Contaminated fresh produce often makes its way into consumers faster than the product can be effectively recalled. An example of how this happens occurred earlier this month with fresh spinach produced by the Salinas, CA-based Taylor Farms — the winner for the past two years of the Safe Quality Foods (SQF) Institute’s “Primary Producer” award for food safety. On April 2, Taylor Farms produced fresh spinach on three lines which, by April 7, was at a western Michigan distribution warehouse. Once it arrived at the warehouse, samples of the fresh spinach were taken by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) from bagged product going out to schools, hospitals and restaurants, according to a MDARD spokesperson. freshspinach-406The samples were taken for the department’s routine food safety assurance program and were tested for pathogens at the Geagley Laboratory in East Lansing, MI. On April 13, results came back from the lab showing the spinach was positive for both Salmonella and non-shiga toxin producing E. coli. Because the product was involved in interstate commerce, MDARD’s Food and Dairy Division contacted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which then became the lead investigator for the incident. The following day, April 14, Taylor Farms issued a voluntary recall for “certain lots codes of washed spinach.” The company stated that the product had tested positive “for a bacterial pathogen,” adding that, “The pathogen of concern is still unknown at this point … .” Taylor Farms also noted that it was “initiating the recall out of an abundance of caution.” The first public report of the recall was issued not by Taylor Farms, but by Grand Rapids, MI-based Gordon Food Service, according to the news service covering the fresh produce industry known as The Packer. Gordon Food Service distributed the recall notice on April 14 using its website and the Taylor Farms letterhead to list two affected lots of spinach, 092A27 and 092A28. A Taylor Farms employee with knowledge of the recall told Food Safety News that the codes mean that the contaminated spinach was all produced by separate lines during the day shift on April 2. Next to chime in was the national commercial food distributor US Foods based in Rosemont, IL. On April 15, US Foods issued a “correction” on its website for the Taylor Farms recall, stating that it was for “Fresh, Flat Leaf Spinach due to possible contamination of Salmonella” being sold under both the Taylor Farms and Cross Valley Farms brands. In addition, US Foods stated that one additional code was involved. This was for a third line, also from the day shift on April 2 — 092A24. (US Foods also has each code beginning with the letters YTF, while the Gordon Food Service left those off.) In the 20 days since the Taylor Farms spinach was harvested in the Salinas Valley, no illnesses are known to be associated with the recall. Fresh spinach is typically consumed within two or three days of being purchased at the grocery store unless it is cooked and frozen for later use. The two food service companies, and maybe others, distributed the spinach in several states, and it’s a good bet the great bulk of it was eaten by consumers who never heard about the recall. The Class 1 recall, meaning there was an immediate health danger at hand, was never posted on FDA’s recall website in either its original or corrected form. FDA’s site is widely used by the food industry for such voluntary recalls. The dueling Gordon Food Service and US Foods recall notices were confusing because Gordon apparently reported only on product it had from two lines, while US Foods had spinach to recall from three. So while this fresh spinach recall wasn’t clear to the media or the public, it was a good illustration of how the fresh produce market moves faster than the recall mechanisms that are supposed to catch up with it.