Nov 28, 2011
Five years after deadly E. Coli outbreak, Salinas Valley farmers struggle to rebound

Five years after their healthy-looking green fields became the epicenter of a national food disaster, farmers in the Salinas Valley are still working to regain something even the most bountiful harvest can’t ensure: the public’s trust.

They are doing their best to rebound after investigators linked spinach grown and bagged here to a deadly E. coli strain that would kill three people, sicken 206 more and shake the nation’s faith in California leafy greens. So far, they have succeeded in avoiding another major outbreak.

Yet memories of that turbulent autumn resurfaced after the recent deaths of 29 people from listeria-tainted Colorado cantaloupe. And the impact of the 2006 outbreak in the nation’s salad bowl — famous for its spinach, romaine and spring mix — shapes the farmers’ actions every day.

Salinas Valley growers and processors have retooled nearly every step in their industry — from planting seedlings to harvesting and washing greens. They have rallied to create a state-industry pact on how to protect 14 types of leafy greens that is being held up as a national model.

“It was the watershed moment for the produce industry,” said Joe Pezzini, chief operating officer of Ocean Mist Farms in Castroville. The Mercury News

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