When I was in Milwaukee Monday I had the chance to talk to the Rotary and to WTMJ News – here is part of the report on the station’s Spinach test for E. coli O157:H7 in bags of spinach off store shelves:

E. coli killed three people and made 200 others sick. The culprit: bagged spinach. It’s back on Wisconsin grocery store shelves.  Is it safe? We bought bagged spinach at grocery stores all over the Milwaukee area. We took it all to a lab to answer the question on everybody’s mind, is it really safe for me to feed this stuff to my family?  We took the spinach to a microbiologist, Gil Kelley at SF Analytical in West Allis. He tested bags from the Jewel, Pick’n Save, Sendik’s and Whole Foods.

We also talked to Bill Marler, a lawyer who’s representing 97 people who got sick after eating E. coli-tainted spinach from California.  “Are we now able to trust what’s on grocery store shelves?” we asked. His response: “No. I mean the bottom line is no. We know that the Salinas Valley is like big bowl and they grow the spinach and the lettuce at the bottom of the bowl, and there’s cows all around the perimeter of the valley and the perimeter of the bowl.”  The old “you know what” rolls down hill theory, a problem federal investigators are looking into….

Any fruit or vegetable grown in contaminated soil. Which takes us back to the lab and our highly scrutinized bags of spinach. Any E. coli? All clean. No E. coli. Our microbiologist says they are absolutely safe to eat. But a few clean bags may not be enough to convince some to start serving up spinach, attorney Bill Marler warns:

“It’s good that you got negative test results, but the reality is there’s no assurance yet that this product is safe in my view.”

Despite the negative test results in a few bags of spinach, please recall the quote by an FDA official in the recent article by Herb Weisbaum – E. coli aftermath: Where is the accountability?

Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, responds by saying scientists must figure out what went wrong before the agency can decide what to do to prevent future outbreaks. In the meantime, he says, “fresh produce in the United States is as safe now as it was before the outbreak.”