Spinach gets recalled often for fear of E. coli contamination. Usually no illnesses are reported in connection with the possible contamination, but the producers issue the recall anyway–better safe than really sorry. For example, Taylor Farms Retail Inc. of Salinas, California recalled three versions of its baby spinach yesterday. (It’s not the first time. Last time was May 2012.)
The US Department of Agriculture used to randomly sample food via its Microbiological Data Program (MDP), but that was terminated at the end of 2012. The $4.5 million program had conducted 80 percent of all federal produce testing for pathogens like Salmonella and Listeria. Although no other public agency is currently charged with providing information about contamination, the produce industry successfully lobbied to eliminate MDP, arguing that it did not benefit public health because the recalls were routinely announced after the product was expired or already consumed by consumers. (The current Taylor Farms recall was spurred by a random test conducted by the USDA.) The Obama administration believes that the FDA should step up and in for the defunct USDA program. But it’s not clear whether the FDA plans, or has the resources, to ramp up testing to fill the MDP void.