Last month's outbreak of food poisoning sent grocers scrambling to remove any trace of fresh spinach from their shelves.  I ate lunch at a popular restaurant in the Peoria area last week and found that several of my favorite dishes containing spinach had either been removed from the menu or the spinach had been expunged  from the recipe. I found myself wondering what vegetable would be next?


Food poisoning is nothing to sneeze at especially when the cause is E coli 0157, a super strain of the naturally occurring bacteria found in the large intestines of most animals including humans. Symptoms can range from nausea and indigestion, minor vomiting and diarrhea to more serious vomiting and bloody diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and in some cases kidney failure and death. If you think that you or a family member has been food poisoned you should call your doctor immediately or check into a prompt care or emergency room.


Despite claims by growers that their prepackaged vegetables have been triple washed and ready to serve I have never liked the idea of buying vegetables prepackaged. Simply too much room for human error. Besides the bag acts as an incubator for any bacteria- the vegetable being warmer than if it weren't bagged, reduced oxygen levels that prevent bacteria replication and my biggest complaint the vegetables are many times bruised by the compression of the bag leaving the plant a more perfect host for any bacteria.


The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) which represents the fruit and vegetable growers industry, notes that processing of ready to eat products is not happening in the field as has been widely rumored but in enclosed facilities. Again I would argue that it's more about the bag and the amount of time it spends in that warm incubator environment. Living plants, and although cut and harvested still need the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide to stay healthy.


A normal healthy immune system can deal with the few bacteria that are found on all foods and in the course of three meals a day we ingest numerous numbers of bacteria. It's when the plant, or the meat, or whatever we have ingested has had time to incubate and grow a large colony of bacteria that we become ill.


Here are some proven facts that will help keep you and your family safe

1.  Buy locally grown produce when possible

2.  Don't support your grocers efforts to supply you with bagged produce..don't buy it.

3.  Food poisoning can come from many sources. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

4.  Use a simple vegetable wash of one gallon of water to three capfuls of hydrogen peroxide and soak for ten minutes-proven to kill illness producing strains of bacteria.

5.  Use hydrogen peroxide to wash counter tops, cutting boards and other food prep surfaces.

6.  Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after preparing food.


The real culprit here of course is not the spinach and sad as these outbreaks may be hopefully this will force growers and grocers to rethink how they handle and package all produce. Till next time, Rebecca