Bagged Spinach Back on Shelves At Giant Today

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Giant Food plans today to resume sales of bagged spinach grown in Colorado and Canada, acting on a Food and Drug Administration advisory that spinach from areas not implicated in the deadly E. coli outbreak is safe to eat.

Giant's decision came as other supermarkets in the Washington area planned to resume selling fresh spinach, which was removed from stores after the FDA issued a warning Sept. 14 telling consumers to stop eating it because of the outbreak.

The outbreak of E. coli o157:H7, which has sickened 183 people in 26 states and killed an elderly woman in Wisconsin, has been traced to fresh spinach from three California counties: Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara. Twelve fields on nine farms in those counties supplied spinach to produce processor Natural Selection Foods LLC.

On Friday, the FDA revised its warning, clearing spinach grown outside the implicated counties and saying the industry was working on ways to label the source clearly.

"If it was not grown in those areas in California, we say it's safe to be consumed," said Cynthia Benson, an FDA spokeswoman.

Giant plans to resume selling bagged Savoy, a variety of spinach, grown in Colorado and Canada and to post signs in stores letting customers know where the greens come from. Giant will also have information on its Web site.

"We know where it comes from," Giant spokesman Jamie Miller said. "We're confident based on the information we have from the FDA."

In light of the FDA's revised recommendation, some Savoy spinach growers and processors nationwide have begun shipping again, though nowhere near as much as before the outbreak.

Verdelli Farms Inc., a Harrisburg, Pa., processor of Savoy spinach that supplies Giant, resumed operations yesterday morning, said executive vice president Daniel Verdelli. Spinach accounts for about a third of the company's sales. The company laid off 79 workers after the outbreak.

Those workers won't come back until business returns to pre-outbreak levels, the company said. On a normal day, the company processes 35,000 pounds of spinach. Yesterday, it processed 2,000.

Whole Foods plans to resume selling bunched spinach in the next week, spokeswoman Kate Lowery said. However, the Austin-based grocery chain has not placed new orders for bagged spinach, which it usually obtains from California, Lowery said.

Safeway was working on getting spinach back onto shelves, spokesman Greg TenEyck said.

Food Lion has no plans to restock bagged spinach, said spokesman Jeff Lowrance. "We are still waiting for further verification from our suppliers that their spinach did not come from those California counties," he said.

Savoy spinach has a dark, crinkly leaf and was the dominant spinach in the United States until the flat-leaf variety surpassed it in the 1990s. It is grown in the central and eastern states, including Maryland and Virginia.

Pentagon Produce Inc., a Savoy spinach grower in Colorado that distributes to Verdelli and other companies serving the East Coast, on Saturday sent out its first shipment of spinach since Sept. 14, said co-owner Dondee Lindenborn.

"We're hoping and praying it does get back on the shelf," he said. "It will take a really long time for us to get our market share back."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company