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Residents wait for green light on spinach

Locals adjust to life without the normally healthy green, as restaurants offer alternatives.

September 19, 2006|By Amanda Pennington

Costa Mesa resident Julie Neglia is rather particular when it comes to which vegetables end up on her plate, and spinach is one of her favorites.

So last week, when the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about E. Coli bacteria found in baby spinach, she was concerned and disappointed.

"It scared me," she said as she loaded her car with groceries outside a Costa Mesa Vons supermarket. "I love spinach — I'm not crazy about vegetables — and spinach is how I get my dark, leafy vegetables, so I was upset."

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She wasn't the only one, but it seems Newport-Mesa residents are coping with the absence of the green stuff. Local grocers and restaurants threw away or sent back all the produce that farms had issued warnings about, namely baby spinach. When the first release was issued, it only named prepackaged baby spinach, although now the Orange County Healthcare Agency and the FDA are advising residents not to eat any fresh spinach at all.

"Absolutely no fresh spinach products should be consumed until the vendors declare that they've resolved the problem or identified the problem," said Deanne Thompson, spokeswoman for the Orange County Healthcare Agency. "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the California Department of Health Services is conducting an investigation, and until they identify the cause, I think the vendors will continue to participate in the voluntary recall."

The most recent information available shows nationwide 109 cases of illness and one death due to the bacteria found in the tissue of spinach. Only one case has been reported in California, and the one death was in Wisconsin, Thompson said.

Local restaurants and grocers have pulled fresh spinach products off the shelf and said customers have been understanding, although cautious about what they purchase.

"A number of customers are worried about it," said Timothy Parrish, general manager of Growers Direct, a Costa Mesa produce market. "We stopped selling spinach as soon as we heard and … we've just been letting customers know that we're not [selling it] until the FDA gives us approval."

Although the warning just concerns fresh spinach, a number of people are concerned with frozen spinach as well as other leafy greens.

"It seems like it has kind of reduced the sale of packaged lettuces — mixed salads and such," Parrish said. "People seem wary about buying a bag full of greens."

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