challenges ahead, I have faith in the resourcefulness of our industry to keep all foods and consumers safe from harm and to improve the integrity of the supply chain.
It should be instinctively and inherently understood, but sometimes we all need reminders: Never lose site of the fact that, each day, you are doing very important work that affects million of lives.