16 sick with E. coli O157 linked to Wegmans spinach in NY

Government and industry say all the right food safety things, but in reality they’re more often like Australia – stuck in 1978.

Al Gore long ago invented the Intertubes, which even reach down under, sometimes, smartphones are ubiquitous, and every aspect of American society is continuing a centuries-long messy and muddled transition to transparency and openness, pushed more recently by Twitter and Facebook.

So why do government and the produce industry dabble in 1978-era communications, and are consistently outted by others?

I understand the New York State health department is overwhelmed at the moment, what with hurricanes and such, but with a report that 16 people are sick with E. coli O157:H7 they may want to issue a statement.

After retailer Wegmans recalled its Organic Spinach and Spring Mix because it “may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria,” on Nov. 1, 2012, the usual questions were raised. The state dept. of health told Food Safety News that yup, at least 16 people were sick with E. coli O157:H7 linked to the Wegmans spinach.

The producer, State Garden in Massachusetts, said Friday night illnesses are being investigated, but no illnesses have been confirmed as related to State Garden products.

Epidemiology used to matter.

But after the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to California spinach, the 29th outbreak linked to leafy greens and after years of warning from FDA, California growers formed the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which is supposed to have food safety performance standards. Yet the most noticeable achievement since the Agreement has been the containment cone of silence that has descended upon outbreaks involving leafy greens, and an apparent shift in policy that sets epidemiology aside and requires positive samples.

One solution to this on-going public angst is to clearly define when to go public and why;  not everyone has to agree, but at least but the basics would be out there. Bureaucrats are loath to write things down because then they have to actually do what they said they would do (sometimes).

A table of leafy green related outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/leafy-greens-related-outbreaks.