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Why is it Suddenly Dangerous to Eat Spinach?

As a result of the recent e-coli outbreak from eating contaminated spinach, farmers in California, where most of our fresh spinach is grown, are plowing under their crop. Agricultural expert John Crespi says, "At this point, we don't know how long the product will be kept off the shelf." How did this happen?

Our agricultural policies are what actually caused this outbreak. Christopher Waniek writes in LiveScience.com that the only way to prevent this from happening in the future is to support local farms by buying at farm stands and farmers' markets, where the produce is better quality, but may be more expensive, and to give up our addiction to cheap beef, which is an essential ingredient in fast food.

E-coli bacteria is present in the bowel movements of both cows and people and is spread through contamination with feces.

When cattle are tightly packed into pens, standing ankle-deep in the manure, while they are being corn-fed in order to fatten them up, E-coli tends to spread. It's thought that the bacteria got into the spinach through using cattle manure as fertilizer or because the water used for irrigation had become contaminated with it.

This means that buying organic food is no protection against E-coli, since organic farmers use manure for fertilizer. However, certified organic farmers are prohibited from using raw manure for 90 days before harvesting the food and most of them compost their manure, which kills most of the harmful bacteria.

If our spinach came from small, local farms, instead of huge mass production operations, local health departments could easily trace it back to the source, and it wouldn?t spread to other states. Cooking kills E-coli, so eating raw spinach, such as in salads, is the problem.

Corn-fed cattle have higher counts of E-coli than grass-fed, free range cattle. Cattle that are allowed to roam have less contact with the manure of other cows and their stomach juices are also more acidic, which kills a lot of the bacteria.

Eating grass-fed beef would solve the problem, but the meat would be more expensive. On the other hand, we have a major obesity problem in this country. Maybe part of the problem is that our food has gotten too cheap.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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