Thursday, June 10, 2010

Unhealthy Spinach, Healthy Spinach

Americans love spinach. And we believe it is good for us. According to some statistics, teenage girls eat the least spinach, and women over 40 eat the most. Does this mean that we women must be undergoing some type of spinach epiphany somewhere between the ages of 20 and 40?

Most of the spinach we eat is grown right here in the United States. The U.S. is in fact, the world's second largest producer of spinach (China is well in the lead, with about 85 percent of the world's output). Most of what we buy is in fresh form. Whether fresh or frozen, we eat the bulk of our spinach at home.

For some reason, which always escapes me, a lot of my friends like their spinach raw - in the form of spinach salads. Of course, that leaves them more vulnerable to risks, since the cooking "kill" step is missing. Any bacteria (or parasites) in it, is going to end in us.

Remember that huge outbreak of food borne illness in 2006, caused by E.coli 0157 in bagged spinach? There have been some other smaller ones linked to spinach since. Most recently (in May, 2010) Salmonella bacteria were found in organic bagged spinach (no confirmed illnesses yet). Both of these instances originated in Salinas, California. True, there may well be animal-feces irrigation water being used, or, bacteria-carrying wild pigs running around the spinach patch. But the odds are, any problems in spinach that originate at the farm level, will be traced back to Salinas. After all, Salinas, California produces around 75 percent of the U.S. spinach crop.

Of course, if you eat your spinach cooked, you will be far less likely to come down with a nasty illness that originates in cattle or wild pig feces. But I have found few American restaurants - even those serving Italian food - that serve delicious cooked spinach the way I always ate it when working in Rome: delightfully covered in slices of roasted garlic, fresh lemon juice and olive oil. You may never eat a risky spinach salad again.

bon appetit!

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