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NEW YORK - The Produce Marketing Association (PMA), along with the Grower Shipper Association of Central California, United Fresh Produce Association, and Western Growers Association, issued an open letter to produce retail and foodservice customers to address the return of fresh spinach to the market, post-E. coli outbreak, and the need to rebuild the public's confidence in the department staple.
In the letter, the produce trade groups said, "The past several weeks have been trying times for all of us who normally work together to bring fresh spinach from the field to consumers through retail produce departments and on restaurant tables. The entire industry joined together to put public health first and to maintain public trust when FDA initially was uncertain where potentially tainted product might be in the marketplace.
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"The September 29 confirmation from FDA that the tragic E. Coli O157:H7 outbreak has been tied to spinach supplied through one processor now clears the way for consumers to once again feel confident that the spinach they consume is safe.
"Once again, FDA has cleared all spinach other than product already recalled by its supplier. FDA's initial broad consumer warning not to eat any fresh spinach was a cautious approach to its uncertainty as to the source of contamination. Now that this has been definitely tied to one processor, you can have faith in your trusted spinach suppliers. If you need any additional information from FDA, we are glad to help.
"It is now time to focus on rebuilding consumer confidence in spinach. And we believe consumers are ready. Our research indicates that consumers have given the industry high marks for their handling of the outbreak, and many have indicated they are ready to purchase spinach once again. In fact, information just collected from industry members indicates a growing number of consumers are already back in stores buying spinach."
The letter also addressed the industry commitment to remain vigilant about ptroduct safety.
"While our members continually invest millions of dollars annually to analyze and enhance existing food safety systems, we have pledged to do more. With that in mind, the produce industry associations have pledged to learn everything we can from this outbreak and work together, as one industry, to enhance the steps already in place to safeguard the public health."
The letter detailed a "long-term comprehensive approach" to minimizing risk that will include shaping industrywide practices; building strong food safety training and verification programs; cooperation with government agencies; and ongoing communication with the trade.
"The produce industry will never forget that the greatest impact, and the one that must be our primary focus, is the impact to the consumers and their families affected by the illness. We are also keenly aware of the human toll this outbreak has taken on our industry. We are committed to doing everything possible to ensure this does not happen again," the produce groups said in the letter.