Investigations into almost 200 foodborne illnesses in Australia after eating a brand of baby spinach have revealed what caused the illnesses.
Riviera Farms said the spinach was contaminated with a weed called thornapple. The scientific name is Datura stramonium and it is also known as jimsonweed. How the weed got into the food supply is still being investigated by Victorian authorities with site inspections underway.
Riviera Farms issued a recall of baby spinach after reports of customers falling ill. The company then contacted its 20 clients. Costco is the only direct major retail client, however, the product was also sold to stores such as Coles, Aldi, and Woolworths.
Spinach products were grown on a farm in Victoria and shipped to several stores across the country. More than 190 potential cases were reported in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Queensland.
There have been several hospitalizations. Toxicological impacts are still to be confirmed but it is understood most people experienced symptoms for a short time and then recovered.
Symptoms included delirium or confusion, hallucinations, dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, a flushed face, blurred vision, fever, slurred speech, nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth and skin. The onset of illness occurred within hours of eating the affected baby spinach.
In New South Wales, 88 people reported symptoms after eating baby spinach and at least 33 of them sought medical attention.
One field and producer
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) coordinated multiple recalls of baby spinach products because of potential contamination with unsafe plant material. All affected products have been identified and recalled but some have shelf life dates up to Dec. 28 so could be in consumers’ homes. Recalled spinach was sourced from a single producer and came from one field.
“The investigations have not identified any other potential chemical, herbicide or other types of contaminant. As a precautionary measure, neighboring crops of spinach are in the process of being destroyed,” said a spokesperson for Riviera Farms.
The spokesperson said by the time it is re-introduced to the market it will be the most audited spinach supply in Australia.
“Riviera Farms is continuing to conduct our own independent audit of the farm and weed which will inform our application to obtain recertification and recommence production. Riviera Farms also thanks NSW Health, Victorian Health and Food Standards Australia, and New Zealand for their expert advice at what has been a difficult time for our company and staff,” said the company spokesperson.
Vegetable industry body AUSVEG reassured consumers that other spinach and leafy salad products are safe.
“The past 12 months have been the most difficult in recent times for our industry. While all growers have faced significant increases to costs of production, floods and consistent rain, and critical labor shortages this year, leafy salad and spinach growers have had it particularly tough during this period,” said Michael Coote, AUSVEG CEO.
“We have spoken to growers who have experienced reduced orders and drops in sales who are not even in the same state as the source of the recalled spinach, which is an avoidable situation that hurts the entire industry.”
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