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Fresh Spinach Returns From Leave of Absence

FDA cleared spinach for consumption three weeks ago

By Evan M. Vittor, Crimson Staff Writer

Spinach is no longer on leave.

Iron-starved students have gotten a reprieve as spinach returned to Dining Hall menus Saturday night in the form of Chicken Florentine, and Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) Assistant Director of Marketing Crista Martin said that students can expect to see fresh spinach return to the salad bars sometime this week.

“Our produce vendor has to restock and then deliver, but we expect it to be early in the week,” Martin wrote in an e-mail. “And hopefully students will enjoy having the variety return. They’ve been very patient.”

HUDS removed all spinach products from Residential Dining Halls in mid-September in accordance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warnings after a nationwide E. coli outbreak was linked to tainted spinach.

Three people have died and nearly 200 have fallen ill as a result of the outbreak that has been traced to packaged spinach produced in a specific region of California.

HUDS’s lifted its spinach ban over three weeks after the FDA officially cleared all spinach products in the United States on September 29, and Martin said they will continue to be cautious and monitor the situation closely.

“The FDA has identified the growing region that was implicated in the outbreak, things seem contained, and we get our spinach from an entirely different region,” Martin wrote. “So we’ll be very cautious and do all the things we always do: wash carefully, cook to safe temperatures, and keep an eye on the FDA reports.”

The contaminated spinach was ultimately traced back to Natural Selection Foods LLC’s San Juan Bautista plant. The company, which packages spinach under 34 different brand names, has reported a 70 percent drop in sales of bagged salads since the FDA initiated its spinach ban, and they have cancelled earlier plans to buy a second processing plant.

While federal testers found traces of the deadly E. coli strain in cow manure near a California spinach farm earlier this month, it is still unclear how the bacterium made its way into the processing plant.

Students contacted by The Crimson were pleased about the return of spinach.

“I am very excited about it,” said Hanna E. Melnick ’07. “It was really depressing to go to the dining hall night after night and see that it wasn’t there.”

—Materials from the Associated Press were used in the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Evan M. Vittor can be reached at evittor@fas.harvard.edu.

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