by Marion Nestle
Mar 19 2008

Food systems in a spinach basket

Thanks to Jonathan Latham of the Bioscience Resource Project for advice to check out the web pages of Professor Phil Howard at Michigan State University. Professor Howard, who I do not know but can’t wait to meet, has put together some terrific cartoons of how food systems work. Examples: who owns what in organic foods and the chain of distribution of spinach contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 in 2006. This last is especially useful, given the sharp increase in foodborne illnesses due to leafy greens. I fully intend to plagiarize.

  • That spinach diagram is exactly why we need to buy local, local, local, and local! If that one little crop of spinach with E. coli had not ended up mixed with zillions of other crops of spinach, it would have been more traceable and more contained; we would have avoided the waste of tons of food, much of which was probably perfectly good, but how could you tell? And the rest of us could have gone on happily eating nutritious, delicious spinach.

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  • Migraineur is right!

    I noticed during many of the recent food “scares” (spinach, pet food, beef recall, etc.) how little it concerned me anymore, now that I have so many direct farm-to-fork sources (CSA, direct farm sales, home-prepared pet food, etc.). Doesn’t mean that there is absolutely no risk (everything has some risk), but potential problems are minimized, are quicker and easier to trace, and there is less “shelf time” for bacterial contamination to multiply.

    The main lingering concern I have is about eating out, because restaurants of all sorts now increasingly use massive amounts of “prepared” and semi-prepared labor-saving raw ingredients, which adds even more layers of potential contamination and exposure to raw foods. I try not to dwell on it (not very appetizing digging into a salad and thinking, this came from a bag and a factory plant, not from a freshly washed head of lettuce from a farm) and keep my fingers crossed. Even an enthusiast cook like me likes to eat out now and then. 🙂