Spinach reps coordinate responses to E.coli scare

LOS ANGELES: As the Food and Drug Administration continues investigating the source of the E.coli bacteria found earlier this month in several brands of fresh packaged spinach, communicators representing the healthy-turned-hazardous leafy greens have plenty of past case studies to guide their plans.

LOS ANGELES: As the Food and Drug Administration continues investigating the source of the E.coli bacteria found earlier this month in several brands of fresh packaged spinach, communicators representing the healthy-turned-hazardous leafy greens have plenty of past case studies to guide their plans.

According to the FDA, affected brands have been traced - but not limited - to San Juan Bautista-based Natural Selection Foods. Brands including Earthbound Farm, Dole, O Organic, Trader Joe's, Ready Pac, and Riverside Farms launched voluntary recalls on fresh spinach products throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico.

Companies reached by PRWeek declined to comment about their communications plans, but Dole ads alert consumers who search for "spinach" on Google to the E.Coli situation. Most companies have provided details about the recall on their Web homepages.

"Right now, the only education people need is to throw it away," said Jerry Welcome, EVP for business development, United Fresh Produce Association - the product of a recent merger of the International Fresh-cut Produce Association and United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association.

Tim Chelling, communications VP for the Irvine, CA-based Western Growers Association, said the media coverage and uncertainty of all the outbreak's points of origin make the situation "very reminiscent of an aircraft-accident investigation."

Chelling said his job, representing the 3,000-member agricultural industry policy and issues group, was to serve as "the most credible spokesperson possible."

George Clarke, director of crisis and issues management at Burson-Marsteller in DC, likened the present situation to 1989's Alar-tainted apple scare, which he experienced firsthand as director of information for one of the USDA's regulatory boards. Clarke said the government had to buy "$10 million worth of surplus apples from growers who couldn't give away product."

While federal agencies are currently consumed with investigations, Clarke said, "What they do after the recall is as important as the industry's response."

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